Professor says she plays “chicken” with men while walking to empower women

Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley (University of Southampton)

A feminist educator in the United Kingdom is making a point not to step aside when men walk in her direction, playing what she refers to as “patriarchy chicken.”

Dr. Charlotte Riley, a lecturer and historian of twentieth century labour party politics, managed to get her Twitter post turned into an op-ed on New Statesman America, an offshoot of the left-leaning, London-based New Statesman publication.

The idea of patriarchy chicken is as follows: by refusing to move out of the way to avoid collision with men going in the opposite direction, women are somehow empowering themselves.

“A few days ago, I was having a bad morning: my train tickets were expensive, my train was delayed, and my coffee was cold,” Riley wrote. “But I cheered myself up by playing a game on my commute. The game is called Patriarchy Chicken, and the rules are simple: do not move out of the way for men.”

If that sounds like something that would be ungentlemanly conduct if perpetrated by a man, you would be correct in your assessment. Generally speaking, people will go to great lengths to avoid a collision, and will often create disorganized chaos as they humorously attempt to bob and weave out of each other’s way.

For Riley, however, it’s about fighting the so-called patriarchy.

“If you are a woman, you find yourself constantly dodging,” she wrote. “Side-stepping men who are walking in your direction; being wiped out by a wheely suitcase dragged by a be-suited man; moving to the side to let faster men move past you; or just pausing to let men bustle in front of you onto the train, or into the lift, or onto the escalator, and on with their busy lives, to their important jobs. If you don’t move out of the way for men, your commute changes.”

In Riley’s opinion, if you are a woman playing patriarchy chicken and a man walks into you because you chose to block his path like the lone protester who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square, it isn’t your fault.

Riley gave an example of one case, where the individual was understandably confused by her socially awkward posturing in an environment where people make a point to get out of each other’s way.

“Last week, on a busy train platform, a man was so confused by my trajectory towards him that he stopped dead in front of me, holding eye contact, and flapped his mouth like a fish,” she wrote, having pulled the near word-for-word statement from a Twitter post she made a few days prior to publication. “You will find that a lot of men just…stop. It is up to you to decide how to react to this.”

A gold medalist in mental gymnastics, Riley seems to be hyper-focused on what men are doing, versus the very same things that women can be seen doing on a daily basis.

“The point of Patriarchy Chicken is not just that you get where you’re going marginally faster (although you do) or that you irritate a number of men (which you also do),” she wrote. “The point is that men have been socialised, for their entire lives, to take up space. Men who would never express these thoughts out loud have nevertheless been brought up to believe that their right to occupy space takes precedence over anyone else’s right to be there. They spread their legs on tubes and trains, they bellow across coffee shops and guffaw in pubs, and they never, ever give way.”

“Women have not been socialised to take up space,” she added, completely ignoring the legions of women who exhibit the same behaviors as men. “Women have been socialised to give way, to alleviate, to conciliate, and to step to the side.”

In reality, if every man was the unwavering brute of Riley’s fantasy description, then there would be no run-ins- there would only be collision and injuries. Sure, some men might not make a course correction to avoid a collision, but they likely wouldn’t change course for a man, either.

We call those men “a**holes,” and the title is not limited to one gender or the other.

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