Riot Pant Projectan interview with the creators about their project to stop manspreading
16 July 2020
The project prints messages such as “Give Us Space”, “Stop Spreading”, and “Toxic Masculinity” on the crotch area of trousers, which can be revealed, and concealed, as needed. The Riot Pant Project has gained a fair amount of praise and has been featured in various magazines, like Dazed We talked with founders Elena and Mina about how they started their project, reactions towards it, as well as the ongoing need for feminist activism.
How did you get the idea for the project?
Elena: We got to know each other almost exactly one year ago during a project at our university. Fashion and graphic design students had to develop a collection together, and we were each other’s partners. Mina and I dealt a lot with hidden messages and postures in our collection. We worked with the theme of marriage and social ideas about relationships. Although we had the idea for the Riot Pant Project during this time, we didn’t pursue it further because it didn’t fit into our concept. However, that summer Mina said to me “Come on, we’re on semester break; let’s try this again”, and we started experimenting with it and had a lot of fun.
That means your project is originally an idea of your studies?
Mina: It didn’t fit thematically into our concept, so we didn’t implement it directly. But the idea came from this concept of “postures can either make messages visible, hide, or even disguise them”.
Elena: Through these specific postures, messages then become visible. Afterwards we pursued the idea of the Riot Pant Project again.
Mina: We simply noticed early on that it was also a natural topic for both of us. We had both previously discussed feminist topics and questions concerning gender with each other. During these discourses we came across the problem of manspreading, how triggers in us, and decided it was of course a relevant issue. We didn’t come to this topic through the concept of body postures, but manspreading was also a topic that affected both of us.
That means, the [concept of manspreading] resonated with the positioning of your slogan? Why did you choose such a “radical place” for it and not print it on bags, for example?
Mina: Exactly, that has to do with the process of hiding and revealing.
Elena: It is extremely conclusive in itself, because the manspreading happens exactly at this place. I mean, if you really deal with it, it is exactly the central point that touches and disturbs you so crassly in this moment. That’s why this is the best position to take action against it.
Mina: These messages might also be controversial for some parts of the society – especially for those who still misunderstand “Toxic Masculinity”, as a general criticism of masculinity. Moreover, we wanted to ensure [the wearer] the possibility of hiding [the text], so that if [the wearer] doesn’t feel like they are in a position to show this message, they can hide it. By showing the slogan you make yourself extremely vulnerable.
Elena: Furthermore, it is very provocative on many different levels. On the one hand, there’s the content of the text itself. On the other hand, a woman spreading her legs in public is in itself a provocative gesture. Plus, then there’s also this forcing of the male gaze onto the crotch. All this requires courage and you’re not always ready for that, so it was important to us that the slogan is not visible if your legs were crossed.
Why exactly did you choose these 3 slogans?
Mina: We had thought about more slogans, but these slogans were decided on relatively quickly. We realised that these three slogans express perfectly the message that we want to convey. “Stop spreading” is this appeal for the manspreader to stop spreading its legs. “Give us space” has an even deeper meaning, because it’s about physical space, but also about the social space that you have to grant other people who don’t identify as male, hetero, and cis. And “Toxic Masculinity” somehow describes this [manspreading] posture. The gesture of manspreading kind of impersonates toxic masculinity and by reflecting this posture, you can also address the issue of manspreading through the act itself.
Elena: Originally, we had a fourth slogan “Ignorant”, but we rejected it, because it did not fit that well and was not as strong as the other three. I’m also totally happy and positively surprised that all three slogans are requested by customers quite equally. There are people who want to have a pair of trousers with the slogan “Toxic Masculinity”. For others it is perhaps too radical. They feel more comfortable with “Stop Spreading”. These three slogans offer slightly different approaches.
If someone approaches you and would like to have one of your pants, how does it work exactly? What is the process?
Elena: In general, we offer two options. The first one is that people send us their own pants, we screenprint [the slogan] on them, and then send them back to them. In the last few weeks, I have already received some pants. We work with a screen printing company that does the printing for us and we send the pants back to the customer. The second option is that we buy second-hand trousers that are printed and then sold.
You’ve probably already worn the pants in public, how did people react to them?
Mina: I noticed that there is mostly irritation, but also sometimes something like curiosity. It depends on the situation in which you wear these pants and how you yourself feel when you wear them. We recently discovered that the pants are almost like magic – it’s totally exciting for us to wear them, as if you had a secret and even if you can’t decipher it, you still radiate this energy. For example at Uni, where I feel comfortable, I get rather curious and interested looks. When I wear them on the subway or in a situation when a manspreader tries to confront you, I definitely feel a lot of tension and irritation. Sometimes you can also feel the manspreader’s defiance. He feels something is happening and he is being addressed, but unfortunately it has never happened that a man confronted with his manspreading through our trousers has stopped manspreading. But I still believe [being confronted with the trousers] has led manspreaders to reflect on their manspr
Elena: I also notice more and more that we have an impact on people through our photoshoots and our campaign and that we have managed to stimulate discourse even more. On the one hand, manspreading is an expression of toxic masculinity, on the other hand, this toxic masculinity is accompanied by ignorance and no willingness to show empathy. Therefore it’s clear that we cannot immediately convert all manspreaders in the world with our trousers. We also want to empower womxn and the queer community. The feedback we get from people who wear these pants are that they feel like they have been given a hidden weapon which gives them a different feeling; even if they don’t open their legs. You just feel stronger no matter how you sit.
So according to you, it is pretty safe to wear the pants in public? I can imagine, if you make the slogan visible in the wrong environment or in front of a “toxic” man, a confrontation could occur, which certainly does not exclude violence. What do you think about this?
Mina: The basic idea of our project is to make messages visible through certain postures and hide them again through others. If we wear one of our pants and perceive a confrontation as potentially dangerous or even violent, we simply close or cross our legs and thus effectively make the slogan invisible again. Basically, we have often heard that our pants make the person who wears it, feel empowered and stronger. In our opinion, the idea that wearing certain clothes is dangerous in itself shifts the responsibility too quickly towards the victims.
Could you briefly elaborate more on the connection between the Riot Pant Project and the LQBTIQA+ community?
Elena: We see the connection of our project to the LGBTIQA+ community reflected especially in the slogans GIVE US SPACE and TOXIC MASCULINITY. GIVE US SPACE is a demand to give marginalized groups in our society more space, representation, and visibility. We do not only mean cis-women, but all persons who are part of the LGBTIQA+ community, as well as non-binary and gender nonconformist people. We are not only concerned with the physical space that is taken up in the context of a subway ride, but also with the place/space in society, in conversations, in the world of work, the media representation and the lack of shelter. The slogan GIVE US SPACE is reserved exclusively for womxn and the LGBTIQA+ community, which we explicitly point out before purchasing/printing.
TOXIC MASCULINITY refers to existing toxic ideas of masculinity and how they are performed. These ideas hinder the free development of masculine-read persons, reproduce gender norms and strengthen patriarchal structures and heteronormativity. Patriarchy and the heteronormativity associated with it prevent the unconditional equality and equal treatment of the LGBTIQA+ community and promote oppression and violence against it.
The “Riot Pant Project” is without a doubt a feminist project. Why do you think it is important to be a feminist these days?
Elena: First of all, it is important to note that there are still neither equal rights nor equal opportunities for womxn and queer people as there are for men. And this is often forgotten in Germany, because there is a kind of “pseudo equality”. And it is enshrined in the law that all people have the same rights and dignity. But if you look at the [political] structures, it becomes extremely clear that many suffer from a lot of disadvantages, while others are granted many privileges.
Mina:I agree. And even if much has already been achieved, we are convinced that there is still more to do. To circle back to manspreading though, it perfectly describes the current situation. It’s a posture, something subtle, that is a reproduction of the ideas of masculinity and gender.
It shows how strongly embedded traditional gender norms are in our society and how much we still need to do to fight against them. Only through breaking away from things that we usually subconsciously disregard, can change of opinion take place. In my opinion this is extremely important. I think that in a society like the one in Germany, for example, you have to be very deliberate in pointing issues out so that people can see them. Only then, can a change of mindset be created which is the foundation for true and honest equality.
And last, but not least: What are your next plans? What are your future goals for this project?
Mina: Because of the situation with COVID-19 everything is a bit vague right now. It’s difficult to plan at all. We really had a lot of nice things we were looking forward to, but they are all on hold for now.
Elena: Originally we had planned a small release party, where the pants would be sold as a kind of celebration of the project. Furthermore, through our university, we also had a collaboration with the Museum of Photography in Berlin. We would have been part of an exhibition there. All of these things have now been cancelled or postponed until further notice. Our next goal in general though is to be able to continue our project permanently. We really hope that the interest will not fade away. I have always jokingly said that as long as Corona does not end the patriarchy, we must continue to work on our project.