I've never liked sharing my personal space. I once shared a hotel room with a friend - I lay in bed feeling bothered then ran to reception to book my own room. In queues I sometimes swing my arms about, to keep back the person behind me. I don't like it when they stand too close. I've never lived with a boyfriend. The prospect of marriage is viable only if we co-exist in adjacent homes, in the manner of Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton. In country dancing classes at school, I covered my hands in plasters, so I wouldn't have to hold hands with boys.
It's probably not surprising then, that I'm bothered by manspreading. If you've never used public transport, you may be unfamiliar with the phenomenon of men spreading their legs as if they're trying to reach either end of Zone Six with their knees. But if you travel on the tube on a regular basis, you've probably sat next to a spreader. My friend Scarlet, who travels in from Essex, says: "It fucking drives me insane."
Nice bit of manspreading on the bus (majority of my right buttock is bobbing about in the aisle) pic.twitter.com/GWv3PafzYA— Samantha Rea (@Samantha_J_Rea) August 9, 2015
I first photographed an offender in August last year. I was on the 38 bus to Victoria with 50% of my arse in the aisle, in my determination to keep a distance from the man spreading into my space. I didn't want us touching - he looked as if he'd shovelled shit with his fingernails. I wondered if he needed all the space on account of a hu-fucking-mungous ballsack. Perhaps there'd be a documentary about his ten ton testicles.
But while I've always given manspreaders a wide berth, I recently read about a woman who's spent the last year employing an alternative tactic - she spreads back. She's called it, "A Year of Living Comfortably" and says, "once you claim your own space, it's addictive." Sitting with both my bum cheeks on the seat? Yes, I think I could get used to that!
Feeling inspired, I spend the next two days on the tube, on a personal crusade against spreading. My usual M.O. would be a beeline for a seat with no one sitting either side. Now, I make it my mission to sit next to every spreader I see. I watch for them as the tube pulls in. I race along the platform to sit with spreaders I've seen in carriages gone by. I stand from Camden to Clapham Common, turning down two seats I'm offered, because I've spotted a spreader and I'm willing the woman next to him to move.
I become a connoisseur, admiring a nice 90 degree angle and revering a really good spread. I'm so excited by the width between one man's knees, I actually fall into him, in my haste to claim the seat beside him. When I spot an empty seat between two spreaders, it makes my day. I couldn't be happier if I'd found £50 on the floor.
During my two day crusade, I purposely plant myself by 24 manspreaders. Four of these immediately make space for me. Twenty do not. I quickly develop a routine on sitting down. First I take a "before" photo, showing their interloping leg, in relation to mine. Then I spread my legs as I rummage about in my bag on the floor, as if my bag is the size of a ten ton ballsack I must fit between my feet. Sitting back, I take a second photo. This is the trophy shot. This is the antlers.
My nerves kick in at the point of spreading. As much I'd like my seat to myself, I am wary of pushing my legs against the legs of strange men. I am not sure how they'll react. I'm a little bit scared they will shout at me. I'm mildly concerned they'll take it as a brazen come on. As it turns out, no one says a word.
Eleven guys shift as soon as I spread my legs. Two of these guys shift entirely, so we're no longer touching and nine shift enough to allow me my space, but our legs lightly touch for the rest of the journey. I'm OK with light touching, now, apparently. Light touching's a breeze after battling with Thigh Wars Warriors. There are nine of these. Nine guys who won't budge when I spread my legs, no matter how much I press my thighs against theirs.
It's like going to the gym and setting the abductor machine to 80kg, only the 80kg is pressing back. I get calf ache bordering on cramp, because my foot is on tip toe, raising my thigh to meet theirs. We sit, silently fighting for space. A couple of them glance at me sideways. Three turn and look as they get off the tube. Each one gets up and gets off after three or four stops.
I ask my friend Adam what he makes of it. He says: "Some guys might have the same reaction I would - which is wondering WTF is going on. Why is she pushing her thighs into me, is she coming on to me? Is she being a bitch? I honestly wouldn't think it had anything to do with manspreading though!"
This is probably because manspreading doesn't bother men. It's probably not even a thing in man-brain. Manspreading's just sitting down. As someone who swings their arms around to ward off space invaders, it might seem like I've scored an own-goal by spreading back, but claiming your space is addictive - and I felt triumphant when I won Thigh Wars.