M a n s p r e a d i n g.
Though the phrase was coined in English, that particular way of sitting — legs splayed apart, with little regard for the personal space of others nearby — is a worldwide phenomenon.
Now Madrid public transportation officials are targeting the practice, with a new campaign that seeks to dissuade passengers from spreading their legs.
Madrid officials this week announced that new signs would go up in its city buses, depicting a seated figure whose open legs are partially blocking the seats next to him. Next to the figure is a large red ‘X.’
“The mission of this new signage is to remember the need to maintain civic behavior and to respect the space of everyone on board the bus,” Spanish bus operator EMT said in a statement this week.
— Ayuntamiento Madrid (@MADRID) June 6, 2017
The city’s Metro system will adopt a similar campaign as well, according to BBC News.
The decision to put up the signs came about after the women’s group Mujeres en Lucha had organized an online Change.org petition pushing Madrid officials to do so.
Manspreading “is not something that occurs sporadically, but if you look, you will realize that it is a very common practice,” the petition read. “It is not difficult to see women with their legs closed and very uncomfortable because there is a man next to her who is invading her space with his legs.”
More than 600 people supported the petition. The Mujeres en Lucha group also used the hashtag #MadridSinManspreading (“Madrid Without Manspreading”) to promote their message, as well as tips for how to deal with manspreading.
— mujeresenlucha (@mujeresenluchaa) June 5, 2017
The group also posted and retweeted photos of public transportation offenders on its Twitter account. In one instance, it photoshopped imaginary items that might fit in the space between a manspreading passenger’s legs, including bagpipes and a Thanksgiving turkey.
— mujeresenlucha (@mujeresenluchaa) June 3, 2017
Manspreading is so, well, widespread that an informal definition for it was included in the online version of the Oxford Dictionaries in 2015: “The practice whereby a man, especially one traveling 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.”
For those who manspread, it can barely register that they’re sitting in a way that they irritates other passengers — or perhaps they simply don’t care. For others who loathe the practice, it’s immediately recognizable.
The debate over manspreading has often split on gender lines, with some groups charging that manspreading is anti-feminist, while some men have complained of being unfairly targeted by the term when female passengers are also capable of taking up more than their fair share of space.
Madrid is not the first city to try to discourage manspreading on its public transportation. A 2014 Metropolitan Transportation Authority campaign sought to crack down on manspreading on the New York subway system, when it adding an image of an offending passenger to a series of posters about general common courtesy on public transportation.
“Dude… Stop The Spread, Please,” read the caption to that image. “It’s a space issue.”
— David Choel ☀️ (@DavidChoel) January 29, 2016
Philadelphia’s SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) also launched a campaign that targeted manspreading, entitled “Dude It’s Rude.”
— CBS Philly (@CBSPhilly) September 14, 2014
Seattle’s Sound Transit launched a similar campaign in 2015, declaring that passengers have “one body, one seat.” The agency has since periodically revived its posters, showing an octopus sitting with its tentacles kept to itself next to one with its tentacles spread all around it.
— Sound Transit (@SoundTransit) May 31, 2017
Lest people think manspreading is a modern-day practice, a 2016 New York Transit Museum exhibit proved otherwise. Entitled “Transit Etiquette or: How I Learned To Stop Spitting and Step Aside in 25 Languages,” the exhibit showed decades-old vintage posters from subway systems around the world that attempted to warn against littering or being a “seat monopolizer,” according to New York magazine.
“Bad subway behavior,” the publication surmised, “is a universal.”