As a young, female cyclist, my safety and right to access transportation with dignity has been compromised by traffic and pedestrians.
Earlier this month I was riding my bike and received several cat-calls and extended stares. I came home upset that my right to access public spaces had been infringed; refusing to believe that I was the only woman in the city who had experienced this form of harassment.
Street harassment takes many forms, being sexually harassed on a bicycle being one of them. I make a choice when I leave my home to decide on my mode of transportation. When that personal decision is infringed upon by pedestrians and drivers making lewd comments or gestures, my dignity and right to access spaces safely has been violated. Woman’s bodies are too often subject to unwanted and unprovoked attention; further contributing to a greater problem that completely removes consent from public spaces.
Historically, the bicycle liberated women from the constraints of conformity. They gained physical mobility and this divisively transformed their access to the social-political arena, allowing for social change; the bicycle thus being linked to freedom and equality. However, now instead of pedaling forwards, it seems that in the 21st century we’ve pedaled backwards into dead ends of unwanted comments and sexual advances.
It is unfair and incorrect to suggest that what a woman is wearing justifies the comments and stares because it only perpetuates a cycle of skewered accountability. Without questioning the source, many blame women for causing street harassment instead of the perpetrators. When access to public spaces is threatened by onlookers who validate their opinions with an unsolicited comment, it needs to be addressed. By not saying anything, we are allowing a culture of patriarchal ownership to take precedent and are removing ourselves from our right to social control. Some would argue there is no best way to respond to an attacker. However, by confronting the stigma that denies the existence of bike harassment, we are creating a space for women and all cyclists to engage, participate and access public spaces without question.
For those who believe that sexual harassment does not happen while cycling, cases as extreme as passengers in cars reaching out to touch and grab women biking have been reported. In places such as Washington and New York City, women have reported men making uncomfortable and offensive comments about the way they were seated on their bikes. What’s worse than these acts themselves is that girls and women learn that they are not safe in public and that it is their responsibility to be safe. If they get harassed or assaulted, it is assumedly the fault of the victim, for letting their guard down.
Last year, an article in the Washington Post addressed the street harassment that many cyclists are subjected to, citing an incident where a man stopped a cyclist, exposed himself in front of her, openly urinated and then asked her to go on a date.
Last month, Stop Street Harassment, published a blog post titled, “No Wonder Women Don’t Want to Ride Bikes” and discussed sexual harassment as not just a woman’s issue but an issue of mobility. Meanwhile most local police departments don’t even keep records of physical/verbal harassment towards cyclists.
Street harassment is yet another way for men to exert their power over women, far too often without question or consequence. Cyclists have had enough. Women have had enough. We are tired of having to justify ourselves as pedestrians and cyclists who are entitled to a safe space on the road. Let’s join the movement and join in the chorus of woman who are taking back the streets – two wheels at a time.