“Manspreading” – the phenomenon of men spreading their legs too wide in their seats on public transport – is far from new, but since an official crackdown on the habit was announced in Madrid earlier this month, the question of whether Paris will be next has been raging.
City authorities appear aware of the problem.
“It's part of a sexist atmosphere that truly exists in the city and is a part of life for women that they incorporate into their lives,” said Hélène Bidard, in charge of equality at the Paris City Hall.
“Today, they are starting to say, 'stop', we can share the public space equally. We are not obliged to submit to it and women are starting to say it on social media which is very useful,” she said.
In Madrid the crack down against 'manspreading' is taking the form of signs showing a stick figure man taking up more space than he needs (see image below)
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Photo: Alexandre Moreau/Flickr
Naturally the debate about the importance and relevance of the issue known in French as “crystal balls syndrome” (Le syndrome des couilles de cristal) – presumably because it suggests men spread their legs to avoid breaking the crystal – is in full flow on the Twittersphere.
Indeed after joining the chorus of anti-manspreading tweeters, one female journalist was subjected to abuse on the social media site, perhaps proving its validity as a feminist issue.
In her tweet she included a photo showing two men with their legs spread on a packed train while the women next to them are forced to keep their legs clamped together, leading to a flurry of sexist responses.
One man told her she should look at the problem of “womenspreading” – referring to when women carry big handbags that take up vital space on the packed Metro.
But when contacted by French newspaper 20 Minutes, the Ile-de-France transport authority Stif said that they would not be taking a position on the issue.
Valérie Pécresse, president of the great Paris regional said on Tuesday. “This hasn't been raised by transport operators RATP and SNCF, nor by users,” said
A spokesperson from RATP echoed Pecresse's sentiments in a response confirming that the organisation won't be taking a position on the issue either, saying, “'Manspreading' doesn't warrant a specific campaign. The complaints of the people that travel on our service come first when it comes to impolite behaviour relating to propriety.”
Outraged by the response and spurred on by the crackdown in the Spanish capital, French feminist group “Osez le feminisme” wrote an open letter, published by French tv channel LCI on Thursday prompting public transport users to appeal to national transport group RATP.
Clearly hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Spanish feminist group which instigated the crackdown in Madrid,Osez le feminisme asked transport users in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France who are troubled by the issue to send a complaint to RATP, providing a template that could be posted in the customer spaces of the transport group's website.
“The RATP is in full denial about the reality, incapable of taking into account what women suffer on transport,” Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu, spokesperson for Osez le féminisme, told French news channel LCI. “The abuse, aggression, and also 'manspreading'. Faced with their contempt, we wanted to respond to them.”
With pressure growing, Parisian men would be wise to remember not to spread too far or too wide when on the Metro.