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Kelley Rae O’Donnell, who confronts manspreaders and posts their photos online, captures an image of one on a train in New York, Dec. 12, 2014. It is the bane of many female subway riders, a practice with a name almost as off-putting as the act itself: manspreading. Now, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is targeting it with new advertisements.HIROKO MASUIKE/The New York Times

While a new campaign by New York's transportation authority aimed at tackling the phenomenon of "manspreading" has drawn interest from transit users in Toronto, some say a similar concept north of the border would unfairly target men.

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is set to unveil public service ads that encourage men spreading their legs in crowded subways cars to be more courteous to their fellow travellers.

The term "manspreading" has been coined as a reference to men spreading their legs wide, into a V-shaped formation while slouching, ultimately taking up extra space on public transportation.

But a new online petition challenges TTC riders who have applauded the MTA's upcoming advertisements, stating that those who seek a similar campaign on Toronto buses and subways should simply mind the gap.

"This sets a very bad precedent as men opening their legs is something we have to do due to our biology. It's physically painful for men to close their legs and we cannot be expected to do so, and it's also a biological necessity for us to do so," reads the petition, which calls "manspreading" a "sexist term."

"We can't force woman to stop breast feeding on busses or trains and we can't force them to stop bringing strollers on, why should we force men to close their legs?" it continues.

The petition, sponsored by the Canadian Association for Equality, is three days old and has so far garnered more than 600 signatures. It was started by Mike Wood, a volunteer advocacy officer with the group.

"I feel that if we want to have our legs open on the bus and not have to keep them closed, then I feel that we should be allowed to do so. It's kind of unnecessary to ban a certain thing," said Mr. Wood. "Why are we calling this 'manspreading?' Both women and men can open their legs. Women probably don't do it as often as men do but it's something we all do and I don't understand why we have to label it as such."

According to the petition, a ban on spreading one's legs would "be a big blow to men's rights."

"If it was extreme enough, then they'd have somebody on the bus with a ruler and measuring tape making sure people didn't spread their legs too far and that would be odd," Mr. Wood said. "Some people would take it too far, I guess."

The New York ads will appear on subways next month.

One of the posters reads: "Dude ... Stop the Spread, Please" next to an image of riders forced to stand as a sitting man nearby taking up two seats.

Many are hoping the TTC mimics the MTA's campaign.

"It happens to me on a regular basis," said Sabreena Delhon, a 32-year-old communications professional who rides the TTC daily to work.

"Usually you're sitting next to the window and a man will come and sit right beside you in a two-seat spot and spreads his legs wide open so his knee is digging into my leg," she said. "And then his arms and shoulder are pushing me against the window, like completely oblivious, or 100 per cent conscious and just trying to flex his power."

Davis Carr, a 24-year-old graduate student at Ryerson University, said Mr. Wood's petition wrongly frames "manspreading" as an issue surrounding etiquette.

"Manspreading is representative of much broader issues around patriarchy, engrained misogyny and male privilege, and it's a legitimate concern, one that people should be vocal about. Men are able to exist in public spaces that women simply cannot," said Ms. Carr. "The fact is that most of the perpetrators taking up too much space in public with their bodies are men. It's hard to accept that something you do so naturally can cause other people harm."

Mr. Wood admits he is occasionally guilty of spreading his legs too widely on public transit, but only when the vehicle is relatively empty, and will otherwise vacate his seat if someone else needs it. He says it's just one example of people being uncourteous on public transit, and that a wider, gender-neutral campaign would be welcomed.

"Sometimes people sit on the outermost seat and put their bag on the inside so that they're taking up two seats. I've seen people sit on one seat and rest their legs on two others and all sorts of crazy things," he said. "I get where they're coming from with the whole thing. People sometimes take up an unnecessary amount of space on the bus."

With a report from The New York Times News Service

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