“Patriarchy chicken” – the clue is in the name really; only, rather than two people in cars willingly driving at each other, the challenge involves two human beings walking at each other until one “chickens out”. What’s the aim of the game? To call out the inequalities which exist in public spaces and beliefs about who is entitled to exist in them. Women’s experience of being denied the right to exist in public is extensive; we are told to be less loud so as to avoid drawing attention to ourselves, to lower our eyes so that we don’t “lead people on”, to close our legs on public transport. All of these are tiny actions which reaffirm the assumption that we should minimise ourselves in public spaces and that we don’t have the same right to take up space as men do.
Before we go any further, I want to offer a disclaimer and explain what patriarchy chicken is not about – it is not about being rude to men, or about making people’s lives more difficult. It is simply about women claiming the space that they are in and exerting their right to exist in public.
I first heard of patriarchy chicken online, thought it was a cool idea and then kind of moved on with my life. When my friends and I got to talking about it, it transpired that every one of us had stories of numerous men who just keep walking at you, or hover near you, or stare at you and expect you to make room for them, to step out of their way, lower your gaze and let them have your space. Eventually, out of sheer curiosity combined with a very desperate need for distraction amidst the deadline hell of Weeks 6 and 7, I decided to give patriarchy chicken a try for a week.
Interestingly, older men seemed more inclined to make way for me – whether this was due to a sense of chivalry or simply that they were in no hurry to get to class, we’ll never know. Regardless, every one of my experiences which ended in direct contact or confrontation involved younger men; when the pavement was blocked and only allowed one person to pass at a time, one guy preferred to shuffle an entire bin out of his way rather than wait for me to pass through first. On at least four different occasions I bumped elbows with men, one guy throwing a “sorry” over his shoulder when his backpack knocked me. A sixth man, having bumped shoulders with me, continued walking, his only acknowledgement being the shaking of his head and the swearing under his breath. This was Day 1.
I wouldn’t say all of this was fun – it is intimidating and takes conscious effort to hold your ground and to keep walking, to take the bodily contact and the indignant stares and to keep on going. However, this is what makes it necessary. The initial discomfort of the challenge is exactly what revealed to me how important it is; the fact that every time a man walked towards me I had to consciously remind myself to keep walking in a straight line, to not move my shoulders just to avoid being bumped into, reminding myself not to step out of the way (or even onto the road) for someone who wouldn’t even acknowledge it, followed by the moments after each encounter where I had to exhale, shake my head and laugh a little, proved to me that I do not do it enough. Additionally, the fact that each interaction where I refused to move out of the way resulted in physical contact, outright confusion and even hostility means that this was not a common experience for men, either.
The difficulty of playing patriarchy chicken made me realise that I (along with many women) am not used to claiming the space I inhabit. Obviously, the experience of playing patriarchy chicken will vary for everyone – as a white and able-bodied young woman, I faced fewer difficulties in standing my ground than other women will, and playing in St Andrews (where the intimacy of the town means that people are generally more likely to be friendly and accommodate you anyway) will have affected my experience as well.
Speaking from experience, it is not an easy thing to do – nor is it easy to forget about and ignore once you have started. However, at least one round of patriarchy chicken is something I would encourage all women to try, at least once – if for no other reason than to have an outlet for deadline stress.