Geography, Space, and Everyday Public Life

I regularly think and observe geographically.

I have noticed over several years at restaurants and elsewhere that (people who present themselves as) men generally take up far more room than is strictly necessary and far more room than women or male children. And apparently this phenomenon is called “manspreading” and has mainly received attention where public transportation is concerned.  

Men are more guilty than women of having their arms, legs, and any personal belongings positioned such that they occupy more space and as a result, seem bigger. For instance, when I’m at Panera Bread to get my drink, I’ll stand such that people can walk around me and can reach on either side of me. I don’t need immediate physical access to the entire soda machine, and there is no reason two or three people can’t use it at once. But, it’s nothing for another man to stand such that no one can do anything in the vicinity until he is finished.

Such use, such monopolization (?) of space, I’m sure is largely unconscious, but there it is and is nonetheless a manifestation of Male Privilege. 

Similarly, when I am eating at restaurants, more and more often there is a little plate, bowl, or something coming all the time, in addition to sometimes a new glass for each refill. In a typical dining experience I might–through no autonomous choice–end up being given 5-7 plates of some kind or another, 2-6 glasses, plus silverware, and napkins. This all adds up, especially when viewed as an extension of the space I take up, and it tends to make me feel very uncomfortable. For this reason, I do my best to consolidate extra plates and whatnot as possible. 

This also makes me think about the geography of restaurants (more on the rhetoric of restaurants specifically in a forthcoming post). Too many restaurants have tables and booths that are far too small when you consider that people are taller and bigger than ever before. Given my 6’6″ height and leg brace, I need all the leg room possible, which generally means no one can sit in front of me, or I have to have my legs positioned in somewhat odd ways. And these tables are especially too small when we consider the space people take up vis-á-vis personal belongings such as cell phones and wallets and items brought out by the restaurant on large and numerous platters.  

And to be clear, I’m not thinking about concepts of “personal space” that inevitably differ greatly from culture-to-culture. I’m talking about the “raw” space a person takes up, both by reading their body and by reading their clothes, exact positioning of arms and legs, and use of objects as an extension of the self–all a combination of the voluntary, involuntary, conscious, and unconscious. Conversations about the space (or lack of space) between people would be completely different. 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda 


Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. This issues was a hot topic a year or so ago. My thoughts: Men have no reason to take up twice the space as women take. However, most men cannot put their knees together while sitting as women can without experiencing some discomfort or even pain. This is due to an important physiological difference between the two. A certain amount of “manspreading” should be tolerated, although some men inconsiderately take up more room than they actually need. Some consideration should be given by both men and women on this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Larry, do you find that “manspreading” is perhaps a red herring, not as an argument, but as an tempest in a teapot? (Who uses teapots any more).

      Both you and AJP are correct about the space more active, less passive. But, as both of you are implying, but we need to expect (perhaps predicting AJP’s rhetoric of restaurants) how in American society, boys and men are trained to be more physically in space, and how then girls and women are rewarded by constraining their space.

      The obvious example is schooling sports vs schooling classroom. When boys try to use their bodies in classroom space, they are penalized; when girls use their bodies in classroom space, they are rewarded.

      Note, too, that so far we haven’t complicated bodies in space by other constructs, such as race and religion. I can swerve and dash among women in congested public space unless women mark themselves with conservative Muslim dress. Then I, I hope respectfully, give more space and actually restrain my body movement, ensure no contact. Do I make any sense? Brent Staples, of course addresses his body as a black man and how his body actually changes space around him. Vershawn Ashanti Young argues the same.

      I’d hope to discuss space/geography in terms of Anderson Benedict and “imaginary communities,” including public space like restaurants (hat off to Panera) — the temporary and shifting geography, but who are in fact designed, manufactured, and controlled by corporate ideals.

      Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: