Verity Johnson: Face it, even women are manspreaders

OPINION: Everyone has a percentage of dickishness inside them. Some people only have a little. Some people have so much of it that it spills out of them like Coke and Mentos (often on Twitter).

I always become conscious of my internal dickish behaviour when I’m on public transport. Which, given I have the driving skills of a beached whale, is quite a lot.

I do this thing where I pile everything onto the seat next to me. Everything. All of my shopping bags, handbags, wallet, phone, forgotten receipts that are composting in my pockets. I do this because I don’t want people sitting next to me.

So when I saw that Madrid had banned manspreading on its public transport I was outraged. Not because I enjoy someone manspreading next to me, but because I do the female equivalent with all my stuff.


Yes, it’s a crappy thing to do. You’re whispering “sod off!” to everyone else the bus. But I’m not the only one. Oh no. NZ has more bus seat Berlin wall builders than we do busses.

There are good reasons for this. Firstly, as someone who has a sweating condition I’m perpetually worried I’m going to drip on you. (It’s happened.) Secondly, I just don’t like people being near me on public transport. It’s overwhelming and makes me panicky.

The main motivation behind manspreading, which is when men spread their legs out when sitting and take up a lot of space, is to stop people sitting next to them. Freddie Flintoff, a famous manspreader, explained he spreads not just his legs, but his arms, jackets, umbrellas, newspapers and anything not stuck to the floor over the seats next to him. He just doesn’t want to be sat next to. And as long as the root of manspreading is dudes being antisocial, not trying to sexually intimidate women, then I understand where they’re coming from. (If they are aiming to intimidate then that’s a whole other story.)

And as a bag-spreader, I look at a manspreader and see a fellow caterpillar building an antisocial cocoon of personal space. And if i can spread my bags, they can spread their knees.


New York's anti-manspread campaign
New York's anti-manspread campaign Photo credit: MTA

That being said, you do have to move your stuff if the bus is so packed you’re counting a stranger’s armpit hairs. Of course I will move my stuff in peak hour when someone hovers uncertainly over the bag blockade next to me.

Likewise, spreaders should suck in when someone eventually does sit next to them. You can still spread a bit. (I know the pains of being tall and trapped in a seat fit for a Lego man.) Just don’t force your neighbour to crouch with one cheek on, one cheek off the seat.

But to ban spreading completely? Don’t be ridiculous. We need to have a little social barrier between us and the neighbouring person.We are not sufficiently comfortable enough with human interaction to leave any space open for any body.

This isn’t Spain, this is emotionally repressed New Zealand.

Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist.