#Manspreading and Publicly Shaming Strangers


I have a confession to make. When I've had a long day, am in dire need of a laugh, and find myself craving the sort of absurdity that will always bring a smile, I check out the #manspreading hashtag on Twitter.

If you haven't heard of manspreading, you soon will. It seems to be the next big thing for many online feminists. It refers to men sitting like men on public transit. From what I've been able to gather, it is an extremely serious problem. It seems to have started in New York toward the end of last year, quickly gaining momentum before spreading to other cities in the U.S. (e.g., Seattle, San Francisco) and even some European countries. And yes, it has become my new favorite thing.

I don't mean that actually manspreading has become my favorite thing. I don't live in an area with public transportation. I mean that following the hashtag has become my favorite thing. The content one finds there consists primarily of outraged women (and a few men) taking candid photos of men sitting on public transit and then sharing these photos on Twitter for the purpose of publicly shaming these men.

Remember when feminists used to protest against shaming? I remember agreeing with them on issues like the problematic nature of slut shaming. I thought they made a good point there about the ridiculous nature of the sexual double standard. But publicly shaming strangers on social media now seems to be a preferred tactic for many.

Taking a photo of someone without their knowledge, much less their consent, and then posting it publicly for the purpose of shaming them (and their gender) strikes me as morally suspect. That might even be putting it a bit too nicely. I have a feeling that many of the women doing this would not appreciate it at all if someone were to do it to them. My guess is that they'd characterize it as "harassment," and I think I'd be inclined to agree with them.

How do they not see doing this as a problem? I've been assured that the manspreading "movement" is "about male entitlement" and that it "is there to show men that their body language affects people." Maybe so. I'm still not sure how this makes sharing candid photos of strangers without their consent for the purpose of public shaming acceptable. I've also been told that these social media tactics have "started a dialogue." There is no question about that. But does that end justify these means? Many seem to think so.

Maybe men sitting like this on public transit really is a problem. Is social media vigilantism involving public shaming then justified? Do we now live in a society where asking someone to move over so someone else can sit down is not possible but shaming them on Twitter is perfectly acceptable? These are interesting questions to ponder.

Someone told me not too long ago that so-called 4th wave feminism is little more than social justice warriors insulting others on social media. They insisted that it bears virtually no resemblance to anything the feminists of previous generations would recognize or want to claim as part of their noble tradition. I was skeptical and fear I might have responded with something snarky or dismissive. Thanks to manspreading, I'm starting to think I might owe someone an apology.