I am used to men dominating physical space. As a very petite woman who has worked in fast-food and in a bar, which are very dynamic environments, I am used to being pushed around, moved to the side and having my space being dominated by men. This has never bothered me too much because I have always pushed back, stood on toes and even got in a few elbow jabs to assert my control of my space and also my own body. In these environments this can be done in a reasonably friendly way and a lot of the men I have worked with have eventually figured out that I will not be messed with because eventually they will back away.
It’s a simple way of dealing with it by being confident and assertive and without having to shout sexism (which would obviously immediately confuse and annoy them). It is also quite difficult to get into a conversation on the ideas of third wave feminism while serving customers, so I think I will stick to my usual aporoach.
My issue now is how to deal with this in a different working environment. Working in an office the atmosphere is obviously very different and, in theory, there shouldn’t be the opportunity to have my personal space dominated in the same way. However my male co-worker insists on coming round to my side of the desk and leaning over me every time I want to show him something. I suggest so many times that I can just share my screen with him, thinking technology can be my saviour. However, he will say ‘no I can just come round’ and proceed to do it anyway leading to uncomfortable situtions where I am focusing more on trying to get rid of him than discussing the issue at hand.
This may seem innocent enough to some people, while others will hopepufully understand ans may share my discomfort at being sat at a desk with someone leaning over them from behind. I find it unnerving, I feel trapped and it is awkward because you can’t turn to look at the person.
The biggest thing for me though is that I don’t do it, and neither do the women I work with. If we physically move to see something on the other persons screen we will always pull a chair around. Or in the rare occasion that we stand we will usually stand back, or to the side and let the other person have room to pull their chair out, however even this is very rare. Whereas my male colleague will very much lean over, often resting his hand on my desk.
This feels to me very much like a gentleman’s version of manspreading. Even if there is no conscious thought in his head about his actions, he obviously feels that he is entitled to do it. I am also sure that if I did the same thing he would actually feel just as uncomfortable. So in a more professional environment what am I supposed to do? I can no longer stand on toes or elbow him out of my space. Being sat in a chair while he is moving puts me in a very passive position.
Or do I confront him? Explain to him what he is doing. Since I get the feeling that he is a pretty conservative individual who doesn’t like some of the ‘nice, fluffy, wishy-washy’ ideas in our work, as they have been called, I can only imagine that this will get a sigh and an eye roll – maybe even a verbalised thought about feminism going too far.
What I am going to try to do is be more firm. Stop him from coming round, share my screen before I even ask him to look at something for example. This is not the way I would like to approach it and I don’t think it will work as well as my previous techniques which is a shame, but I am accepting that I can’t win every battle.
For my male friends and any male readers however, please just have a think about how you control the space around you and consider whether your manspreading, your leaning over or any of your physical actions are
Then think about what you can do to stop it please, because I really want my space back.