Pushed Too Far: Take Back Space on the Subway

by Carly Lanning

It takes approximately 31 minutes for me to travel from the poorly painted brown steps of my apartment to my desk above Chelsea Market. From my work perch, I often feel untouchable, watching the cars race beneath me on 8th Avenue and tourists crawl along the Highline. But on the subway—as a 26-year-old, 120-pound woman—I’m the exact opposite: touchable, moveable, and less important than an orange backpack.

As the subway doors open and the mass of us file into the car, the subway etiquette dance begins. Seats are given up to expecting mothers and children. Eye contact is avoided. Bags are slipped between legs and books are excavated from briefcases. As the ride commences, the frat boy-turned-banker next to me shuffles in extra close before hitting me with his overstuffed orange backpack—again and again and again. I move an inch, the backpack follows me like a magnet. As the crowd thins, the backpack stays put, and the more it pulled at my maroon sweater, the more infuriated I became. Just because I have an extra rib does not mean I deserve less space!

As women, society instills in us the idea that if we’re not polite we’re automatically a bitch. It’s one or the other, the Madonna and whore dynamic for the modern age. We’re not to make a scene or raise our voices when we’re uncomfortable. It’s “no worries” as we smile through our space being invaded and disrespected by strangers in public spaces.

Today, women are running countries, Fortune 500 companies, presidential campaigns. They’re curing diseases, conquering the academic world, and yet, still fighting to ride unharassed by manspreaders on the subway. Yes, women are adaptable, but that doesn’t mean their space is worth less than a man’s.

At the time, I didn’t speak up, I let the situation simmer and threw glares like dark arts spells in the hopes something would magically change. I regret it. In that moment, I could have let this person know his ignorance would not be tolerated and along the way, hopefully inspired even just one other woman that she deserved better.

Because ladies, we should be allowed to take up space and not just when we’re growing another human inside of us. We deserve benches and Wall Street bankers not using our hip as a rest stop for their briefcases. Moving forward, let’s speak up, together. Or if that feels uncomfortable, lets leave the situation and stop “toughing things out” in the name of niceness. Yes, be nice to those who deserve it, but most importantly be nice to yourself. Defend your subway honor! I’ll try it if you do.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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