We all cringed in 2016 during the US Presidential debates when Donald Trump hovered over Hilary Clinton. It was like something from a Jordan Peele film: Trump stood so close to Clinton he was literally breathing down her neck, as if he was ready to strangle her.
Trump wasn't threatening Clinton with violence. He was exuding something more subversive: physical male dominance. I recently had the displeasure of being on the same receiving end as Clinton – at a work function, I engaged with a much larger man who stood about 30 centimetres from my face to speak to me. Whenever I stepped back, he would step forward again. By the end of the conversation, I was almost actually up against a photocopier and had to excuse myself. It made me feel THAT uncomfortable.
This experience has changed my view about how much physical space I need to give women. Whether he knew it or not, that man – who was probably 6'4" and 150kg – was asserting his physical male dominance over me. He was – consciously or subconsciously – putting himself in the seat of power by forcing me to feel awkward.
Now I'm aware of this it's time I actively give women the space they deserve, because they deal with this sort of thing every day.
Women need more space on the street
Guys, have you ever been walking alone – particularly at night – and been a tiny bit afraid of the stranger coming towards you? Have you ever considered crossing the road, or breathed a sigh of relief when they do walk pass completely harmlessly? This is how women feel all the time.
Women need more space on the street and I'm going to give it to them. If I'm walking after dark and I see a woman up ahead, I will be the one to cross the road, so she feels more at ease. If I'm on a busy street and I notice myself towering over a woman in front of me, I will actively step back. If I can smell her perfume or her hair, I'm too close.
Women need more space at the gym
The weights floor of any gym is a testosterone-charged place. It's a real man-zone: hulking muscle men curling weights the size of dogs, sports bags, dumbbells and protein drinks splayed all over the floor, and the virulent smell of sweat. It's intimidating.
I imagine if I were a woman, walking into this space for a workout, which is normally at least 80 per cent male-dominated. How would I feel? Would I be OK occupying a bench beside all of this overt masculinity to lift my own weights? The answer is a clear no – I think this is why women's gyms still exist.
How can I change at the gym to give women more space? It starts with collecting up all my stuff off the floor. The energy-drink bottles, the gym bag, the sweaty towel … I don't need to create a kingdom of man-things around me to "save" my place. It's just an unnecessary assertion physical dominance over everyone, least not the few women in the room.
I will also endeavour never to huff and puff near a woman after a set, never to throw my weights down, nor will I grunt when pushing a really heavy weight. These are the actions of cavemen.
Women need more space on public transport
Society has conditioned women to take up as little space as possible on trains, planes and buses, yet has allowed men to think they can have all the space they need. Hence the phenomenon of manspreading.
Males have a physical ease in tight public spaces where many people are forced together, whereas females do not have that luxury.
Men, how we use our bodies in public is important in directing the narrative of the space. If your legs are spread apart and you have sunken into your seat, you're taking up vastly more room than anyone else. It's confronting and feels like you're claiming power with the bulge in your crotch, and other men will inevitably follow suit.
The solution? Give women more space on public transport – and anywhere lots of people are sitting – by literally being smaller. I can take up less space. I'm going to cross my legs where possible and just sit up straighter: two simple physical changes that will make my presence less felt.
Women need more space in conversation
The space your body occupies isn't the only directive of physical dominance. There's intellectual space, too – how much time we give women in conversations. Gender oppression is easily facilitated when one party speaks over or interrupts the other. We men are, often without knowing it, very good at this.
Despite teachers telling us at school to put our hand up in order to speak, in adulthood we don't reprimand each other for interjecting. It's seen as vital in being able to assert your argument.
How can I change and give women more space in conversation? I must stop fighting for my airtime.
Even when I have a valid point in conversation, I will try to hold it in until the woman I'm speaking to is done. She doesn't need to be spoken over, and I am not entitled to speak down to her simply by cutting her off and deciding my opinion is more imperative.
Even more importantly, when there are other men in conversation and one interrupts or speaks over a woman, I vow to pull him up on it in real time (in front of everyone) and give her the space to finish.
That man needs to feel embarrassed in front of his peers; it's the simplest way to change his sexist behaviour.