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Why Men Take Up So Much Space

Have you ever been sitting next to a teen boy when his legs are splayed as far as they can go into both chairs next to you? How awful is it competing for armrests next to a businessman on a plane?

Why is it that men take up so much space? Moms always joke to me that having a house full of teen boys feels like living with a herd of elephants. Splaying legs and arms is actually a territorial display of dominance. In other words, when we make our body take up more physical space we are actually trying to claim it as our own and assert power.

men take up so much space

More often than not, men do this more than women. This is because men often feel the need to claim power in a room or assert dominance and, evolutionary, women are trained that dominance or asserting power is negative for a female. Teen boys especially feel the need to assert dominance. This is because as they reach puberty and get closer to adulthood they have inner struggles with independence and their own manliness. Territorial splays for teen boys is a way for them to test the waters and attempt to show maturation.

Teen boys also use dominance displays as way of nonverbally communicating indifference to authority or rebellion. You will often see teen boys splay legs when being punished. They do this as a way to subconsciously push against their parent’s authority. Parents should actually correct this territorial display. According to former FBI agent and nonverbal behavior expert Joe Navarro, parents need to stop territorial splays right from the beginning to encourage teens to respect authority. He says that if parents allow teens to splay during a punishment it will be even harder to get teens to agree or understand what they did wrong. He tells parents they should have their teen boys (or girls) sit up, or move positions so they cannot attempt to achieve power with their body.

Understanding people’s nonverbal behavior is incredibly important. I challenge you to pay attention to when the men (or women) in your life use territorial splays to gain deeper understanding of their subliminal desire to assert control. This can better inform your decisions on how to interact with the people around you.


Joe Navarro, “What Every Body is Saying”

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About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


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  3. karinova

    What is the purpose of the word “evolutionary” in the 2nd sentence of the 3rd paragraph?
    I’ll rephrase: the word “evolutionary” does NOT belong there.

    In fact, the entire sentence is a bit hinky in its passivity. Men/boys don’t “feel the need” to perform masculinity **that same standard way** out of nowhere, and women/girls have not been trained by some distant impersonal force of nature. They are BOTH trained to perform masculinity and femininity **as culturally defined.** In other words, men here take up so much space compared to women because this society and culture frames that as masculine behavior. Not because it **is** masculine behavior.

    1. astaKASK77

      Leave your dogmatic ideology at the door. You have scientific research sources to back up your ideological claim. Culture can exaggerate or minimize many facets in human nature, anything from greed to cooperation to masculinity and femininity. Anyone who is the least bit informed on Primatology and Sociobiology would know what Vanessa is saying is generally correct.

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