Thoroughly loving this episode of Unladylike that addresses two wheeled street harassment.
Spoiler alert, it’s been around as long as bikes.
I feel lucky that I don’t often experience street harassment, which is to say I’m grateful that I’m not constantly reminded that some people correlate my value as a human being by the level of sexual attraction they have to me. That’s a sad state of affairs, and we can do better.
There are so many obstacles to getting more women on bikes (and thereby making cycling safer and better for everyone), and I would hope that street harassment isn’t a factor, but I’m sure it is. It’s made all the worse when you’re a vulnerable road user as it is, just to be made to feel more vulnerable by getting yelled at and objectified by someone in a giant metal box zooming by you (add in offended, scared, upset, and/or infuriated as it applies to you and you situation).
(I also have to say, I have a pretty low bar here. I’m not offended by hellos or an occasional “Hey Peaches” by a man I pass sometimes who I would judge is old enough to be my great great grandfather. I love it when people compliment my bike and tend to assume that they simply share my level of bike obsession. Being told to smile mildly annoys me, and I often try to smile and wave at people anyway because I’m an evangelical cyclist, and because I enjoy surprising and sometimes confusing people.)
I’m not referring to any of that. I’m referring to the gassholes of the world who think it’s acceptable to install a 500 decibel catcall whistle to their redneck pickup truck that is loud enough to reverberate a rider into a ditch right as they pass by me, in a school zone no less. I’m talking about the teenage boys who yelled “NICE ASS” to me out the window of a mini van and speed away laughing, just as much as I’m talking about the women who told me I should be flattered and that I’ll miss that kind of attention when I get older when I related to them how violated I felt.
Because oh, Hell to the No.
Those instances are few and super far between. Most of the negative reactions I deal with are actually from friends and family worried that I deal with an environment that would warrant me carrying a gun or some kind of weapon (oh hi, South Carolina). I have never felt that I would be safer with one, and never felt that I would need one any more than if I drove a car. Also, if you saw me try to open a jar of pickles, you would not advise me to handle a gun. It also surprises people that I feel much safer in my current neighborhood in a mostly low income area than I do in nicer parts of town. Almost all of the people I come across are incredibly friendly, well adjusted and respectful people, and the few that prove otherwise are not going to ruin my favorite thing for me.
Most women I know don’t bike commute out of a lack of safety in terms of infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes, trails or even low traffic routes. But how sad that we live in a society that essentially tells us that we need to put on a two ton “protective” armor of metal when we walk out the door, and that to do otherwise is “asking for it”.
So for the record, what I’m asking for is my physical and mental well-being, transit equity and mobility, a cleaner environment, and a stronger, healthier community. I’m asking to ride my bike, except I’m not asking because I’m going to ride it with or without your permission. It’s unladylike, and I hope you would expect nothing less.