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@riotpantproject fashion toxic masculinity manspreading 7

The Berlin fashion label waging war on manspreading

@riotpantproject is hitting back against toxic masculinity with its tongue-in-cheek designs

It’s happened to us all: you’re sitting there, quietly minding your own business in the confines of a crowded Tube carriage, and suddenly some guy sits next to you and spreads his legs like he’s still in his morning yoga class. Introducing: the manspreader in his natural habitat, from whom there is no escape.  

Hitting back at this worldwide pandemic is the riot pant project, started by Universität der Künste Berlin fashion and graphic design students Mina Bonakdar and Elena Buscaino. What was born of a study that delved into posture, perspectives, and hidden messages soon became a space to experiment with screen printing and gender roles. “Manspreading is something that has bothered me for such a long time now,” explains Bonakdar. “We knew that if we didn’t do it now, someone else would do it for us.” Soon after, they made a deal with the screen printing studio at their university and started a quiet but impactful riot against toxic masculinity. 

The concept behind the project is simple: you can either purchase some secondhand trousers or send the duo a pair of your favourite pants and allow Bonakdar and Buscaino to give them an upgrade with your chosen print. “It’s very important for us to work with the things we already have,” says Bonakdar, emphasising the message of sustainability at the project’s core. The motifs currently on offer read ‘Stop spreading’, ‘Give us space’, and ‘Toxic masculinity’, with each message emblazoned on the crotch of your chosen trousers.

It’s a small gesture, an act of posture performance that changes the message you transport while wearing the riot pants. You are the one who decides if you reveal the print or not by making the decision to sit with your legs either spread or held together. Every one of us knows the uncomfortable night bus rides or train trips home, too broke to get an Uber: there are enough situations out there to avoid putting yourself in danger. 

Over time, the designers realised the idea behind the project went far beyond surface level. “The pants are not only about taking a physical space, but a general one too,” Bonakdar explains. Subsequently, the riot pant project aims to illustrate that it’s not only women that are affected by toxic representations of masculinity on a daily basis. Men, for example, also suffer from social pressure to conform to particular stereotypes. 

In the end, the real brilliance of the riot pant project is that it not only addresses the manspreaders directly, but also makes the victims of it visible. “It’s all about questioning gender roles in a playful way,” says Buscaino. “We don’t have a finger-pointing aesthetic, but try to approach important issues in a fun way, because that’s how you reach most people.” In other words: stop spreading and you can sit with us.