Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Zero Zero: Space

There's a Tumblr that posts photos of Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train that seems to be a current favourite on the part of various of the gender warriors. The Tumblr posts phone camera shots of men sprawled out on subway or bus seats or sitting with legs wide apart or legs crossed with ankle at the knee, filling up space to the side. The idea, of course, is that these men are acting out of "male privilege" and "microaggression" to dominate the women--- a "public assertion of privilege".

I can look at the photos and wonder about some choices. There's a difference between sprawling out in an empty subway car and doing the same in one that's filled. I have to question the choice of some photos of men who are elderly or just very large-framed--- some of the men in the photos are going to spill over into other seat spaces no matter what they do. And I'm male enough to instantly recall women with purses and shopping bags taking up seats and floor space--- that retort comes to mind.  Nonetheless, the Tumblr has a point. Territory is being claimed, power is being asserted. It may not be directed at women, though, as much as it is just a general statement of being powerful enough to claim and defend space.

I've  always tried very hard not to sit like that. Out in public, I try to take up as little space as possible. I really do try to be inconspicuous on subways and busses. On city sidewalks I try to keep moving and slide past and around people and objects. Take up no space, never be an obstacle. Try, really, never to be noticed.  I was brought up to be polite in a very old-school way, and part of that was being told always to remember that, wherever you go and whatever you do, you act as if you're the least important person in the room.  That's not bad training, actually.

The goal, as I've always said, is to be looked at neither in praise nor blame. Nondescript, just part of the background. One shouldn't need to claim great expanses  of social territory any more than one should need to stand out in a crowd. Just be part of the background, something that's never seen as out of place, something that doesn't draw attention.

I've never wanted to be noticed in public. Public space is something one navigates as quickly and with as little contact as possible.  Get to your destination without creating a problem. That's what matters. When I am noticed--- when I'm lecturing to classes, when I'm  trying to flirt with a lovely Young Companion ---it should be by my choice, and in a space that's reasonably restricted.

Being in command of space is always a risky thing--- a challenge, always. I'd rather be a grey, unobtrusive figure on a subway car than spread out to demonstrate my alpha status. If I'm going to command space at all, I'd rather have it be in a lovely girl's gaze across a table. The spaces I want to command never have anything to do with dominating areas in public.

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