Harassing women on bikes

Jessica Reed asks in a blog post on UK’s Guardian website: “What is it about a woman on a bike that attracts such unwelcome attention? From catcalls to lurid comments, should you shout back, or just ignore them? Any tips for those who will not give up their skirts?” You can read her entry in full to learn about the extent of harassment she’s experienced while on her bicycle.

I haven’t been on a bicycle in over a decade (wow!) and I don’t recall being the target of any gender-based harassed as an adolescent in my neighborhood when I did ride one. In response to the Guardian blog post, Holla Back DC! notes that they haven’t received submissions from anyone about being harassed while on their bicycle in DC though some contributors have said that men on bikes have harassed them.

From my research, I’ve read stories from women who are often harassed on their bicycle and stories from other women who were relieved to find they were not harassed while on their bicycle. Here’s an example of one story illustrating the former from my anonymous, informal online survey from last fall:

“Once I was riding my bike down the street and this guy over on the sidewalk who thought he was clever shouted at me, “Hey, don’t you know pedaling (peddling) pussy is illegal?” I didn’t feel unsafe just because he said that, but I did feel sort of unwelcome, and even though I was angry I didn’t feel safe in confronting him.” – a young woman from Louisville, KY

Off the top of my head, two incidents come to mind when I think about this topic. First: one of my cousins lives in Arlington, VA, a close suburb of DC, and she told me that a man yelled “whore” at her one time when she was riding her bicycle home from work! Second: when I interviewed the founder of HollaBack Chicago over two years ago, she said a harassment incident she experienced while she was bicycling inspired her to start the blog.

Have you been harassed while on a bicycle or do you feel more immune to it than when you are on foot?


2 Responses to Harassing women on bikes

  1. b says:

    Maybe being harassed on bicycle is linked more with bicycle culture, in that if there are more bikes, there’s more chance of that being just one more space – the bike lane being that space, I guess – where women will be yelled at. In Copenhagen, about forty percent of commuters go by bike, and I ride many places I would have once walked. People don’t mess with me on bike here, but they don’t generally harass me to begin with. I do think there’s a fetish about women on bikes, and I think some people play into that whether they know it or not. This website is an excellent (well, horrible actually) example of that in practice. This guy probably thinks he’s doing something cool, but it freaks me out to know I could be randomly photographed on my bicycle and posted for the world to see if I dress nicely enough. WTF.


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