Soraya Chemaly writes (linked above):
We are saying to our girl children, empty yourself, lack substance, embody frailty, have no core or centrality. Be as small as possible and we will love you more. To our boy children we say, take up more room, more than is good for you or that you need. Be as big as possible. Fill yourself. Dominate space disproportionately. Go to a park, walk around and see how people are sitting in relationship to one another.
People often ask me if I think things have “gotten worse.” I say yes. Grossly distorted ideas about bodies, femininity, masculinity, space, and power have proliferated during the past 30 years. These are 30 years in which technology, mass marketing, and cultural backlash all came together to profit from reductionist ideas best expressed in stereotypes that are cheap and easy to sell and understand. Concerned parents, teachers, media critics, researchers, and doctors agree that boys and girls as individuals are hurt by conformity to these stereotypes. The harm and messages imparted don’t stop at individuals, but pervade society and, in truth, we won’t know the consequences for another 30 years.
This taking up of space, way beyond how people sit and into how they “are,” is a subtle and massive statement of dominance.
I never considered this concept until Soraya Chemaly pointed it out in this article. Since reading her piece, however, I’ve begun to notice things, little things, about my behavior in crowded, public spaces. Or in office meetings. Or on the sidewalk.
What I had long assumed were natural products of my introverted nature, I’m beginning to realize might go beyond my tendency to be small.
I take the farthest chair because the room is filled with men…and I don’t feel that I merit a seat at the conference table, even if there are several chairs unoccupied.
I inevitably, instinctively move to the side when men pass me because they rarely show any sign of seeing me, much less noticing that they are essentially shouldering me out of the way.
While I was out for a run, one man once exclaimed with a laugh, as I jumped into the bike lane on the road, “I should be the one in the street!” as he passed me on his bicycle. Yet he never made a move to get out of my way.
This is not meant as a bitter stab at men – “Hey! I’m walking here and you need to move it!” Many men and women do daily battle to unlearn and oppose the preconceived notions of “taking up space”. There are plenty of men who will step off the sidewalk as I run past, even though there is room for them to continue walking, unhindered. And I am far from opposed to step off the sidewalk to make room for others. But there is a root problem to be addressed. It’s a commentary on a society which has so long assumed that women will shrink into the corner so that men can have their space. A society that teaches little girls to be quiet and little boys to be in charge. And it is everyone’s responsibility to change this sexist perception of the genders.