Posted by: *carrie* | September 3, 2010

Taking Up Space

One of the things I’ve become especially cognisant of is my right to take up space, particularly in public spaces. When women are in public, they are viewed as public property – there to be appraised, appreciated, observed, provide pleasure for men. If they are not providing at least one of these services, then they are shamed or degraded and made to feel they don’t have a right to be in that space.

Once I started reading more about this concept and really seeing it play out I started changing things about my own actions in public. I noticed ‘little’ things; when I walk down the sidewalk and a man is walking towards me, he doesn’t get out of the way. He doesn’t even try and scoot over and share the sidewalk. So I decided that I wasn’t giving up my place on the sidewalk, either. This results in two grown adults walking towards each other, clearly about to walk head on into each other, until moments before the collision. At which point the guy will sort of move over, but usually not much, and usually still brushing my arm. After a couple of the arm brushes, I also began casually moving my elbow out in a jab-inducing position.

It’s not just on the sidewalk. It happens in stores when I’m trying to get by or browse a shelf next to a man. It happens at concerts, when I’m standing next to my partner (who’s a good 6″ taller than myself) and a man stands directly in front of me, invading my personal space and blocking my view, when the room isn’t even remotely crowded.

My partner is male. I’ve observed these interactions when I’m alone and when he’s present. Men magically share space with him without any apparent acknowledgement. They just suddenly seem aware that there is another person near them. We were recently at a used book store. He was perusing DVDs. I was nearby and noticed another man who clearly wanted to either look at the same shelf or get by. Partner was oblivious to the guy meekly standing there. The guy didn’t push his way in, he didn’t even say ‘excuse me’ to try and get by. Just stood there looking a bit forlorn. It’s plausible that he was shy. Except eventually he got around my partner. When the same patron got near my location, he suddenly didn’t have nearly the problem invading my space – without even a ‘pardon me’. He just came right over and started sharing the space. Shyness wasn’t the issue.

So I’ve been playing this game of “How Much Space Can I Take Up” for a couple of months. I haven’t figured out how to move beyond the simple act of being “in the way” to forcing men to realize that women deserve and are entitled to the same spaces they are. It seems a bit extreme and unrealistic to stop men on the sidewalk and lecture them on their patriarchal use of said sidewalk. If you’re female (or present as such) I’d recommend giving this experiment a try. I never realized just how much this happened until I deliberately quit letting it happen.

And I’d really like it if giants stopped standing directly in front of me at concerts.

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