As an inhabitant of NYC and thus frequent traveler on our trains, I am all too familiar with manspread. I, on the other hand, find myself almost apologetically crossing my legs to take up as little space as possible. As an Asian woman, I think I was taught to be as unassuming and inconspicuous as possible. Clearly, that teaching has been unlearned. I am not invisible.
As the first Asian woman in hip hop--a testosterone driven milieu where women are largely objectified--I had to figure out how I was going to navigate those tricky waters. On the one hand, I was the subject of predictable "Geisha To Go" fantasies. On the other, an executive who needed to be taken seriously. We women walk this tightrope between being desired and respected all day, every fucking day. And it takes meticulous Cirque Du Soleil level balancing skills to get it right.
I have stated on numerous occasions that as a woman I use every tool in my arsenal to get in the door, but once I'm in, it's my brain and my words that will leave the lasting impression, not my legs (well, maybe, but not as much). There were times I would be in a meeting, at the studio, or on a tourbus where I would find myself sitting, legs spread wide, elbows resting on my knees, head cocked, leaning forward to get my point across. Though it might have appeared "unladylike," it was effective.
Since we were girls we have been told to keep our legs closed. It's more feminine, more demure. As my wise friend Treva B. Lindsay says "The demand to keep our legs closed is deeper than just taking up space on a train. It's often a way to police women, their bodies, and their sexuality. Whenever I hear 'keep your legs closed,' I hear a call for women not to be their full sexual selves. It all comes back to control and gender roles dictated by sexism and patriarchy. And I ain't here for it at all."
Nor am I. And as a mother raising an Asian female teenager, I teach her about the imminent risks of assault, the carelessness of boys, the ubiquity of porn, and the ultimate omnipresence of that hateful duo: white supremacy and patriarchy. I will instruct her to take up space, suck the air out of the room, and make her presence known. I will explain that there is nothing weak about being feminine, quite the contrary. And I will let her know that it is not the position of her legs, rather the strength of her heart and mind, that define her power.