Bus stop blues

Thinking about gender and space on public transportation

Mike Sudoma

A man sits on a bus after a long day at work. All he wants to do is go home and binge watch the latest season of whatever on Netflix. At this point in his day, he’s feeling the urge to relax a little, maybe even do something crazy, like listen to that ‘90s playlist he keeps for special occasions on his iPhone. But today, this man decides to sprawl his knees across two seats instead of his allotted single space.

I’m here today to talk about that guy and his knees.

I’m a dedicated public transportation user. I put up with contracting mild frostbite at bus stops in January and listening to other people’s favourite songs filter through terrible earbuds, but I’ve had enough of sitting beside men who refuse to make an effort to use only their allotted amount of space on the bus. And yes, men. Always men.

I have on countless occasions chosen to sit beside women rather than men on buses as I have never had a woman unapologetically rest her leg on mine and expected me to move to accommodate her. I have never had a woman rest her backpack between, rather than on top of her knees, so that her knee repeatedly hit my leg. I have never had a woman on the bus fall asleep on my shoulder. 

To be clear, I’m not saying all men are spatially oblivious, but I am pointing out that this is a gendered problem. 

I have on many instances watched two men sit beside each other and go to extreme lengths not to touch each other, while not affording that same respect to women. This is also not a phenomenon that I am alone in noticing. I mean, have you been on Tumblr lately? If you’re looking, it is easy to see that space is not shared equally amongst people of all genders in public spaces, like buses.

Moreover, I’m not asking men to put themselves in great discomfort. I duly recognize that some men have larger frames than many women. I’m asking that everyone recognize that a woman keeping her legs pressed together on the bus takes effort. Taking up as little space as possible is a behaviour women learn because of a world that expects women to circumscribe their movements to make men more comfortable.

These violations of personal autonomy are more than just plain bad manners. We live in a society that allows men the privilege of occupying more space than women. Giving men that privilege in public places is not conducive to creating safe spaces for everyone. Public transportation plays an important role in building a vibrant, accessible and safe city. Especially in light of the upcoming U-Pass referendum - which will take place from Oct. 27 - 29 at the University of Winnipeg and would ensure students access to affordable, universal bus passes - we should all be working to make using public transportation a positive experience for all.

So really, all I’m saying is next time you’re on the bus, read into what is happening around you. 

And dear God, please pay attention to what you’re doing and saying with your body like the respectful person you are.

Robyn Otto is a German major with mild caffeine and major pug addictions.

Published in Volume 69, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 22, 2014)

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