While researching the way people present themselves online, furniture designer Anna Aagaard Jensen began studying videos of male and female guests on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon by watching them in slow motion. She noticed something odd.
“I saw there was a big gap in how the man was sitting and how the woman was sitting,” Jensen says. “By slowing down the movement, it looked incredibly awkward. [The female guest] was so afraid when she sat down that she was going to do something wrong.”
Jensen was fascinated by the difference between how men and women sit in public space, which led her to create a series of chairs that force the sitter to open her legs and manspread.
Jensen sculpted each of the four chairs she has created so far into exaggerated female shapes using Styrofoam. Then she layered the structures with glass fiber and acrylic resin. She dyed the resin with makeup, giving the chairs a peachy, mottled appearance.
When she displayed the chairs, which she created while studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven, at Dutch Design Week this fall, Jensen only allowed women to sit on them. The response?
“First of all, [women] don’t want to go on [the chairs],” she recalls. “They say, ‘I can’t sit here and spread my legs.’ I ask them, ‘Why not?’ They think about it and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do it.’ And they feel uncomfortable.”
Why? Even though the position itself is comfortable–after all, that’s why men do it–women are socialized to think they shouldn’t sit that way in public. “In our minds, we think, ‘I’m spreading my legs, people are looking at me, it’s sexual,'” Jensen says. “The simple fact that you want to sit down in public, and you feel unsafe and you have to shrink yourself down [to do so]? I hate it so much.”
Jensen hopes that her chairs help women understand the relationship between their bodies and social norms, and take advantage of the power that comes with taking up space. She wants to install the chairs in museums or places that encourage people to sit on them so more women can have that experience of opening up.