Thursday, November 10, 2016

No More Shrinking, Take Up Space!

During my freshman year of college, I read The Frailty Myth by Colette Dowling for my Intro to Women's Studies class. Arguing that society perpetuates the myth that women aren't as physically strong and capable as men, Dolette challenges these preconceived notions of women's strength. After all these years, a part of the book still resonates with me: While women make themselves as small as possible in public spaces, men generally spread out and take up space. Entire blogs have been devoted to this phenomenon, such as Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train.

Nowhere is it more evident than the grocery store. 

Last Sunday after turning down the peanut butter aisle, I noticed three men, each with their grocery carts cocked to the side and taking up the entire aisle. One man was blocking the whole peanut butter section. I inwardly groaned and parked my cart to the side. I said, "Excuse me, I'm sorry" multiple times as I tried to choose my peanut butter from the shelf. The man moved a few millimeters to the left. I snaked a hand through, grabbed the jar, silently cursed clueless men, and got out of there. 

Then as I navigated a narrow path by the eggs, a man barreled through forcing me to stop. He flashed a smile and said, "Sorry, ma'am." I seethed silently. 

As a woman raised in the South, I feel an obligation to be polite. When men invade my space and force me to make way I say, "Oh, it's fine," or "No, I'm sorry." I sit on airplanes and tuck myself into my seat, never daring to take the armrest from the man next to me. I don't want to make waves or be impolite, and I certainly don't want negative attention.

The fear of negative attention and violence is a large part of why women constrict themselves in public. If we make ourselves smaller, maybe we won't get harassed. If we let men have their space, maybe we won't get raped. 

Well, I'm tired of it. From now on I'm defending my space in public. In the grocery store, I'm yelling, "EXCUSE ME!" instead of whispering it with an apology. I'm calling out people who block aisles. I will not move my cart out of the way when a man barrels through. On airplanes I'm claiming MY armrest. I'm calling out men when they're too close and they need to back up. I will declare my body's right to take up space and tell clueless men to get the fuck out of my way.

Make way!

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