Wow, someone is actually trying to rationalize manspreading with science

Since the dawn of time, apparently, men have been  spreading in order to evolve
Since the dawn of time, men have been spreading in order to evolve

Nothing kills your commute like seeing someone taking up more space than they ought to be on a crowded train. With more than 4 million straphangers relying on public transit every day, the idea of someone spreading out over multiple seats isn’t just irksome; it’s downright unacceptable. And the worst of all these spatial offenders, more loathsome than big bag carriers and seat-sleepers, is undoubtedly the manspreader.

Despite the manspreader’s shame in the public eye, there are two journalists (Ash Bennington and Mark Skinner) making a curious case defending the manspreader, claiming that there’s actual evolutionary reasoning behind the spread. Really? 

Bennington and Skinner claim to have conducted a series of “multivariate analyses” of men’s bodies that demonstrate their need to man-spread out on a crowded subway train (they label manspreading a “myth). Basically, because men’s shoulders are wider than their hips, men must manspread to ensure they have enough room to sit up straight.

“Manspreading appears to be an adaptive strategy that men employ due to innate morphological characteristics,” they write. Or in other words, dudes can’t help it because, bodies. “A man needs to secure more seat space using his legs than a woman would need to in order for the man to maintain enough room to sit up straight in his seat.”

The famed manspreading red man in question.
The famed manspreading red man in question.

Their research, which looks at mostly the ratio and alignment of the male form, lets them make the hypothesis that man-spreading is actually just “something men do to adjust for their body proportions — especially their high shoulder to hip ratio — and not an act of transgression against their fellow passengers.”

That’s a nice thought. But if we all adjusted for our body proportions to be more comfortable, or tried to be more ergonomic, I highly doubt that there would be anyone, of either gender, who chose to sit cross-legged. The question of whether man-spreading is transgressive, or triggering, is pretty much moot. It’s just a dick move (pun very much intended) that isn’t hard to correct. If no one gave a shit about being courteous, we’d all spread out. Some people would lie down. Some people would cross their legs right up onto the seats.

If anything, this study requires a contrapuntal analysis of why women take up so little space on the train. Is it our wide, child-bearing hips that cause our legs to scrunch together to make room for other people? Or is it our petite shoulders that allow us to sit into the back of a seat properly?

Bennington and Skinner also chide the MTA’s PSA stick figures for portraying an inaccurate male body proportion on their ad campaign. To that, we simply give you this:

Tell me what is reasonable about stick figures
If these stick figures were real people, they wouldn’t be able to walk on their weird sausage legs. via MTA

There aren’t many realistic things going on in these PSAs to begin with. For one thing, the grey people have no arms. But notwithstanding the MTA’s weakness at designing anatomically-accurate stick figures, the above graphic does show a male (or a sartorially-dressed woman) sitting just fine in a single subway seat. His/her courtesy stands (or sits) in stark contrast to the offending red man who spreads. And we’ve obtained stunning photographic evidence of a real-life instance of the same:

Men in suits do exist, and their legs do function. via flickr user Devyn Caldwell
Men in suits do exist, and their legs do function. via flickr user Devyn Caldwell

Hey, look! It’s physically possible to be a man and sit in a hard-backed chair without showing off your crotch! And here are some more photos of men sitting very reasonably in seats on the subway:

via flickr user David Tan
via flickr user David Tan
via flickr user Andrew
via flickr user Andrew

Bennington and Skinner also attempt to support their claims by citing their own anecdotal frustrations, of “being forced to hunch over awkwardly while riding on crowded subway trains.” They claim that, while non-scientific,  “it [was] still a really annoying experience.” Hey, that’s fun. You know what else is a really annoying experience? Commuting in general!

In what utopian epoch of New York City subway-riding does one not feel sardined into a crowded train, subjected to all sorts of bodily fluid-related subway horrors, or just generally transgressed upon by the presence of other living, breathing humans? It’s part of living in New York City. (It’s also ironic that this article’s study of man spreading boasts so many scientific statistics, when the authors’ seeming fantasy of a quiet underground ignores the statistics about just how many people use the goddamn trains every day.)

One last instance of these two men “applying calculations” for you:

Finally, an adaptive benefit for manspreading may be to avoid collisions in the aisles on crowded trains. […] On average, a seated man’s knees are 0.8 inches longer than a seated woman’s — but can extend out as much as 4.3 inches longer (95th male percentile, 5th female percentile) than a seated woman’s knees would. The average man can reduce the distance which his knees protrude by about 3.1 inches simply by adjusting his legs outward — manspreading — to a 30-degree angle.

What? Half an inch of extra leg is nothing compared to the absence of an extra seat on the train, not to mention the discomfort one feels in having to stand in between someone’s open legs if the train gets crowded. If anything, a man keeping his legs snapped shut can only help the busy commute, both by reducing the space in the seats on either side of him, and by allowing people to stand around him instead of inside his man-berth.

Also, you call this 30 degrees?

via WNYC
via WNYC

Read the whole, absurdly reported story if you like. But a more realistic analysis of why manspreading happens is available here.


  1. raz0rw0rk

    I dunno. I ain’t convinced these guys don’t have something going here.

    Still, I find the seats to just be too small on the older lines. The benches on the N, Q, L, and so on are great and should comfortably fit three adults per bench half. Those older seats are built for smaller people and its outdatedness shows. Take an R downtown after work and you’ll see what I mean. People barely overweight spill into the adjacent seat and block the entire seat off for other passengers to sit comfortably. Also, good luck sitting on the seat where the benches take an L turn if you’re over 5’10”.

    Not that I tolerate spreaders, mind you. I hate it when they look like gymnasts warming up before taking on a pommel horse. I just think these problems could be fixed with widening the seats so people can sit in comfort.

    Also, bag people are absolutely the worst. I don’t care how expensive your purse/backpack is, put it on your lap or on the floor because it does not deserve a seat.

  2. Yes, how dare men want to be -comfortable- on the subway.

    Seriously, they came out with science and you came out with… really a mish-mash of nonsense. For example:

    ‘That’s a nice thought. But if we all adjusted for our body proportions to be more comfortable, or tried to be more ergonomic, I highly doubt that there would be anyone, of either gender, who chose to sit cross-legged.’

    Scientifically speaking, though, men are suffering more than women. Still, why bother with that obvious piece of logic when you can complain about every little thing a man does wrong ~~~

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