A man sits on the subway with his legs spread wide. His limbs are so fanned out, in fact, that they’re impinging on the personal space of those sat next to him. But the next moment a woman approaches with a bottle of clear liquid. Then, before anyone knows what’s happening, she dumps the concoction onto the man’s lap. And while the woman swiftly flees the scene, her point has been made: “manspreaders,” beware.
This incident – along with ones just like it – got featured in a September 2018 YouTube video from Anna Dovgalyuk. The Russian describes herself on Instagram as a beauty queen, student and social activist. And naturally it is this last quality that comes to the fore in the controversial vid.
What’s more, this is not the first time that Dovgalyuk has hit the headlines thanks to the content of her videos. Back in October 2017, the beauty queen shared a vid in which a model stands in a subway station and repeatedly exposes her underwear – much to the bemusement of onlookers.
The purpose behind this video? To call out “upskirting.” Dovgalyuk implores those “who love to peek under skirts” to “stay away” from women. Moreover, the vid subsequently received millions of views and more than its fair share of coverage. So a second campaign from Dovgalyuk became almost inevitable.
The target of the self-styled social activist’s latest campaign, then, is manspreading. And for those not in the know, this is when a man sitting down spreads his legs so wide that it becomes unpleasant for others nearby. At the start of Dovgalyuk’s video, though, a caption claims that manspreading is actually “an act of gender aggression and outright disrespect to women nearby.”
Dovgalyuk spoke to BBC Trending in October 2018 about the video. “I thought that [manspreading] was one of those problems which should be highlighted, that people should be made aware of,” she said. And it’s safe to say that she’s raised a few eyebrows with this vid.
Speaking directly to the camera, Dovgalyuk sets out her stall. In the opening monologue, she declares that manspreading is a “disgusting act” and that “men demonstrating their alpha manhood” in this way “deserve contempt.” The video then later shows how a woman can combat the practice.
In a quick-cut compilation of different scenes, an unnamed woman films a number of men on the Saint Petersburg Metro in Russia. The men in question are all manspreading, seemingly without regard for their fellow passengers. So the woman subsequently approaches them in turn and gets her revenge.
To do this, the woman drops liquid onto the culprits’ laps. And, of course, those same men are not particularly pleased by this development. Their subsequent reactions range from shock and confusion to physically grabbing hold of the woman. On each occasion, though, the lady manages to make a hasty retreat.
The reasons for pouring liquid on the men is revealed at the start of the video. First and foremost, Dovgalyuk explains, “If you publicly show [how] macho you are, we will publicly cool you off.” But there is a second purpose – which, for Dovgalyuk at least, seems to be more important.
This is explained in another caption. Apparently, the liquid used to “cool off” the manspreaders has been treated so that the clothes will be permanently marked. That way, according to Dovgalyuk, people boarding the Metro will be able to see which organ each of these men really thinks with.
Yet another caption breaks down the contents of the bottles. Each one was filled with a potent mixture of water and bleach specifically designed to stain clothing. And with 70 men apparently having been doused with the stuff, that means a lot of trousers forever marked in the name of this video.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the video hit a nerve after being uploaded to YouTube. The millions of views that it received led to a slew of comments that varied from support to outright contempt. And the vid naturally made plenty of headlines, too – before YouTube eventually pulled it, that is.
But another question also inevitably emerged: is the video genuine? By way of evidence against it, a man confessed to online news site Bumaga that he had been paid to be featured in the vid. And the whereabouts of this individual following the article’s publication raised further eyebrows.
Curiously, the man cited by Bumaga has disappeared from social media. Dovgalyuk, however, denies the claims of fakery. “This is some completely random guy,” she told BBC Trending. “I don’t know what kind of actor he considers himself to be. But there is no evidence; it’s just somebody’s claim.”
However, these aren’t the only reasons why people believe the video is false. The European Union project EUvsDisinfo even claimed that the vid is “staged Kremlin propaganda.” EUvsDisinfo backed up its claim with the fact that Russia-funded site In The NOW had given the video a big push. The project also cited the Bumaga report as evidence.
But what benefit would the Kremlin gain from putting out such a video? Well, according to EUvsDisinfo, it’s all to do with pushing Russian propaganda against “malignant feminism” that’s apparently moving from the western world to the east. By this definition, then, viewers are supposed to side with male “victims” of the video.
Meanwhile, the BBC Trending article noted Dovgalyuk’s political leanings. It cited her social media presence, which appears to support Russian president Vladimir Putin. Yet she later told the broadcaster that the video is “not in any way connected with feminism” – a movement that she believes is “not about equality.”
Both In The NOW and Dovgalyuk have also denied any involvement with the Kremlin. J Ray Sparks, chief operating officer of In The NOW’s parent company, Maffick, remains defiant. He told the BBC, “[The site] has never been some kind of propaganda outlet.” And Dovgalyuk has added that the idea is “utter idiocy.”
But whether the video was staged or is real, it has certainly pushed people’s buttons. To avoid any kind of incident like this in future, then, perhaps it’s best that when riding the subway, we all just keep our body parts within the limits of our seats.