A woman has been punched in the face for asking a man not to manspread
Climbing onto the New York subway to join the morning rush hour, Sam Saia was likely to be thinking about what would happen at work that day. The thing she was wholly unlikely to be pondering is whether or not she would get punched that day. But, as fate would have it, that is exactly what would happen just after she boarded the subway to travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
The 37-year-old was sitting on the N train when a situation known to every woman occurred: manspreading. The much-discussed problem of men adopting sitting positions that take up other people's space seems practically unavoidable - but it was going to reach new heights on the 7.45am train.
When the man, named by the New York Post as Derek Smith, began manspreading, even pushing her gradually into the wall, Saia asked him to stop. But Smith didn't take it well and became angry.
"I sat down and I existed, and I think this guy had a problem with that. He just started manspreading me extra and pushing me into the wall," Saia wrote on Facebook afterwards. "I just looked at him and said, 'Alright, just calm down, just relax.’”
It was then that Smith apparently erupted into a violent rage, began threatening and swearing at her. "B****, you ain't nothing! I've raped white b*****s like you, f***ing c---! You ain't nothing, you f***ing b****", he screamed at her. His sexist and violent rant finally ended with him punching her in the face.
Saia was ultimately defenceless, but was thankfully saved by a good samaritan who swooped in, grabbing the attacker and forcing him off at the next stop. In a video, filmed by fellow passenger Anthony Macca, rescuer Victor Conde is seen restraining Smith and standing between him and Saia. He is later heard shouting: "Get the f*** off the train. Get off the train bro, you just f***ing hit a lady. You hit her in the face. She's bleeding. Look at her mouth. Just get off at the next stop."
Speaking about the incident to Daily News, Ms Saia said: "This took me by surprise. It's just a matter of safety. I want my neighbourhood to be safe. I don't want this to happen to other women or men. That bastard is still out there. I’m afraid he might retaliate. But I’m not going to back down.” The 37-year-old victim later added that she couldn't understand "how you could do that to somebody". New York City police confirmed after the incident that the suspect was arrested and charged with assault.
Previously, manspreading has been condemned as rude, annoying and even "borderline sexual harassment". But a situation like Saia's is, until now, unheard of - and perfectly epitomises how manspreading has become more than simply shirking the laws of public transport etiquette. Instead, nowadays it is an even bigger feminist issue than ever.
That's certainly not to say that a man who takes slightly more room than he should and a man who thumps you in the face are one and the same. However, it does mean that manspreading is something that needs to be properly addressed immediately. But women all over the world are making a worthwhile start by taking to social media to fight back.
Traditionally coerced into using up as little space as physically possible, often even crossing their legs in an effort to diminish their presence, women everywhere have made it clear they have had enough. Sick to the back teeth, thousands of them have started to post pictures of themselves with their legs spread wide open, accompanied with the hashtag "#womanspreading" - and this time, they're taking up as much room as they want.
Turning their noses up at traditional "ladylike" positions, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Kaia Gerbeer were just some of the A-listers who jumped on board the social media frenzy designed to empower females. While some chose to poke fun at the poses men often take, others sought to take power stances. Either way, these ladies were hard to ignore.
Never out of the press, the Third-Wave feminist issue is far from just a 21st-century issue. Unsurprisingly, if you search far enough back, you will be able to find photographic evidence of manspreading from more than a hundred years ago, as well as a 1918 pamphlet that asks men to "Sit a little closer, please". However, the affair has gotten nasty in recent years, with the New York subway posting notices saying "Dude... Stop the spread, please. It's a space issue" and the Oxford Dictionary of English even adding the term to its online edition.
A 2016 study found that men stretch out their legs while seated on the subway five times more often than female passengers. Hunter College came out with a report which found that more than 26 per cent of men manspread in their seats, compared to less than five per cent of women.
Regardless of the past, now it's time for womanspreading to have its moment in the spotlight. In the age where sexual harassment allegations are rife, it is important to acknowledge every baby step we take towards fighting our way out of the corner we have been confined to. In spite of the fact that the womanspreading hashtag is unlikely to change every manspreading man's behaviour, it shows that women are finally feeling confident enough to speak up - and take up the room they rightly deserve.