Manspreading and Camille Paglia

The Barberini Faun, source: Source:

Life’s full of stange coincidences. Two articles I read the last few days in fact highlight the same phenomenon.

One was an article in the TIMES, titled “It’s a Man’s World, and It Always Will Be” by Camille Paglia: [x]

… the other was titled “The first arrest has been made for manspreading” and has been published in The Independent. [x]

After a few days of calming down, I’ll think I’ll manage to put my points of critique concerning Paglia’s article into briefer words now:

1. To recall historical pseudo-facts like distribution of work on a farm can hardly be counted as a valid argument when it comes to the state of the world now, in industrialized countries. Plus, the numbers are most likely flawed, just as they would be today. Women work more than men do in agricultural societies, not less. Their duties are not limited to playing with toddlers and cooking. Last, the way work is distributed does not have anything to do with the rights given to a person.

2. Paglia never realizes her own privilege. “In France, Italy, Spain, Latin America and Brazil, in contrast, many ambitious professional women seem to have found a formula for asserting power and authority in the workplace while still projecting sexual allure and even glamour.” So she is talking about a slim upper and upper-middle class there that, allegedly, instrumentalises female allure (cringing a little writing this). For most of Europe, and almost a 100 % of the US economy, this is almost synonymous with a certain “race” as well. Then, the social sector, peace and security? Like working in a call center or at the emergency ward?

3. She calls for credit where credit is due. So how about giving credit to all the feminists she hates on, starting at the suffragettes? (The later side-kick at the “dissident Lesbians” I will include here.) How about giving credit to those who ensured you are allowed now, here in the western world, to have your own money, your own bank account, to go voting, to not marry, to not be forced into adoption as a single mother, ….. The list goes on and on.

4. What about men? What about the men on the fabled oil rigs who really would like to have fair wages and see their children grow up? How about all the men, the vast majority, suffering from the system rather than benefiting the way it is now? How about the countless child-workers of both sexes the system is thriving on? How about anyone but straight white males of the upper and upper-middle class?

5. The phenomenon to split factions instead of making allies in a cause is something intrinsically female I find – and this is due to education I believe. It is sustaining the system. I mean, think about it: If women would unite, the Isis or the Taliban would be out of power in a single day. Yet instead women are telling other women what to do, how to behave, how to dress, are slut shaming each other and run contests who is the prettiest.

The discrediting and mistreating of feminists, generalizing them as men-haters, reminds me of the way drag queens and other flamboyant creatures are treated at times in the gay scene. I remember a facebook discussion at the last CSD here, when the organizer was joined by two drag queens on a picture for the newspaper. The first comment was something along the lines “I don’t feel represented.” I see the point. Yet, where were all the suit-wearers that day, and for the picture? Where have two average-looking and modestly dressed guys been at the picture call? I was there. They were not. They easily could have got onto the picture if they had wanted. So, a little gratitude and respect for the ones who risked a lot, maybe, who put their name and reputation at stake, starting at the Stonewall Riots? They weren’t suit-wearers.

Hardly anything was ever changed by people behaving how the system told them it was acceptable. So yes, credit where credit is due please.

One last thing: I am also convinced she never even heard the song to the end, which concludes in:

Man thinks about a little bit of baby girls and a baby boys
Man make them happy
‘Cause man make them toys
And after man make everything
Everything he can
You know that man makes money
To buy from other man

He’s lost in the wilderness
He’s lost in bitterness

Patriarchy and chauvinism are not creating a heaven for males. They create a heaven for exploiters and chauvinists. Everyone else suffers.

Now To Manspreading!

First, I never knew there was an English expression for this! I am delighted.

This caricature highlights the meaning of the term, for the ones not yet familiar with it:


Cartoon via the New Yorker, no infringement of copyright is intended. I believe the use of the picture fulfills the criteria of “fair use,” for discussion and study. Here’s the original page: [x]

(Just as a side-note: When you have to film someone from an angle like this on TV, you mostly ask them to close their legs a little. We used to call it a “Sackschuss” otherwise, a balls-shot.)

Some thoughts on the matter from the top of my head:

First: Seriously, the fact that the NY police (and other US police) have a quota to fulfill is outrageous. I mean imagine an officer who goes like “I’m three short of my quota yet, so who am I going to frame for something? I guess I’m just going to order pizza and run an ID check on the delivery guy.” It just makes me wonder how far they’ll go. As the Gothamist points out, citing subway horror stories, “Ninety-four percent of the 850 defendants observed by PROP were people of color, according to the report. Plenty more of the accounts take place above ground.” So to use manspreading or other minor offences to get the number of tickets and reports up is lame, and very likely racist because of who will be picked on. It is also not helping the issue. If comparing the annoyance caused by manspreading to the appaling racism still prevalent today, the latter is easily the issue that should first be tackled.

So what would Paglia say about man-spreading? I think she would approve, because it’s a man’s world after all. We’re taught this from an early age on, and it is not only reflecting in the architecture, layout, and design of the majority of objects surrounding us, as Paglia justly points out, but is in fact integrated into our socially accepted body language as well.

Men are taught to take up more space. While you’re not exactly taught to flaunt your crown jewels, you’re taught to stand tall and broad, shoulders wide, your feet as far apart as your shoulders are wide. Women, on the other hand, are taught to make their frame appear slimmer and smaller. Don’t wear high heels if you’re tall, put one leg before the other, one shoulder turned inwards, one leg before the other – not like a fencer or fighter would but in a way your stance is less, well, grounded. It’s easier to make a person lose their balance who stands like this:

Candice Swanepoel; I looked up her surname, to be honest. Victoria’s Secret mostly only refers to her as “Candice.” This use of a first name as a default is also a means of making someone smaller, unless your name is Beyonce.

… than like this:

und_beckmain (1)
David Beckham, whose crotch might or might not have been photoshopped for the picture. I vaguely recall heated discussions on various internet platforms on the topic.

While doing a sideways split is not exactly called for, manspreading is not contrary to standard male behaviour, and it’s a society thing. To put it clearly: women on public transport here suck as well. Their whole “I am sorry to be here at all” approach results in them sitting on the seat closer to the middle aisle more often, plus putting a bag onto the seat next to them to avoid any random male in particular to take the seat next to them. So you can pick if you prefer to ask a woman “Em, is that seat next to you free?” and awkwardly stalk over their legs or veer across some guy’s crotch like a lap dancer.

All fun left aside: Not only I am sitting there, kids are too. I don’t want dicks shoved into my daughter’s face for another decade yet at the very least. Regardless, showing of primary genitals is, well, …. I thought our culture was more refined than that? It’s very primal aggressive territorial behaviour. That so many drunk men pee into the wastepaper baskets on train stations after every football game here fits the picture. (Seriously, yuck, someone has to empty them. Mostly males too. The world is fully of little acts of chauvinist behaviour that are making males suffer just as well.)

Manspreading is not about being male, it is about showing dominance. It’s about the intention of instantly establishing a clear hierarchy early on. I am not impressed. I do like men, yet I’m still waiting for an occasion where I could stand up at my station and comment in all honesty “Thank you, Sir, for the view, some really nice cock and balls you got there, congrats,” and make them blush. I guess it’s like with wearing belly-free shirts for girls; for most of the people who do, it’s not a sensible fashion choice.

One last thing: In parts, this manspreading thing is a form of cultural appropriation, stolen from some gangsta rappers’ and hip hoppers’ poses. So it’s not only wrong because it recalls Bonobos if the average white male is doing it, but it is questionable on many levels. Like a German rapper, Pan put it in a nutshell, in a diss of another German rapper called Massiv, where one line goes roundabout like “Real gangsters make music to get out of the ghetto, and won’t move in there with their family.” (“Echte Gangster wolln durch Mucke aus dem Ghetto raus, und wandern nicht mit Familie ins sogenannte Ghetto aus.”)

So while it is right and just that POC especially in America show their confidence, and demand their right to be there, the same isn’t neccessarily true for every white dick.

Featured image: The Barberini Faun, source: Wikipedia [x]


2 thoughts on “Manspreading and Camille Paglia

  1. You are brilliant, as usual. Camille Paglia is a spoiled brat and always has been; she has pretensions to being a public intellectual. As for manspreading, it has always been a problem. I find that when I carry an attache case and set it across my knees, I can prevent encroachment of my boundaries.

    Some men just think they are entitled to cool their balls! The comments on the various articles on manspreading have been illustrative of the woman-hating narcissism of the men who do this. Of course, given the quality of the candidates for the Presidency lately, stupidity and narcissism are prevalent.

    There are a great number of very nice men and women on our MTA in New York. It just takes a few to spoil the experience. I must say that if there were more police getting rid of loud preaching, busking, and stinking up the cars, the experience would be enhanced.

    • Oh my I am flattered, I really don’t think I am brilliant in any way. Actually, my most hurtful thought process while writing the blog note was that, when I first saw the headline, my initial reaction was “yay!” Then I thought, and read, and realized that particularly in the US the rule/law will be used as another tool for racism and supremacy which is kind of the opposite of which I had assumed at first.

      I need to read more of Paglia, even if her style more than her words raises my pulse to unhealthy levels at times. I agree with some lines (as I agree with 90 % of what anyone says, especially politicians, I mean that’s how propaganda works, too), yet it is the general tone that, for me, shows a lot of internalized misogyny seeping through. I have to read some more Nietzsche first, though. Another one who I hate for his misogyny, but I find myself agreeing with a lot of his critique of institutions and religions. Still, with Nietzsche it would be fun to argue. I doubt I would have fun to argue with Paglia.

      The most interesting thing on public transport for me is that even if you regularly travel at the same time a few days in a row, the general mood seems to vary, unpredictably, like the weather. Some days people are just aggressive for no reason, and on other days, all kind to each other. Last week one guy who couldn’t walk properly – he walked with a crutch – and another, who was limping along with a walking aid, both around 60, were close to giving each other a fight, just for one standing kind of one inch in the other’s way, apparently.

      Public transport is an interesting environment. Whether people bury themselves in the paper or stoop over their iPhone, it’s all about setting boundaries in a situation where you get closer than you naturally would. In the vague context: I dislike if women are criticized for wearing earbuds. I often wear them even if I don’t listen to music, as it is a signal saying “please do not try to chat me up; I am not even listening.”

      Oh, and, edit: Yesterday I came across a picture of Candice Swanepoel unphotoshopped. I want to bake her cookies. Candice Swanepoel before and after Photoshop

      Seriously, this is only gradually different from this:
      St Luciana [x]

      I am concerned.

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