By Sonia Elks
LONDON, July 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A British student who built a chair designed to force men to sit with their knees together said on Thursday she hopes her work will encourage men to stop invading women's space.
Laila Laurel, 23, created the furniture to raise awareness of "manspreading", where men sit with their knees splayed wide apart on public transport or other cramped spaces, encroaching on their neighbour's space.
"Manspreading is so infuriating because it is quite minor... but it actually does affect women every day, all over the world, all the time and it infringes on their space," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"What my aims were for this chair were just to engage people in the idea and have people sit on it and raise some awareness and start conversations."
The chair, meant to reverse typical gender norms, is shaped with a wedge that narrows towards the front, forcing the user to keep their knees together.
Another chair she built for women widens out and features a raised block in the middle compelling those who sit on it to spread their legs widely.
Cities around the world including Madrid and New York have led recent campaigns recently to discourage manspreading on public transport.
The U.S. city of Philadelphia launched a "Dude, it's Rude" campaign in 2014 and Seattle's transport provider put up signs on buses showing a self-centred purple octopus with its tentacles draped over bordering seats.
Laurel, studying 3D Design and Craft at the University of Brighton in south England, said she was inspired by her own experiences of men infringing on her space while travelling. She also drew on other women's posts about often small but regular incidents of sexism they experience using the hashtag "EverydaySexism" on social media sites like Twitter.
Her chairs won an award at a showcase last week for British student designers where judges described it as a "bold" and "purpose-driven" way to explore people's behaviour in society.
Laurel said she hoped her work offered a "lighthearted" look at the issue, but could help raise awareness of everyday sexism.
"I think men are less aware of it, but dialogues about these issues are opening up so much more now and I think it is changing perspectives quite a lot," she said. (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)