> Bike Talk: Street Harassment | CITY GIRL RIDES

Bike Talk: Street Harassment

03 May, 2011

photo via life uncharted

There are times when I absolutely love to talk about the joys of cycling but sometimes I feel the need to bring up topics about the issues of cycling. This is the start of Bike Talk, where I share my personal thoughts on issues women face in cycling. I don't like being a downer but I never talk about the harassment I get on the road from walkers, drivers, and other cyclists. I'm not just saying that it's from the group of "hey move out of the road" but it's the group of whistlers, hollers, commenter's on my nice ass and shit. After 6 years of living in San Francisco you would think I'd be used to it by now but no, I don't think I should ever have to be used to something that makes me feel uncomfortable. 

Oftentimes, I think about the many girls I know who are afraid to get on a bike because they don't feel safe riding in certain parts of the city or certain times of the day. I can understand, there was a time back when I was being harassed by a man on the road who was trying to take me down while I was riding my bike, I almost ran into oncoming traffic, luckily I safely got away but I was terrified to ride by bike for the rest of the week. Street harassment is just hollering, it's the taunting of making one feel little and threatened. 

While this is not a light subject, I'm sure many of you ladies can relate to it. Cat calling, the holla, whistling or even being talked to when unwelcomed is considered street harassment too, and it's a reason enough to not want to get on a bike and ride on the road. Nobody wants and needs to put up with that crap. As an advocate for both bicycling and walking, I hear a lot about what needs to be done to get more people out into the public space, bike lanes, well-lit paths, access to dependable and well connected modes of transportation are all good and well, however, just over one half of our cities populations have the very specific threat of street harassment to deal with and behavior is not fixed with white paint or street cars. cycling in our beloved cities is a skill and it's a shame some of us don't feel comfortable exercising it. 

The street isn't an inviting space for many whose frame is more step-through than truss, but I suppose I shouldn't overgeneralize. There are a hell of a lot of women who don’t let concerns about their safety prevent them from pedaling to and fro, and I have mad respect for those tough cookies. The fact remains, however, that some women haven’t found that courage, or don’t live in a place that affords the luxury. They could really use the support from those who do. All of this makes me think about gender specific public safety and wondering how we can get our cities, bicycle advocacy groups, even group rides, to take this issue into consideration. Although here's some truth that we've been saying over and over again, making the roads safer will increase ridership of women. Until then, how do we protect ourselves from streets harassment?

A while back I found this website Hollaback, where women around the world are being empowered to end street harassment, check it out. You can read the stories and although some of them may be funny, some of them are downright scary. After all it could be someone you know.
cb said...

man i was just ranting about this! i feel that when we were in sf i didn't get the harassment at all but since we moved to hayward, man there has been a HUGE difference and i really don't like it! i LOVE riding my bike but when people start to comment it makes me angry and uncomfortable. most of the time i ignore it but sometimes it is hard to remove that anger and replace it with something else. when we first moved to hayward, there were teenagers that would harass me at the park...then one day they decided to chase me but they didn't know who they were dealing with and i out ran them..hahaha but as a women i want to feel save riding and sometimes that isn't the case...i wish others would see how it feels in others shoes before they open their mouths...words can do a lot of damage if you let them.

great post tina! and thanks for that link too!


TC said...

I get harrassed a lot in my neighborhood (The Mission.) There is one particular group of men that hang out by a park that is on my regular running route. They always make comments when I go by, even if it's for the third time that day. But when I'm with my boyfriend? Not a peep.

Some days I say, screw them! I'm not going to let them intimidate me and I just walk past, ignoring them, as if they didn't even exist.

Other times I don't feel as strong and I will change my route to avoid them. I feel like, screw this, I don't need to hear anything from them today. Either way, I think it stands, that they are the ones with the power over me. They probably don't give me much of a second thought.

citygirlrides said...

i think a lot of ladies are afraid to speak up for themselves, and @TC, you're right when you say that they are the one's with the power over you. i used to live in the mission a while back and would get the same treatment but until i started saying something to them in their language, it stopped.

growing up i had a thing for smart mouthing as my mother would say, but it was a defense mechanism from people thinking they talk or treat me unjustly. i'm grateful for having the passion to stand for what's right and that also means standing up for myself because i deserve to be treated and spoken to with respect. i think we all deserve that though. so stick up for yourselves ladies, i got your back ;)

Ridonkulus said...

i don't get as many cat calls on my bike as i do walking through the same neighborhood (maybe because i'm moving faster?). however i've had pedestrians, drivers often try to scare me by yelling as i pass by. this never works of course, because i am paying attention to the road and i see them before they see me. just the other day, i was making a left turn when a driver in the right lane yelled as i passed his car. WTF, this was also a fail, because i came no where near his car. i've also had a lit cigarette flicked at me this same way, but i think this was an accident and just carelessness .

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