The Pool's picture editor Deborah Castle, editorial intern Kuba Shand-Baptiste and feature writer Lily Peschardt try womanspreading in central London

OPINION

Womanspreading – and why we’re no longer content to be sitting pretty

As the #womanspreading trend starts to – literally – spread, Caroline O’Donoghue discusses why it’s the power pose we all need to adopt

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

In 2001, I received my first ever tuition in the art of sitting down. I had never really thought about sitting down before, or whether there was a right way or a wrong way, but the (frankly underrated) The Princess Diaries cleared that right up for me. “Princesses never cross their legs in public,” says Julie Andrews to her granddaughter, Anne Hathaway. “Why don’t you just tuck one ankle behind the other, and place the hands gracefully on the knees.”

The act, when done properly, makes a woman look like a streamlined, sideways triangle: something between a bird of paradise and a musical note. Importantly, it means she takes up a very small amount of space.

Well, it’s 16 years later, and it’s safe to say that women aren’t really that interested in taking up as little space as possible. Our voice are louder, our tempers are shorter, and our legs… well, our legs will go wherever the fuck they so please.

Say hello to womanspreading – as demonstrated by The Pool staff this week. Simply put, womanspreading is letting your legs spread out as far as you possibly can, in any direction, for no reason other than you bloody well feel like it. The Instagram trend has been sported by models Kaia Gerber, Emily Ratajkowski and Martha Hunt, as well as actress Bella Thorne.

The funny thing about how this trend has been reported is that it has mostly been framed as an act of revenge. Manspreading is the irritatingly common act of men taking up two seats (and sometimes part of the bloody aisle) on public transport, and people have been moaning about it, globally, for decades

I think this is about saying: “I am just as big and important as you. I have just as much right to this space as you”

For years, women have been wrestling for their side of the armrest, their 12 inches of legroom, their space on the shared train table. I have, on occasion, entered into silent battles of will with the men opposite me on the train, freely bumping my knee off of theirs as a reminder – in my best, most exaggerated, New Yorker voice –  hey, buddy, I’m sittin’ here! Hey buddy, I have just as much right to exist as you do! Hey, buddy – get the hell off my armrest!

The thing is, I don’t think this is revenge, or retribution. I think it’s about saying: “I am just as big and important as you. I have just as much right to this space as you”. “Manspreading” started as a public transport complaint, but many of these pictures don’t even take place on public transport. This is about young women finding a “power stance” that works for them: their very own Wonder Woman pose

Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, performed an experiment where she asked people to adopt a series of “power poses” inspired by figures like Wonder Woman (hands on the hips) and Usain Bolt (arms held high and wide) and her findings were dazzling. As my colleague Viv Groskop summarised: “Testosterone increased by 20 per cent. Cortisol went down 25 per cent. Strength and confidence up. Stress down.”

In summary: womanspreading isn’t just some petty tit-for-tat against men. Sitting bigger – whether that’s sweeping your arms out, or spreading your knees – makes you feel bigger. Try it, right now, at your desk. You can feel confidence rippling through you. You can feel your tolerance for bullshit get lower.  You think: gosh, no wonder men do this. Womanspreading isn’t an organised protest so much as it’s women finding new ways to express their bodies in a way that breaks the “sitting pretty” mold they’ve been taught to imitate. 

The simple act of spreading your knees is not going to make the world immediately better for women. But what it is is another tool to add to your utility belt: something you can whip out in times of struggle, when you need to feel strong, and competent, and fierce. Spread those legs, mama, and don’t apologise for it, either. Now let’s get some real work done.

@Czaroline

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The Pool's picture editor Deborah Castle, editorial intern Kuba Shand-Baptiste and feature writer Lily Peschardt try womanspreading in central London
Tagged in:
gender equality
women's safety
public transport

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