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 color — 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 apologize 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.
Illustrated by: Paula Volchok
Name: Kim Truong Age: 23 Job Title: Health News Writer Overall Experience: In general, my pride is far stronger than my self-preservation, meaning that I went into this experiment being determined to make like a large boulder and not move for anyone. Of course, I also knew that was easier said than done. After all, if you’re 5’1” and someone much larger than you comes barreling your way, your instinct will likely be to pivot for fear of being shoved onto the pavement. That being said, doing this experiment meant that, over the course of a week, I had to consciously catch myself whenever I was tempted to move aside for people and correct myself. For the most part, I succeeded in standing my ground, even at the risk of being body-slammed — which did happen, but not as much as I thought it might. Anecdotes: I went into this fully expecting that I’d be manslammed left and right, and there were certainly times when I was tempted to move aside at the last second, but I remained pretty committed to trying to clear out a path for myself. (I think the one time I decided to move was when I encountered a cop.) I really only got body-slammed three times, but that’s not when the experiment was at its most interesting. For one thing, there was the older white man who signaled for me to move out of his way as he came toward me (despite the fact that I was already wedged against a fence) and then loudly exclaimed " ugh" with a shake of his head when I didn’t budge. But hey, at least he moved to go around me. But there was also one guy who gave me a little more hope. One day, as I tried to get through a subway turnstile to catch a train, a woman wanted to come through the other side to exit the platform, and without even looking at me, tapped my shoulder and pushed through against me without letting me into the turnstile. The man trying to get in at turnstile next to us saw what happened, shook his head and gave her a look that said, Are you serious? He then waved me over to let me use the turnstile before him. I still missed my train, but I was really pleased with the kind gesture. Takeaway: I was definitely surprised at how often men would actually move aside if it seemed like I was determined not to. Like I said, it wasn’t easy to commit to standing my ground, though I found that wearing dark sunglasses and red lipstick really helped me channel my murder walk. It also didn’t hurt that I had seen Wonder Woman just before starting this experiment. Number of body slams endured: 3
Illustrated by: Paula Volchok
Name: Diana Cenat Age: 32 Job Title: First Impressionist Overall Experience: I spent the week having dudes either barrel right into me, or stop short an inch or two away, once they realized I wouldn't move. Not one guy volunteered to sidestep first, and they all seemed frustrated with me. Aye! Anecdotes: My favorite body slam came from a tall white guy who locked eyes with me while we were still a few feet away from each other. Most men would look just past my head while walking (as if to make believe they couldn't see my 5'8" frame), which made it easier for them to act "surprised" when they body-checked me. This dude knew I was coming, and just refused to move. He slammed into me at full speed, then turned back and shouted, "You should watch where you're going!" My translation: "You saw me, a white man, and didn't get out of my way. You had it coming." Takeaway: Sadly, I'd have to say that this experience reinforced the need for experiments and conversations like these. Number of body slams endured: 6 body slams, 4 bumps, 7 VERY annoyed last-minute pivots, and two very sore shoulders.
Illustrated by: Paula Volchok
Name: Andrea González-Ramírez Age: 24 Job Title: News Writer Overall Experience: This was harder than I expected! Moving through New York is a delicate dance, because so often you find yourself in spaces that are insanely crowded. I tend to err on the side of getting out of other people's way. It's not even a conscious thing, it's just what I've been doing since I moved here three years ago. (Self-preservation, maybe? No one likes getting hit!) Therefore, this challenge required a lot of mental energy. I had to constantly remind myself not to get out of the way without reasonable cause (e.g. to make way for children, parents, or the elderly, or because I happened to have more space to maneuver in a crowded spot). Once I got the groove of it, it was really empowering and fun. I also endured fewer manslams than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. Anecdotes: On the second day of the experiment, I was walking to the train station after work. Unlike the first day, when I kept forgetting about the challenge, I was now hyper-aware of my surroundings and fully committed to not duck for any dude. During the first part of my walk, a couple of them got out of my way. I was with my mom on the phone when it happened: Two men were coming straight at me in a super crowded section of the sidewalk about 50 feet from my station. I was 100% sure neither of them would give in, so I looked at them in in the eyes and braced for the manslam on each shoulder. Instead, at the last second they both parted like the Red Sea. It was empowering as fuck, and it made me feel like I was Wonder Woman for a second before I burst out giggling. (Mami didn't get what had possessed me.) Drunk on this power, I hung up the phone and walked down the stairs to the station. I strutted through the place like I owned the damn thing. Of course, here's where a dude twice my size decided he wasn't getting out of the way. He didn't exactly manslam me, but he did hair-check me. (Like a shoulder-check, but because he was so tall his shoulder brushed the area where the hair falls to the side of my face). He was dangerously close to leaving a nice bruise on my face. It seemed like he didn't move because he was expecting me to do so. And he didn't even apologize! Any other time, I would have been pissed, but I was still feeling the Wonder Woman magic. Looking back, I would have said something because he had more space than I did and could have altered his route to the side a bit, so he is the one who should have gotten out of the way. Takeaway: As women, we often try the impossible to make ourselves invisible — to not occupy that much space and not disturb others with our presence, because that's what society teaches us. This was a liberating experience, and I'll try to practice this any chance I get (obviously making exceptions for the reasonable causes) in order to continue reclaiming my space in the world. 10/10 would recommend. Number of body slams endured: 6.5* *Includes hair-check.
Illustrated by: Paula Volchok
Name: Rachel Chen Age: 29 Job title: Content Strategist Overall experience After two weeks of manslamming as a 5’3" woman, I noticed that men tended to body-slam me or expected me to walk around them more often when I am in flats. I purposely dressed up in heels half the time for this experiment, and noticed the manslamming significantly decreased when I did. I am not sure if it's the perception of dressing up or if it's the height that makes women seem more "worthy of respect." Anecdotes Last week, I was crossing the street heading to my daily coffee spot to pick up a cold brew. This guy in a suit walks right into me and yells, "WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING," on a wide empty street when he could have easily walked around me. I told him, "You can certainly walk around me, too — why do you think it’s a given I should move?" Takeaway: I think being a woman living in a busy city is tough, but I think the best thing we can do for ourselves is to dress ourselves in confidence everyday — heels or no heels. Number of body slams endured: 7 in two weeks
Illustrated by: Paula Volchok
Name: Kasandra Brabaw Age: 26 Job title: Trending Health Writer Overall experience: I am not a small person. I’m short, but wide, so anyone not invested in staring at their phone screen should notice that I’m walking down the street directly in their path. At first, I thought that might mean manslamming wouldn’t be an issue for me, but I realized over the week that I have a tendency to allow other people (of all genders, but mostly men) space that I deny myself. My mom likes to call me a people-pleaser, so it wasn’t exactly a shock that I’m the one who moves out of the way when someone is walking toward me or that I squeeze my shoulders so I can make myself smaller on a crowded subway. What was surprising, at least to me, was how powerful it felt to NOT get out of the way. Even though I (honestly) was too much of a chicken to actually let anyone hit me, the “omg, omg this is going to happen” moments leading up to an almost-body slam still felt like I was finally putting myself first. Anecdotes: Probably the most infuriating moment of the week, and the moment I was most disappointed in myself, happened when my roommate and I took the subway to a food festival in the park. We were walking toward the doors of the train station when a guy who was walking in front of us just stopped, pulled out his phone, and turned facing outside the door (where he could clearly see us walking toward it) to chat with whoever called him. His body took up the entire width of door, so that no one else could walk through it. Instead of calling him out for this obvious display of male privilege, I just moved my body over to another door, fuming in silence. The best moment of the week, though, gave me at least a little hope for the future. I was walking to my apartment when I came across a group of little boys, probably no more than 8 or 9 years old. They were using some kind of plastic pipe for what looked to be a pretty epic sword fight. Though I wouldn’t have blamed them for not noticing me walking toward them, one of the boys stopped mid-swing and shouted at his friends, “WAIT!” They all moved out of the way to let me pass, and all I could think was, “Thanks little dude. Here’s hoping you grow up to be a woke male feminist.” Takeaway: The takeaway for me is that I clearly need to stop making myself smaller or feeling that it’s my responsibility to be the person who moves out of the way. As much as I hate those awkward little dances people do when they can’t figure out who should move, maybe they’re worth it if it means I can unapologetically take up my space. Number of body slams endured: 0 But, not for lack of opportunity. I am a big, fat chicken. Most of the time, I forgot that I should be standing my ground. But the few times I was actually going to allow myself to get hit, I turned my shoulder at the last second to avoid a collision.