There's a category of words that have sprung up of late to shame men for acting in a
manly terrible fashion. There's “mansplaining,” the verb and the noun, which describes—according to Urban Dictionary—the act of “delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation.” (See: the book Men Explain Things to Me.) There's “manspreading,” also a verb-and-noun combo, which describes the act of spread-eagle-ing upon a seat, that seat usually being set in a public space, the spread-eagle-er usually being a man. (See the Tumblr Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train.)
Terms that put the “man” in “portmanteau” tend to catch on because they describe a behavior that men (usually) adopt unconsciously and that women (usually) find annoying or (sometimes) offensive. They cheekily point out microaggressions—a term coined by the Harvard professor Chester Pierce in the ‘70s to describe insults inflicted on African-Americans, but extended since then to indict all forms of privilege being wantonly wielded—and ask the subjects of their verbs to check, or at least acknowledge, that privilege. As language, they’re prescriptive as well as descriptive: They both describe a behavior and strongly advise against it. They hint at that the troubling fact that privilege tends to be highly apparent to everyone except the people who enjoy it.
I mention all that because there’s a helpful new word in the man-as-prefix lexicon. Meet “manslamming,” which New York magazine’s Jessica Roy uses to describe the behavior that is, on a sidewalk, refusing to yield to a fellow pedestrian such that a collision inevitably ensues. More broadly, Roy says, it’s “the sidewalk M.O. of men who remain apparently oblivious to the personal space of those around them.” It is (usually) done by men, (usually) at the expense of women. It is (usually) done unconsciously.
The term comes from an experiment conducted by Beth Breslaw, a 25-year-old labor organizer: Inspired by a friend, who wanted to test the theory that men were less likely than women to make room for other people on a crowded sidewalk, Breslaw decided to spend a couple of months walking like a man. “Instead of automatically moving out of the way for people in her path,” Roy writes, “she would spend some time taking a more masculine approach to city living. She would stride confidently in whatever direction she chose, refusing to alter her route for anyone, male or female.”
The results? Breslaw “spent every day getting repeatedly body-checked.” Women, generally, moved out of the way for her; men, generally, refused to move, with the consequence being that they simply plowed into her. As Breslaw told Roy: “I can remember every single man who moved out of the way, because there were so few.”
Yep. Hence, “manslamming.”
Breslaw’s experiment, of course, was not at all scientific. Its results may well have been skewed by the fact that it was conducted on the jam-packed sidewalks of New York City, which have a way of leaching decorum from even the most decent of humans. Still, though. To the extent that man-as-prefix (he-fixed?) terms advise as well as describe, “manslamming” is useful. It's a reminder that sidewalks, like everything else, can be political spaces. And it works figuratively if not always literally, reminding anyone with privilege that sometimes the best move, for all involved, is to move out of the way.
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