Each year, according to figures from Transport Canada, 1.2 million people are killed worldwide in road crashes and between 20 and 50 million are injured. In Canada, a little more than 2,000 die annually with 24 per cent of traffic fatalities and 26 per cent of serious injuries involving drivers aged 16 to 24, despite the fact this demographic represents only 13 per cent of licensed drivers. Yet you don't see much written about this.
That's because the most pressing issue on the transit front, if you judge by social media, has to do with men sitting with their legs too far apart on subway cars and buses. It's called "manspreading" and, like many viral outrages, it began as a clever idea cooked up by a few web journos that was legitimized by a mainstream media outlet (in this case, the New York Times) who blew the lid off manspreading in a December expose.
According to the Times, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is dismayed by manspreading and is about to start a public awareness campaign to fight its – well – spread. Canadians tapped into their most renewable resource ("provincialism") and soon there were calls for manspreading bans in Toronto and other cities, and just as quickly a petition to fight for men's right to spread. It's now a global fixation.
I'm not a habitual spreader myself – if someone wants to see my "spread" they have to work for it; I'm not giving it away on the subway. Yet I have to admit to the occasional spread. It's comfortable. When I've encountered a dude spreading, I've asked, "Would you move your leg please?" They have.
In short, manspreading is not that tough of a problem. We don't need a taxpayer-funded awareness campaign. If you see a dude with his legs too far apart, ask him to move, like when someone has a backpack on an empty seat. What's that? You're too intimidated? Well then, what are you doing living in a big city?
Why do we fixate on such distractions? Real problems are complicated. Most don't have simple, quick solutions, and most of the time we're all implicated both in the cause of and solution to, said real problems.
Manspreading is easy. There's a villain: men's "spreads," and there's a victim: people who want said "spread-occupied" seats. So, as people die and cars pollute, we get excited about an easy solution: posters telling men to shut their legs. Why stop there? If we want perfect, equitable commuting, why not go all the way? How about no able-bodied person over the age of 16 and under the age of 30 (male or female) sits while taking public transit? You're young and able. Stand. Pretend you're playing an RPG video game called "Decent Person." This would ensure that the elderly, pregnant women and children always have seats.
I know what my grandfather Cecil Clark would have done if he found me manspreading. The fellow, who taught me never to wear a hat indoors and always open a door for a lady, would have been disappointed to see me sitting at all. "A man should stand," he would have said, or something to that effect.
And he would have been right.
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