A few days ago, I was having a bad morning: my train tickets were expensive, my train was delayed, and my coffee was cold. 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.
Put like that, this doesn’t sound like much fun, but the joy of Patriarchy Chicken lies in its simplicity. I commute from east London to Southampton during the morning rush-hour, navigating busy tube platforms, train carriages, escalators and Waterloo Station. There are lots of bodies, moving through small spaces, walking in every different direction, trying to get to where they want to go.
And if you are a woman, you find yourself constantly dodging. 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. For one thing – I’m not going to lie about this – you do collide with a lot of men. This is where the name of the game comes from. You need to really commit to Patriarchy Chicken: don’t let your social instinct to step to the side kick in. Men are going to walk into you: that isn’t your fault.
Some men don’t walk straight into you, of course. Some men find their brains overridden by the unfamiliar experience of a woman refusing to give 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. You will find that a lot of men just… stop. It is up to you to decide how to react to this.
It’s also important to note that Patriarchy Chicken isn’t about anger. Of course, you can put your head down, square your shoulders, glower, and power through. But in my opinion, the best way to play the game is cheerfully. Smile! Make eye contact! But never, ever give way.
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). 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 precedent 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. Women have been socialised to give way, to alleviate, to conciliate, and to step to the side.
This is so ingrained that we don’t even think about it. We might stand up in meetings and make our point even when we know a man will take the credit; we might dutifully delete the exclamation marks from our emails so as not to undermine ourselves – but we will still step to the side.
I am an able-bodied 5’ 6” white woman. I move through this world with a lot of privilege. I’m not going to pretend that Patriarchy Chicken would work for everyone. But for me, it’s a way of reclaiming a little bit of space, and reminding myself to question some of the other assumptions that might sometimes be holding me back.
So if you are a woman, and you’re walking around today, try a game of Patriarchy Chicken. Lean in, sisters. Sharpen those elbows. Collide with some men.
Dr Charlotte Riley is a lecturer in twentieth-century British history at the University of Southampton.