New York's transit authority has launched a campaign against "manspreading"

Images: mentakingup2muchspaceonthetrain.tumblr.com.

Even if you don't know what the word "manspreading" means, there's a good chance you would recognise it by sight. On trains, metros and buses across the globe, men (we hate to generalise, but yes, we do mean men) are attracting steely glares for the wide angle at which they position their lower limbs. There's even a Tumblr blog, Men Taking Up Too Much Space On the Train, dedicated to shaming the guilty. 

Admittedly, this issue isn't particularly high on most peoples' priority lists. Travellers do lots of annoying things on trains, and someone with three suitcases or a buggy is just as, if not more disruptive than, that guy who can't keep his legs to himself. Nonetheless, the battle for legspace has now left the internet and made it to the highest levels of transport regulation.

In late December, Mew York's Metropolitan Transport Authority launched a campaign to dissuade manspreaders. It took the form of this somewhat embarrassingly phrased sign, rolled out to subway cars across the network, and forms part of a wider campaign promoting etiquette on public transport:

If that wasn't dramatic enough, the issue subsequently made the front page of the New York TimesIn the story, Paul Fleuranges, the MTA's senior director for communications, proudly said that the sign's jocular opener was his idea: "I had them add the dude part, because I think, ‘Dude, really?’" 


Since the campaign's launch, the manspreading debate has climbed up the agenda in other cities. Similar signs have appeared in Philadelphia, where transport bosses have opted for the more confronational, “Dude It’s Rude... Two Seats – Really?” In both New York and London, intrepid female journalists tried out "woman-spreading" to guage the public's reaction (tuts and photograph-taking, mostly). A Toronto news channel noted a wave of support on Twitter for a manspreading ban aboard the city's public transport.

And around the world, people are asking the question: why manspread in the first place? Is it, as angry commenters on the Tumblr blog regularly assert, a question of anatomy? Or is it, like mansplaining, an act of pure selfishness motivated by the horrible structural forces of patriarchy? Until we have the definitive answer, the war will rage on.  

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The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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