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Posted at: Jun 18, 2017, 2:08 AM; last updated: Jun 18, 2017, 2:08 AM (IST)TAKE MY WORD

Of manspreading and upskirting

Harvinder Khetal
Manspreading is a practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.
Of manspreading and upskirting
Illustration: Vishu Verma
THANK  God! So, it’s not just we ‘over-sensitive girls’ that feel so. It seems that it’s quite a universal feeling. So much so that a couple of years ago — in 2105 — the word describing that feeling even made it to the Oxford dictionary. And, it hasn’t ended in the tome lying dormant. In fact, it has even been acknowledged as an offence in some countries, attracting fine and prison. The word is manspreading.

This 21st century expression originates from man and spreading. Manspreading is a practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.

Having to broach this issue makes me uncomfortably squishy. As crunched as I felt when I was squished against the corner, grimly holding on to edge to prevent myself from falling into the aisle as the driver took a sharp turn, when my fellow male passenger in the local bus spread into my zone and leg space. Being skinny too didn’t help. Rather, it gave the other party more room to…you know what. That was when I was in New Delhi for a short while and travelled in DTC buses since the office provided the cab only on the return journey in the late evening. Thankfully, in Chandigarh, I move around in my car even at night and don’t have to endure such agonising encounters on a routine basis anymore.

But I remember that ordeal and feeling very well: an amalgam of discomfort, repugnance, embarrassment, rage, frustration, unwanted pile-on, etc. I would wish for the journey to end soon, more so during the sweaty summer heat. Splits go well with gymnastics, not in crowded public buses and trains, please! Once, unable to bear it even after much wriggling and fidgeting, I even sarcastically asked the offending bulky neighbour if he had bought two tickets that he felt entitled to so much space. Fortunately, the invading fellow was shamed enough to squirm and squeeze himself into a smaller size. Someone else in his place might have pounced at me for my perceived ‘impudence’. Rather, a lot many dismiss it as another feminist fad and misandry (dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men). 

Perhaps, it affects women disproportionately. But outright rejection of the sentiment as being silly would amount to another assertion of male dominance in our patriarchal world and gender insensitivity. We girls are taught that nice girls should keep their legs crossed. How about sensitising boys to be nice boys? By including lessons on manspreading in their social etiquette protocol?

Manspreading, also called man-sitting, has polarised people into two positions. Each side stares at the other with a dirty look and a sigh over the matters of the thigh and how nigh it may rightly be. Incidentally, Madrid has banned manspreading in public transport. And, two years ago, two men were arrested from the New York Subway (metro) for crossing the boundary of a seat. Paris and San Francisco too are mulling to crack down on this matter. Respect other’s space and close your legs, please, they advise.

Well, well as women the world over fight to reclaim their territory, I am reminded of upskirting. It’s another neologism. A neologism (from  Greek ???- néo-, “new” and lógos, “speech, utterance”) is the name for a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepted into mainstream language. 

Upskirting is the practice of surreptitiously photographing or videotaping underneath a female's dress or skirt. Voyeurs carrying smartphones often take the snap or video in public places, unbeknownst to the victim. That’s a legal issue too. In Gerogia, USA, a man was convicted and sentenced to five years on probation filming under the woman’s skirt.

Technology has indeed taken us far from the days of that harmless naughty skirt and wind picture of Marilyn Monroe and her many clones.


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