Here Now Some History #25: The Great Manspread of 1954

By Evelyn Jensen

Third wave feminism and discussions of equality across genders during our modern era has sadly fogged the rich history of a movement that has since been stigmatized: the Men’s Rights Movement.

Early Men's Rights activists first gathered to oppose women suffering or something
Men’s Rights activists first gathered to oppose women suffering or something

Before women across the nation began making wild demands of unrealistic equity, the United States was rife with the superior influence of the male psyche. The board room, senate, and battlefield were ruled with an iron fist that was as stoic as it was productive.

But there was one arena in which men were hardly present, save dinnertime. The kitchen had become the woman’s kingdom, a land where wives could wield unruly power with the flip of a mixer switch. Appliances, nonperishables, and flatware all danced at the command of the doting Mrs. Cleaver. Clever advertising painted the kitchen as a haven for women across the nation, slowly conditioning the public to believe the lack of male presence was not only a non-issue, but a crucial part of the American domestic narrative. These nuanced images and propaganda blinded everyone to the true inequality of the male.  But that only lasted until September 14, 1954, when a man named Dick White spoke up and everything changed.

A humble insurance executive from Iowa, White had stood idly by like the rest of America’s hard-working fathers, blissfully unaware of the creeping domestic oppression at hand. One hazy, September day, while his wife lazed away in the kitchen preparing for an 18-person dinner party, White approached the refrigerator for his 3rd beer of the morning and received a forward command to, according to White’s diary recovered by our researchers:

“leave the room so she could have adequate space to ready the home for entertaining my boss and colleagues that evening.”

Dick White’s style made him a convincing spokesman for insurance and male kitchendom alike

It was in this moment that it all became horrifyingly salient: the American man had lost control of his own home. It was not long until White’s frustrating realization had bubbled over into households down the block, throughout the town, state, and eventually, the nation. Men everywhere were frenzied with the spirit of reclamation. They had the inspiration, but now they needed the execution. How could they prove to their greedy counterparts that full control in the man’s favor was the ultimate equalizer? Picketing and protesting just wasn’t enough, not to mention the confusion that ensued between men’s rights and women’s rights groups after White was photographed holding a sign reading: “Women don’t belong in the kitchen”.

After much plotting and scheming, White came up with the ultimate act of defiance. If they could physically overtake the space, it would show that total control was in their favor. So they staged a sit-in for September 20. And they would not rise until their demands were asserted.

Men marching from kitchen to kitchen in the small town of New York, New York
Men marching from kitchen to kitchen in the small town of New York, New York

Husbands and fathers across the nation, knowing no age or race (though they were mostly white), took to each other’s kitchens in droves. White hatched a plan for all men to link arms and stand wide for an entire month, in what became later known as the Great Manspread of 1954.

What started as a feisty demonstration, though, quickly became a hunger strike, as women were barred from preparing any meals in the kitchen and the men participating were unaware of other avenues for acquiring nourishment. The sit-in came to an abrupt end on September 21. But the spirit of the fight was not lost. Land’O’Lakes even honored their efforts by selling Manspread, a low-cholesterol margarine that was the color of steel. The typical canary yellow margarine was triggering to some men, as it mirrored the color of classic suburban kitchen curtains.

The Great Manspread of 1954 serves as a window into an era when men had a voice. When they had a life-jacket to keep them afloat in an ocean of shrill cries of inequality. Sadly, that spirit is now relegated to deep web message boards, fedora shops, and Ann Coulter book signings. Sometimes you can still see people practicing micro-protests on buses and public spaces in solidarity with the brave men that spread for an entire day.

The spirit lives on in very specific bookstores and newsstands
The spirit lives on in very specific bookstores and newsstands

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