Berlin activists show manspreaders who wears the trousers

Manspreading is annoying for everyone on public transport. Now Berlin-based activists are trying to raise awareness and stamp it out.

Berlin activists show manspreaders who wears the trousers
Feminist activists Elena Buscaino and Mina Bonakdar on the Berlin subway. Photo: DPA

A man lounges across two seats on a crowded Berlin train, oblivious to his surroundings – until the two women opposite him suddenly spread their legs, revealing a message on their trousers: “Stop spreading”.

Feminist activists Elena Buscaino and Mina Bonakdar are on a mission to stamp out manspreading – the habit that some men have of encroaching on adjacent seats without consideration for their female neighbours.

“It is perfectly possible to sit comfortably on public transport without taking up two seats by spreading your legs,” said Bonakdar, 25.

The two female activists’ provocative stunt is part of a wider initiative called the Riot Pant Project featuring slogans printed on the inside legs of second-hand trousers.

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Bonakdar and Buscaino, both design students, came up with the idea as a way of helping women and LGBTQ people reclaim public spaces often dominated by men.

As well as “Stop spreading”, the project’s slogans include “Give us space” and “Toxic masculinity” – which, in a nod to the behaviour of those they are aimed at, are only revealed once the wearer shows their crotch.

“It is only through imitation that the interlocutor understands the effect of his or her behaviour,” said Buscaino, 26. 

Ancient phenomenon

But she also admits that very few men immediately change their posture when confronted with the slogans, as observed by AFP on the Berlin underground.

“They are often just astonished that women are behaving like that in front of them,” she said — but she hopes the project will at least give them food for thought.

For Bonakdar, simply wearing the trousers in itself allows women to “feel stronger and gain confidence”.

Although it may seem trivial to some, the problem of manspreading has existed almost since the dawn of public transport.

“Sit with your limbs straight, and do not with your legs describe an angle of 45, thereby occupying the room of two persons,” the Times of London advised as early as 1836 in an article on bus etiquette, as cited by Clive D.W. Feather in “The History of the Bakerloo Line”.

The term “manspreading” was coined in 2013 when New York subway users began posting photos of nonchalant male passengers and their contorted neighbours on social media.

According to a 2016 study by Hunter College in New York City, 26 percent of male subway users in the city are guilty of the practice, compared with less than 5 percent of women.

The US metropolis was one of the first in the world to try to start curbing the behaviour.

In 2014, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched a campaign featuring signs with the message: “Dude… Stop the Spread, Please”.

Gender roles

Similar campaigns have also since been launched in South Korea, Japan, Istanbul, and Madrid, where manspreading has even been punishable with fines since 2017.

The campaigns have sparked a backlash on the internet, with men citing biological differences as a way of justifying the need to spread their legs even if no scientific study has yet proven their argument.

Instead, the phenomenon has more to do with “gender roles” in society, Bettina Hannover, a psychologist and professor at the Free University of Berlin, told AFP.

“Men sit more possessively and indicate dominance with their seating position, while women are expected to take up less space and above all to behave demurely,” she said.


Member comments

  1. Now the next unnecessary uproar will be these people complaining that their crotches are being looked at….
    Keep social distance, be kind and stop attention-seeking.

    1. Is it normal for a person to have words spread over their crotch, displaying said crotch and posting it on the internet?

      Could they just not simply ask a person to allow for more space when having to share that environment?

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Germany poised to bring in stricter mask rules for public transport

The federal government and states are set to impose stricter mask rules for people travelling on public transport, German media reported Tuesday.

Germany poised to bring in stricter mask rules for public transport
A shop selling surgical masks. Photo: DPA

It means that people travelling on buses, local trains or trams will have to wear “medical masks” under new rules, according to Spiegel.

This refers to so-called surgical masks including types such as the FFP2. Masks with other protection standards or  fabric coverings will no longer be permitted on public transport, and possibly in shops.

Bavaria this week made FFP2 masks compulsory on public transport and in shops. However, the nationwide rules look set to include other medical masks along with the FFP2 types, which can be more expensive.

Protective masks at the medical technology company BM Bioscience Technology in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: DPA

According to initial reports, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state leaders are also likely to extend the lockdown measures until February 14th.

That means bars, cafes, restaurants, leisure and cultural facilities will remain closed until at least this date.

Merkel and state leaders are also discussing other measures including school closures, how to cut the number of people on public transport and how to get more people to work from home.

The talks began on Tuesday afternoon.

New Covid-19 infections have been decreasing in recent days, but experts are worried about the possible spread of more infectious variants of the virus.

READ ALSO: Germany set to tighten shutdown as Covid-19 variants fuel fears

Ahead of Tuesday's talks, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier promised to simplify the procedure for businesses to get aid more quickly to help them cope with the prolonged shutdown, reported AFP.

Germany took on a record €130.5 billion ($160 billion) in new borrowing last year to fund its mega bailouts to companies and support schemes for families as the economy crashed due to the pandemic.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 11,369 within 24 hours on Tuesday to 2.05 million. The death toll increased by 989 to a total of 47,622.