NYC To Buenos Aires, Fighting The Machismo Of Manspreading

A serious case of metro manspreading...
A serious case of metro manspreading...
Nora Sanchez

BUENOS AIRES It's been dubbed: Manspreading, the habit of too many men to sit with their legs wide open in public spaces that irritates the rest of the world around them. It is a typically male, and for many a sexist posture that often means invading your neighbor's space on the bus or subway. And it happens the world over, not just in Latin cities like Buenos Aires, where the metro system is asking men to close up a little as part of a campaign to improve the underground travel experience.

Two years ago, the British actress Helen Mirren was photographed traveling on the New York subway. She later told the television presenter Jimmy Fallon that as pictures showed, the man sitting next to her was "doing the classic manspreading thing." A habit she described as longstanding and "really annoying," though now men are "being called on it."

A year before, the New York Public Transit Association launched a campaign with the prominent slogan, "Dude, stop the spread please, it's a space issue," while Madrid has decided to put stickers on buses, "forbidding" invasive leg spreading with a cross sign. Here in the Argentine capital, it is not rare to see men taking up two seats on a bus or subway train, as women recoil as far as possible into a reduced space.

A sign in the New York subway aimed at male passengers — Photo: Gregor Tholl/ZUMA

The metropolitan rail transportation firm, Metrovías, says this attitude is a cultural issue. The subway system says it is talking to the city's cultural authorities to include manspreading in its campaign to improve passenger conduct. It has meanwhile issued a humorous video of a girl trying to sit down between two rather expansive men, though one viewer seeing this on Instagram asked if women didn't just as frequently act the same way "with their handbags."

It is about sexist bodies seeking nothing but their own interest and comfort without regard for the needs of those around them.

Psychiatrist Enrique Stola, who specializes in sexist violence, says "the woman's conduct with her handbag is not the same, because she does not occupy the space with her body." Why do men sit this way? Stola says "there is no biological or anatomical basis for this spatial invasion through the male body's expansion."

An expression of sexism

Metro user Martina Fernández says, "I travel every day on Line B. Almost always when a man sits next to you, he opens his legs and forces you to shift. But when you do he opens his legs further, so at the end you're all squeezed up."

Manspreading, Stola says, is an expression of sexism. "In all societies, public space is organized through the perspective of men. In the socialization process, there is the standing call for girls to control their bodies, and one for boys to expand and conquer. This is directly linked to the practice of male domination. It is about sexist bodies seeking nothing but their own interest and comfort without regard for the needs of those around them, especially if they are women or LGBT (gays)."

Paolo, a Line A metro user in Buenos Aires, says he means no harm. "You do it without noticing," he says. "You don't mean to upset anyone. When people are standing, if I notice I am taking up too much space, I move my legs in."

We're used to making ourselves smaller as women.

For Natalia Gherardi, a lawyer and head of the Latin American Team at the NGO Justice and Gender, it is about "lack of consideration for others, and abuse of the public space." She says it has to do with "how one places one's body in that space. We're used to making ourselves smaller as women. The right form for a young girl to sit is supposedly with the legs placed together in a modest fashion. The male stereotype however, is dominant. He firmly takes position and occupies a place."

Perla Prigoshin, head of CONSAVIG, the Argentine state commission designing penalties for gender-related violence, agrees men tend to take over the public space. "We tend to shrink and almost go unnoticed, trying not to disturb," she says. "We have learned this over time and painfully, as a means of survival."

Awareness campaigns to change the patriarchy

When a man suffers another man's "expansion," he usually reacts. I once heard an elderly man tell someone his own age on Line B one afternoon, "What do you want? To sit alone?" Another time I recall, a well-dressed gentleman asked a "manspreader" to make space for him on one of the subway's Mitsubishi carriages. "Eight educated Japanese could fit here," he said, winking at the female passenger next to him. It had the desired effect.

Stola says men tend to make space when another man sits next to them, "so as not to bother one another," but if it is a woman trying to sit next to them, "the movement of bodies is different and generally they (women) say nothing, as they know who wields territorial power."

Punitive laws are of little use, says Prigoshin. "I am assuming there is male goodwill. They sit like this because they are do not know they are harming or disturbing us. Awareness campaigns are the only way to change the patriarchy."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!