Manspreading: San Francisco Subway Proposes Up To $500 Fine For Offenders

Asif Khan

Manspreading, the male practice of sitting with legs spread wide and hogging additional seat space, could attract a fine of up to $500 in San Francisco subway trains, according to a proposed plan.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the railway system serving San Francisco's Bay Area, has proposed a staggered penalty structure for passengers who take up more than one seat at a time: $100 for first-time offenders, $200 for a second violation, and $500 for repeat offenders.

Obese passengers and those suffering from any medical condition that causes them to occupy extra space are exempt from the proposed penalty.

Along with manspreaders, people who refuse to give up seats occupied by their luggage, makeup kit, or takeout dinner could also attract a fine, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Joel Keller, a BART director, told SFC that this unusual measure was the need of the hour.

In the past, when we had plenty of seats, it was not as serious an issue as it is today. But with ridership growing and seats becoming a much more desirable commodity, we have to make sure they're available and avoid them being taken up with backpacks, luggage or someone using two seats to lie down."

Also, there are concerns that the drive could adversely affect poor, homeless people.

Rebecca Saltzman, another BART director, told the Guardian that she would not be voting for the proposal in its current form.

I'm concerned that it's too broad and the penalties are too high, particularly since the people who this will affect the most are homeless people sleeping on the train and also people who are traveling from out of the area and don't know the rules."

"This is not an effort to target or harass anyone, merely an effort to make seats available," he said.

Manspreading and other seat-hogging habits have attracted the authorities' attention elsewhere too. In 2014, New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority started a campaign to sensitize commuters about the issue. One of the campaign posters was specifically addressed to male commuters, asking them to rein in their spread.

Apparently, manspreading is not just an innocent seat-hogging phenomenon, it is also thought of in terms of territorial power play. It has been suggested that by adopting a "manspreading pose," males unconsciously try to "own" the space around them, mark their territory, and exude power. Women have also complained about the sexually threatening nature of the manspreading pose.

For the average guy, impervious to nuance, the above analyzes may not make much sense. Manspreading is not even an issue for most men. It is just the way they sit - manspreading is nothing but sitting. If asked to explain, most men would say that they sit that way because of physiological reasons, because their bodies (and the family jewels) are most comfortable in that position.

But that pronouncement would in no way end the manspreading debate. Women have their own equally valid reasons for speaking out against the posture.

Take a look at these two videos. The first one is manspreading from a woman's point of view, the second from a man's point of view. Both have very interesting points to make.

[A note on the featured image: The image at the top of this story is a purely representational image, used to depict the manspreading posture. It is not an image from San Francisco. It was clicked in New York.]