Why Do Trends Like ‘Womanspreading’ Make People Uncomfortable?

Many people, particularly those who subscribe to conservative or traditionalist views, tend to find many modern trends extremely uncomfortable-making. Whether it is women demanding rights for themselves, trying to reclaim public spaces or gain an equal footing in the workplace, there is significant anger and rejection of this bucking of the trend. Women are no longer content to do as they are told – women are unwilling to be pigeonholed and trends such as manspreading womanspreading are quite simply bewildering a lot of people.

What is manspreading?

This is a term used to describe how men typically take up space in public: an easy lounging posture, spread out limbs and a generally little awareness of impinging upon the personal space of others. The male of the species is not taught how to sit or ‘conduct’ himself in public; neither is this expected of him.

For women, it is completely different. “Sit like a girl/woman” we are taught early in life. This means that we are to sit with legs close together or crossed, arms close to one's body, take up as little space as possible and generally be as unobtrusive and invisible as possible. This, we are taught is about decorous, modest behaviour suited to a ‘good’ woman; a ‘lady-like’ demeanour that is expected at all times. 

#Womanspreading is now a thing

Many women simply don’t see why this double standard should exist. Refusing to knuckle under this expectation, women decided to trend #Womanspreading. Hundreds of women posted pictures of themselves in poses that would be considered unconventional and unladylike – with their legs apart.  This has a dual purpose: it is meant to create awareness around the way that many men conduct themselves in public spaces and also a way for women to strike a power pose and make a statement reclaiming their spaces in public.

There have been adverse reactions, as expected. The Facebook page of the MRA (Men's Rights Activism) Universe responded with a series of pictures that showed women taking up space in public transport, claiming that this is not a gender issue at all; merely a matter of poor transit etiquette. Obviously, others also had opinions on women behaving in what they termed as an ‘unbecoming’, ‘uncouth’ or ‘unladylike’ manner.

Why are there so many negative reactions?

Many people just don’t like change. When they see things around them being different than what they are used to, it makes them feel uncomfortable; perhaps insecure. For many men, it is an erosion of power structures as they exist and a whittling away of the male privilege that has been their right for centuries.

We have been brought up to believe that ‘good’ and ‘worthy’ women have to be self-effacing and to put the desires of others before their own. Even superficial, seemingly unimportant things such as body hair, belching in public and so on, are very much circumscribed. Women must be seen to have little or no body hair, no visible muscles (strength). They should be delicate and mild-mannered. Women should be shorter, smaller and younger than their male partners. These are all social expectations that emanate from men as well as women.

Being assertive, audible, bucking the trend – when women do this, it is frowned upon. Consider the recent brouhaha over the Adidas ad featuring Arvida Bystrom’s naturally hirsute arms and legs. The response to the ad from some quarters was negative in the extreme – she was called disgusting, ugly, and gross; some reactions included rape threats.

What about the armpit hair?

Then there is armpit hair – disgusting if women have it, dandified and effeminate if men don’t have. Celebs have appeared in public with armpit hair and been trolled and roundly vilified for it.

It isn't just men; women also get uncomfortable with these trends and changes. Women who refuse to use hair removal products are trolled by women as well. Men, as well as women, also think that #WomanSpreading is uncouth and disgusting.

Some of us explain it away as a matter of personal grooming, aesthetics, etiquette and personal tastes – the ideal of feminine beauty and comportment is supposed to be smooth, shorn of hair, delicate, small, dainty, quiet, well behaved. The ideal of male attractiveness is the opposite.

Evidently, it is about much more than that. Our social conditioning is strong, gender stereotypes have a powerful influence on the way we think and expect others to behave. Of course, the expectations from women are always more. Women always have to try harder and do more to gain societal approval. Right now, the women trending #Womanspreading probably don’t care about that type of social approval.

That very attitude – impervious to societal censure or praise or approval – is probably what is infuriating some people the most!

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