The Art of Taking Up Space

CoverStory-Liniers-Eustace-Manspreading-879x1200-1454103357You’ve probably heard of the “manspread” – the cultural phenomenon that has taken the New York City subway by storm. If you haven’t, it may be time to Google it.

The topic of manspreading been laughed about on comedy shows and trending across social media networks. In fact, a “manspreading” illustration of the famed New Yorker caricature Eustace Tilley is currently gracing the coveted cover of the magazine’s 90th anniversary edition.

While the jokes are funny, I haven’t quite been able to understand this phenomenon, or the bigger question of why people, both women and men, put up with this.

While I don’t live in NYC, and don’t even pass through the big apple that often, I often see this same phenomenon happen in the skies where I tend to hang out quite a bit as a master travel hacker. Why is it that the man sitting next to me thinks his elbow, his knees or his side beer belly is welcome to take up half of my seat? And why do I naturally scoot over in my own seat to make room rather than say excuse me, but get the F#&* out of my space?

A rockstar friend of mine shared this poetry slam video with me this week, and it got me thinking about this topic. (It’s a few years old, but it’s good. You should watch it.)

While I consider myself to be a pretty independent and empowered woman, so many of these words resonated with a silenced voice deep inside me.

Sure, I’ve been told that I can do anything I want and be anything I want—and I fully believe this. But I’ve have also spent decades taking in the silent lessons that politeness trumps truth, soft is better than strong, presence requires apology, and pretty precedes professional. While our hearts desire big lives and success of epic proportions, our poorly-calibrated inner compass directs us with these misguided truths.

Ironically, the same figures in my life who applaud my opportunity and success, are the same who hint that I’m not ‘settled down’ because perhaps I’m too independent, too strong, and too smart to be a suitable partner. “Live large they say, but maybe not too big because no man wants to be with that.” I call bullshit on this.

We are all meant to live largely and to love others. That’s how the world works.

Isn’t it interesting that women are said to glow when they are pregnant? Perhaps this is the one time in their lives they are finally as an act of nature, un-apologetically taking up space, and people make room for it without question.

Perhaps we should all live like we’re expecting.

Though it’s easy to file this under “gender issues” this isn’t solely about women. The “manspreader” is symbolic of a much bigger cultural, and even global problem we face:

We must stop living in false belief that one person or any group of people has more right to take up more space than another.

Let me say that again:

We must stop living in false belief that one person or any group of people has more right to take up more space than another.

Male, Female, Red, Yellow, Black White—the challenge is for all of us:

Live in your fullness
Break your invisible boundaries

Show up more, Shut up less
Open up when you’d rather give up

Make space for others, but most importantly, fill the space that’s yours

And if this is just too philosophical for you, please remember this one simple thing:
Keep your knees off my seat and your elbow off my armrest.

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