The phrase "taking up space" has become somewhat ubiquitous lately. The concept, of course, means different things to different people beyond literally existing somewhere and therefore taking up a part of the world. Oftentimes, it's about asserting our right to exist proudly, whether it’s calling out the manspreader on the train, or reclaiming words that other people might use to try to insult us.
Let me be real for a minute: I get pushed around a lot more than I like to let on.
As a former pushover (or so I’d like to think), and what my friend describes as a "reformed doormat," I now try to make taking up space a habit in my daily life by tackling tiny microaggressions that seem to tell me that I don’t deserve to exist too conspicuously. But one little thing that stands out to me in everyday life is a situation that most of us have probably encountered: that moment when you’re walking towards someone in the street, and the split second in which you are presented with a number of options. You either a) do an awkward shuffle to see who should move, b) step aside so the other person can pass, or c) barrel forwards and assume that the other person will move.
I couldn’t help but notice that, in my personal experience, people usually expect me to be the one to move. Anecdotally, I also couldn’t help but notice that most of these people happen to be men.
For context, I’m 5'1", and if you catch me going to Trader Joe’s in the early morning with no makeup on and carrying a backpack, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was about 12 years old. Not only am I a small woman, I’m a small woman of colour — specifically, an Asian woman, whom stereotypes will tell you should be submissive and docile by nature.
So it’s not surprising (though it is rather depressing) that I’m the one that’s expected to step aside for people — again, mostly men.
The concept of "manslamming" isn’t new. Jessica Roy of New York Magazine dubbed it the cousin of manspreading in 2015, and the year before that, Anna Breslaw tweeted about her sister's experience in not giving manslammers an inch. Spoiler alert: She collided with at least 28 men during the course of her experiment.
The point being, some of us walk through the world with a sense of entitlement to everything it can give us, and some of us walk through it feeling as if our existence is something we should apologise for or make amends for. And I finally decided I was sick of that and challenged myself to see what happens when I don't back down to manslammers.
With that in mind, myself and a few other Refinery29 staffers brave enough to indulge my challenge set out to spend a week consciously not moving out of men’s way — here’s how it went.