I tried my best on Saturday night, but no matter how directly I threw myself at him, I couldn’t get a man to slam me. No, I’m not the loneliest girl in Brooklyn. I’m talking about a phenomenon known as manslamming, and I’m calling BS.
"Manslamming" was coined by Jessica Roy in an article for New York Magazine earlier this month. The article reported the results of a social experiment by Beth Breslaw, who tested a friend's hypothesis that men were less likely than women to make space for an oncoming woman on a crowded sidewalk. Breslaw conducted her experiment by walking directly toward oncoming pedestrians, refusing to be the one to move out of the way. She spent her days repeatedly crashing into men.
I wanted to find out for myself, so I headed to a busy neighborhood in Brooklyn on a Saturday night. From half a block away, I aligned myself in the path of oncoming people and kept track of whether and how soon they made way. I grouped them into four categories: “reroute,” meaning they saw me coming and moved aside preemptively; “dodge,” which was a last-minute maneuver; “brush,” when their dodge was too late; and of course, “slam,” the full-body collision resulting from someone’s total failure to move aside at all. I put myself in the way of 20 men and 20 women.
At first I couldn’t combat my own instinct to move aside. But in these early instances when I sheepishly rerouted, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one moving. Instead, my counterpart and I would both make a natural curve in our walking direction, each putting in 50 percent of the necessary move.
When I did force myself to stay the course I was disappointed. Men weren’t slamming. Generally, men dodged and women rerouted. It makes sense, then, that the women who originally conducted the experiment — in Midtown and the Financial District — would get crashed into. If a man relies on the last moment to dodge he may not have the time or space to get out of the way on a more packed, fast moving sidewalk. So I’d say I had the Williamsburg equivalent of their same results.
Still, men weren't totally refusing to move aside. The fact that they were dodging meant that either they kept expecting me to move up until the last second or they just have less spatial awareness than women do. From their startled expressions, the latter seemed more likely.
Could this help explain manspreading? The phenomenon of men occupying multiple seats on a crowded subway is attributed to their sense of entitlement to the space around them. But maybe there's some obliviousness involved. It made me think of a recent instance when I was on the subway with a male friend and he put his feet up on an empty seat perpendicular to us. There were plenty of open seats, so it wouldn't have been a problem, but one of his shoes kept sliding and bumping into the woman's purse in the next seat over. He didn't notice her glares, so I intervened and swatted his feet down. It wasn't that he felt entitled to kick her purse, but if I'd been in his place, I'm sure I would have noticed what was going on.
However, it's nearly impossible that manspreaders don't notice tired people standing on a crowded car. They just don’t care. The difference is, a manspreader is making your commute worse by taking up more than his share and he knows it. In the case of manslamming, the experimenter is the one not putting in her 50 percent.
So the lesson here is that oblivious dudes should look where they're going in Midtown. In the meantime, let's get back to our crusades against manspreading and mansplaining.