Babes on Bikes ~ my new experience of street harassment

Last week (or maybe the week before, it’s been a bit manic chez feminaust lately) Tara wrote about being told to smile on the street and contemplated the relationship with looking feminine and “pretty” and being expected to always appear happy and appealing to passers-by. It got me thinking about my own experiences of street-harassment. They’re fairly unusual but they certainly do happen. I’m hesitant to put their rarity down to my demeanour or dress choice as I know that street-harassment rarely has anything to do with what the individual actually looks like however, as I ramp up my bike time in preparation for a big bike tour I’m undertaking in May I’m starting to notice that the street-harassment aimed my way is also ramping up. Something about being a chick on a bike causes the male of the species to get very excited and assume our intention in such behaviour is to attract their attention and solicit all manner of observation muttered, hurled, crooned and chorused across the street/footpath/pedestrian crossing/from moving vehicle.

I’m fascinated by the realisation that my choice of locomotion could so dramatically change my experience of being on the street, in ways other than the speed at which I locomote (word?). The realisation reminded me of a friday feminaust from last year which focussed on the importance of the invention of the bicycle on women’s freedom and independence. Is there a residual anger in the male of the species that we are so carelessly flaunting our not-so-new found freedom? I somehow doubt it, although you never know, collective memory can be a powerful thing.

Is it because in the course of powering our two wheeled vehicles that our bodies are placed in such a position as to arouse greater interest? Lent forward, powerful biceps bulging, arses swinging in the air, thighs and calves rippling and pumping? Well perhaps for some people but that is not the image you get when I ride past. Mine is more a red faced, panting, often on my way home from some sort of other physical activity so dressed in the sweat soaked t-shirts and track pants required for such endeavours (or sometimes the pub after a few).

One positive thing I have become aware of is that when on a bicycle you can both stop suddenly and make a quick get away. Not unfrequently I have slammed on my somewhat faulty brakes, yelled obscenities and demand to know why I am not to be allowed to continue on my way in peace without harassment and then sped off, heart pumping, hands sweating in my oh-so-northern-suburbs white leather cycling gloves.

And in the end, why shouldn’t I? What possible right does any man have to comment on my bike fabulousness? I know I rock a smashing fifteen speed (actually I don’t use my gears, I’m not sure if they even work…) but I don’t get (generally) comments on my sexy ability to drive a car, or ride my horse (ok I do, but only contextually coz I’m wearing my fetching snood and skeleton cameo brooch). Like I said earlier, my experiences of common or garden street harassment are rare. SO what is it about the biking that gets the boys all hot and bothered?

Does anyone else have this experience? Any comments or suggestions to make for this confused little pedaler?

Please comment!

Image taken from Mikael Colville-Andersen‘s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License.

7 thoughts on “Babes on Bikes ~ my new experience of street harassment

  1. I’ve definitely experienced the same thing. I can’t remember being harassed on foot, but have been harassed countless times on my bike. Something to do with cycling being a traditionally male activity? Or perhaps you’re right about our collective memory of the freedom women gained through cycling. Hmmm… perplexed…

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  3. I found this extremely interesting, I cycled for years everyday to work etc in Germany and never once had something moronic yelled at me out a car window. This happens pretty regularly in Melbourne. A few months ago I was beeped at by an older man in a smallish truck; I thought at first it was because he thought I was in his was way, but after the smirk he gave me I realised he was just beeping at me. Just two weeks ago on a thursday night I was also on the way home from some sporting activity in tracksuit pants with my socks pulled up and a raincoat as it was raining and a car full of young guys slowed to yell incomprehensible things out their window at me then sped off. I think a lot of these people have never actually ridden a bike and when confronted by a rider they go into a hysteria and completely forget that what they see before them is actually a human being.

    • Thanks Saffy. It is a fascinating phenomenon. In a few weeks I’ll be cycling across Britain on a tandem bike with a friend.
      We certainly get plenty of attention for all the wrong reasons when we’re out and about on that as well.

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  5. The incident that really stands out for me went something like this:

    Random Yobbo, out the window of a passing car: “HEY HOMO!” *

    Me (very confused): “I’M A GIRL, YOU MORON!” **

    *because, apparently, not only do bicycles affect/signal/change a person’s sexual orientation, but also there is something bad about this and it must be addressed by random schoolyard taunts

    ** Moron in question didn’t hear me, but several passers-by were amused.

    Had another one a couple of months ago – didn’t catch the words, but heard an engine revving and looked over to see a young male in a tricked-out car, apparently trying to get my attention. He seemed quite proud of his car, but what he’d failed to take into account was that “Girl on bike in -20C weather” (I ride year round, in Canada) is not a category that usually overlaps with “Girl impressed by fancy car.” I remarked rather loudly that, of the two of us, I thought I probably had convincing evidence that I possessed the larger set of reproductive ovoids, and off I pedaled at the light change. No bystanders that time, unfortunately.

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