What Happens When a Woman Walks Like a Man?

Photo: Loungepark/Getty Images

In early November of last year, 25-year-old labor organizer Beth Breslaw decided to confront male entitlement one sidewalk stranger at a time. She was inspired by a friend's experience: Having heard that men were less likely than their female counterparts to make room on a crowded sidewalk, this friend wanted to test the theory herself while commuting to and from her job in the Financial District. From then on, she spent every day getting repeatedly body-checked.

“She would get on the train and have nowhere to sit because men were all spread out on the seats,” Breslaw told me with a laugh. “Then she’d get off the train and have nowhere to walk because men don’t get out of the way.”

It's a phenomenon that perhaps we could call manslamming: the sidewalk M.O. of men who remain apparently oblivious to the personal space of those around them. Should you choose not to yield to these men, they will walk directly into you without even acknowledging it. Think of manslamming as a cousin of manspreading, the subway scourge that’s become so pernicious, the MTA recently launched a campaign to combat it. Both involve questions of personal space that have vexed feminists for years — arguably, both are symptoms of a culture that teaches men to self-assuredly occupy any and all space available to them, regardless of who’s nearby.

Beth Breslaw had had enough of manslamming, and she wasn’t gonna take it anymore. Thinking that perhaps her friend’s results were skewed (surely this was an entitled-finance-dude thing and not an all-dude thing?), Breslaw decided to conduct her own experiment. Instead of automatically moving out of the way for people in her path, 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. I’m going to be the Frogger, and this person who’s rapidly approaching me is going to be the log, she told herself.

Breslaw had one key standard: “If they don’t make any indication that they’re cognizant of the fact that our bodies are impacting each other, if they don’t sway a little bit to the side or move their shoulder a little bit back,” then it counted as an instance of manslamming. The result? She spent most of November and all of December colliding with dozens of men, on sidewalks and in train stations and outside of cafés. On one particularly eventful instance in early January, every single man who came across her path on the stretch of narrow East Village sidewalk between the N train and her sister’s apartment smacked right into her, she says. It was like that for the whole experiment, wave after wave of men knocking into her with an elbow or a shoulder or a full-on body-check.

“I can remember every single man who moved out of the way, because there were so few,” Breslaw told me.

And though she refused to reposition herself for anyone — including women — Breslaw found that while she did end up running into some females, most cleared a path for her.

Breslaw said that she believes manslamming is especially acute in densely populated cities like New York, where there’s so little space to begin with, but that it is primarily a gendered phenomenon.

“Women who bumped into me would more often have some sort of audible reaction and then would continue plowing through,” Breslaw said. “But I could probably count on my hand the number of women that bumped into me and the number of men that didn’t.”

Though Breslaw conceded that the findings of her experiment were surprisingly “dark,” there is one bright spot: “I never fell down,” she said. “I never got hit so far that I actually got knocked on my ass."

Who says chivalry is dead?