I’m always searching for strategies to keep the seat next to me on the bus, train or plane vacant. Intently searching through my backpack resting on the vacant seat, is my go-to. Coughing and sneezing might work too. Recent posts on Tumblr (Men Taking Too Much Space on the Train) and Slate.com (On Planes and Trains, Everyone Prefers to Sit Next to Women. Lucky Us.) lament that on public transportation men tend to plot themselves down next to a small women, dominating more than their own share of space. It’s not that women don’t like men, the men just take up too much space. Their legs sprawl well beyond the limitations suggested by their seats.
But the biggest beef with male travelers is they hog the armrest. In most modes of transportation there is only one armrest to be shared between two passengers, and the armrest is only large enough for one arm. So, who gets to use the armrest? Everyone already knows in mixed sex situations the guy gets the armrest, but there is actual research support for this phenomenon. Researchers examined 852 airline passengers, and, no surprise, men had a much greater tendency to command the armrest than women. Also, no surprise, the researchers found that those denied armrest access by their seat companion were angry about it.
OK, you say, men are typically bigger than women. It’s all about size not sex. You’re wrong. The airline study controlled for the size of the passengers and obtained the exact same results. Even when a female passenger was the same size as the male traveler next to her, the armrest was usurped by the man! It’s not about men’s larger size, it’s about men asserting their power over women. Sadly, they probably don’t even realize their doing it. How do you get the armrest back? You need not win an elbow struggle for armrest dominance, just call out the armrest hog. Tell him he’s had the armrest for half the flight and now it’s your turn. It’s time to take back the armrest!