In Summary
  • Just as you are settling in, a man gets in, plops into the seat next to you, leans back and then to your annoyance, spreads his legs wide open, squashing you in the process.
  • When a man spreads out, he is consciously or subconsciously asserting his dominance. When a woman shrinks in her seat, she is unknowingly giving in to this power play.
  • At that business meeting, resist the urge to take that corner seat where all you will escape attention. Sit in the middle. Embrace the spotlight.

It’s Monday morning and you have scrambled to get into the only available matatu to ferry you to work. Or it’s a Friday evening, you’ve had a long week and you are looking for a comfortable, quiet ride home. Just as you are settling in, a man gets in, plops into the seat next to you, leans back and then to your annoyance, spreads his legs wide open, squashing you in the process. He will seem totally unaware of you or your discomfort.

We call it manspreading. Every woman has been on the receiving end of it, whether in a crammed bus, the Madaraka Express or even a bench out on the street. We hate this behaviour and when it happens, we chalk it up to male chauvinism.

ASSERTING HIS DOMINANCE

How does the average woman respond to manspreading? She may get annoyed and try to push her way but more often than not, while men spread their legs, women sit tighter in their chairs, press their limbs together, make themselves smaller. It is how we are raised. Sit with your legs closed, dress appropriately and while at it, be aware of the space you occupy.

Now, I agree that manspreading is an annoying male habit and bad social etiquette. What most of us are missing, however, is the fact that it is also a very potent form of body language that sends out very powerful messages.

When a man spreads out, he is consciously or subconsciously asserting his dominance. When a woman shrinks in her seat, she is unknowingly giving in to this power play. And this needs to stop. I am not suggesting that women start sitting with their legs wide open but I think that if women are going to be treated with respect, if they are going to be accorded the same opportunities as men, then it will help a great deal to pick up a few lessons on body language from the other gender.

Instead of playing small, learn to exhibit dominant body language. You can start by replacing that limp handshake with a firm one and the shy smile with an unblinking eye contact.

Whilst in the presence of people who you would like to respect you, spread your body out. Stand with your hands on your hips, spread those elbows out and stand erect with your chin up. This will send the message that you think very highly of yourself to those around you. Usually, what you think of yourself is contagious.

At that business meeting, resist the urge to take that corner seat where all you will escape attention. Sit in the middle. Embrace the spotlight. Do not say, when your colleague asks, that your vacation was good if it was great.

If you act like you feel entitled to the world, those around you will treat you as such. Start taking up some more space.