Berlin - If you're a woman, you probably know what we're talking about. You'll be sitting on the U-Bahn or on the bus with your legs together or crossed and then a dude flops down next to you, spreads his legs and takes up way more space than necessary. Yep, we're talking about manspreading.

In cities like New York, Madrid and Vienna public transport authorities have placed anti-manspreading ad campaigns in buses and trains. Berlin's BVG shouted on Facebook that there were no anatomical reasons for manspreading: "Knees together, you dicks!"

It's a subject that has triggered plenty of conservative comments: "I can't keep up with this anymore, what else are we men to be banned from doing?"

The answer might be: "It's not just about bad behaviour, it's about consideration and equality – which start with small things.

Berlin students Elena Buscaino (26), and Mina Bonakdar (25) have come up with their own response to manspreading.  Their Riot Pant Project sells trousers featuring slogans against male dominance – and the message becomes legible when the wearer spreads her legs: "Stop Spreading", "Give Us Space" or just "Toxic Masculinity". 

The two women met in 2019 at the Universität der Künste during a fashion and graphic design project about writing and clothing. The theme was marriage and divorce. "We talked a lot about sexism and feminism," they say. They're interested in breaking down gender roles and stereotypes. And in the question of how much space men take up overall: "Who has how much space in society?"

No single incident triggered their anti-manspreading project.

"It happens every day," says Buscaino.

"The frustration and anger were there before," says Bonakdar. She describes the effect of the slogans printed on spread legs: "The sexualisation dissipates. The slogans offer protection and give strength." She also just enjoys wearing them.

Male friends have also offered plenty support to the duo. "They noticed how they were behaving in the first place."

Photo: dpa

But Elena Buscaino and Mina Bonakdar are all-too-familiar with online criticism, often along the lines of: doesn't the world have other problems right now? Or the accusation that feminism can no longer be taken seriously because of people like them.

To which Buscaino responds, "One problem does not negate the other." The project is intended as a puzzle piece within the greater debate. Feminism on a small scale.

She says they've sold around 100 to 200 pairs of the trousers, which are all upcycled second-hand. Now they're working on setting up their own website.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was no need for the pants? That's their goal. A dream, the duo say. But they're not counting on it coming true any time soon.