I totally forgot about man spreading until I moved to Lyon and started taking public transportation daily. It’s a strange experience sitting on the metro next to a guy whose legs are so wide open you’d think there was an invisible force pulling each knee apart. You might think that upon seeing someone arrive to sit in the seat next to them they would pull their legs together to give the person some space the same way one would move a bag to their lap to free up the seat for a passenger but no.
I wonder what happens when it’s two men sitting side by side. Would they close their legs then? Or would they both continue forcing each leg as wide apart as possible so that the thigh of one presses against the knee of another in equal but opposite directions.
I try to always sit next to a woman but if it’s not possible I’d rather stand.
Today was different. Today I was seated first, at the window reading my book. We stopped at Perrache and a lot of people got on. A man sat next in the open seat next to me and when he did, he forced his legs open so wide that he pushed mine more closed than they already were. I reacted quickly to this foreign invasion and pulled my legs close to the wall. Then he opened his even wider while leaning back and spreading his shoulders so that they touched mine. Yes he was a heavy set man, but there was no reason why he had to spread out all that weight to push me into a corner. I sat and thought for a while. Should I say something?
I thought back to the day before when I was on the bus. It was empty except for three other people when it stopped and a man boarded. He walked past all the empty seats and stopped at the third to last row where I was seated and sat next to me. The two seats opposite us were open as were most of the others on the bus. But still he had to sit right next to me. And following suit to all his other brethren, his legs open wide so that his thigh touched mine before I pulled mine as usual into the corner. I wanted to get up. I was reading as usual but paused and while staring at the page my gaze so full of fury it almost burnt the words away, I tried to think.
But why should I have to ‘think’? It shouldn’t be that complicated. You don’t feel comfortable you remove yourself from the situation. It was easier for me this day than others because this man was so deliberate in his invasion of my space. The bus stopped at a traffic light, I stood up,
He moved his legs to let me pass, I went three seats ahead and sat in one of the many empty rows. The bus continued along. I opened my book and pretended I was reading but instead my mind was racing with questions.
Why? Why do men feel the need to invade the personal space of women? And in my experiences here in Lyon, France have the culprits always been black African men. Why do I sometimes think twice before reacting and even feeling guilty for my revulsion at a man touching me deliberately without my consent. I wonder if I would have the same reaction if they were white, but I’ve never had this particular experience with white men so I don’t know. Is it just a coincidence?
Is it also a coincidence that at least 5 times in as many months African men and twice African women have deliberately walked close to me and bumped/pushed me vigorously even though there was space enough around us to allow for both of us to pass without contact. Is that also a coincidence?
Whenever a man comes and sits next to me on public transport and gets unnecessarily close, my instinct is to get up and reclaim my space. But in the beginning, when faced with these situations I hesitated. I think ‘maybe it will look bad’. He is black, maybe it will seem like I don’t want to sit down next to him because he is black? No. I know the reason, so why do I always second guess and sometimes feel bad. Why have I often times endured this simply because of some warped sense of racial solidarity.
After enough of these bizarre encounters I’ve moved away from that idea of being in solidarity with someone who is clearly not extending basic courtesy to me and I now have no problem with moving far away from any situation where I feel uncomfortable.
I don’t understand the relationships between black people from Africa and those from the diaspora. I’ve had equally strange experiences throughout my time in America but here in France it’s much more overt. I don’t understand it. I don’t know if I ever well. It’s not something I like to talk about because it makes me uncomfortable. I have so many questions that need answers.