Learning to Occupy Space
"Manspreading is framed as a powerful—yet also ridiculous—symbol of what is argued to be men's tendency to take up more than their fair share of literal and metaphorical social space." - Emma Janes.
Today, it happened. Today was the day I stopped feeling nothing but fear for my daughter and I felt a surge of hope. It was proper fire-in-the-belly-she-is-gonna-be-just-fine hope. Five years of gritting my teeth, praying I was saying enough, trying hard not to breed fear, I saw my daughter's strength and her eyes wide open to the world.
Let me back track here a little because I need to layer this up, exactly as it happened. I want the big moment, that might seem so small, to really smack you between the eyes too. I'm not going to lie, I just poured wine and I'm basking in it a little.
Let us begin.
Mother and daughter spent today in two galleries, revelling in the glory of accessible masterpieces, beautiful surroundings and the hushed quiet of rooms meant for quiet reflection. We'd packed sketch pads, pencils, some snacks and water bottles. We meant to linger, to look, to enjoy.
Each time my daughter entered a room, she would examine the pieces briefly before she'd settle on one in particular. "This one" she would state with great seriousness and pull out pencils, a pad and sit somewhere out of foot traffic but where she could view the chosen piece. I'd sit next to her and we'd chat about what she saw, things she found hard or sometimes I'd just enjoy the different view sitting on the floor can give you.
Several times, others would stand just before her to view a painting. Several times, they'd see her, smile apologetically and move out the way. I'd grin and mouth "it's fine", or "thank you". Most appreciated a small child, head bent, tongue out, sketching away. We were all there to enjoy and could all take turns. It was pleasant, companionable.
There was, however, an exception. Three times, a man, invariably in an expensive jacket (sports or tailored), would stand between her and the painting. We'd wait patiently, appreciating that they too were enjoying the art. Three times in a row, a man looked at my daughter, looked at her sketch pad and chose to remain in a place where they blocked her from seeing the piece.
By the time it happened the third time, I was starting to prickle. None of us had anymore right to take up space than another but my daughter and I, sat on the floor before these men, were waiting for them to finish their interruption. They could have stepped one step either way but they didn't. They continued.
Interruption four: a man with a dark blazer walks to the painting my daughter is sketching and looks from her, to me, to the sketch pad. He places himself squarely in her way. My daughter, pauses and waits. Nothing. We are in no rush so I decide to wait too.
Then it comes.
My daughter stands up and walks up closer to the painting so she can see. They're now parallel, equals in proximity. He looks down at her and shuffles..... closer. This man, with all his size, is using his presence to monopolise space that my daughter wishes to enjoy.
I start to feel a rising heat coursing up through my body. I am remembering that I am meant to be polite. I am not meant to shout. Yet. He is the man on the tube who won't let me sit comfortably, legs pushed out, too close to my body. He is the man trying to pass me at the bar who places his hands on my hips to move me out of his way. He is the man who wants me to concede and steps forward, into my space, to threaten me. I bristle.
"Excuse me, I can't see" comes a small and surprisingly clear voice.
The man and I look at this tiny girl in surprise. She is looking back at the painting so he looks to me, presumably to insert some discipline. It doesn't come. He will wait for a long time before I teach my daughter that he is entitled to more space than her.
He steps backwards and pleased, my daughter sits to continue her sketching. I smile and join her.
She's gonna be just fine. Just fine.