Feminism rides a bike

Content Warning: Sexual Harassment/Violence

Feminism rides a bike: the untrammelled woman/Velocipedrestriennes

If you are a cyclist and are read as female you can experience street harassment and endangerment with an enhanced power divide of car vs bike along with the patriarchal divide of ‘man’ vs ‘woman’. The car is bigger and stronger than you and may also represent an economic divide.

Example, if a woman is harassed, or attacked and if a cyclist is injured:

CYCLIST

It is always our fault, we were in the wrong place. We must protect ourselves with all the safety gear and we should be purchasing expensive cameras to document/tell our side of the story. We are asked if we ran, were riding dangerously. We are told drivers don’t like cyclists being in their roads at all.

SURVIVOR

It is always our fault, we were in the wrong place and we must protect ourselves by not going outside/not walking down that street/not wearing those clothes. We are told men can’t help themselves. 

CYCLIST

if you have an accident they always ask ”were you wearing a helmet? Did you have lights on? Surely you were cycling dangerously/ran a red light?” 

SURVIVOR

If you are assaulted they ask you: what were you wearing? were you drinking? Did you not know what was going to happen? Surely you realised? Did you scream? 

How Police and Hospitals Shut down Rape victims:

‘He had already asked what I could have possibly said or unintentionally inferred, prior to being forced onto a bed. He had already raised his eyebrows and tightened his lips and wrinkled his brow.’

Cycling and feminism have a long history and many people have suggested feminism is like cycling, we have to claim our space and make our presence known here are some links:

http://www.feministfatale.com/2010/07/feminism-and-cycling-the-untrammeled-woman/

http://www.brainpickings.org/2011/03/28/wheels-of-change-bicycle/

http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=331

I’d had harassment on a bike before a man shouted ‘NICE BAPS’ at me once so loudly I swerved and nearly fell off. This is the fact that makes me most upset about ANY harassment on a bicycle, that men feel endangering my life on a bicycle is acceptable because they feel the need to harass me while riding.

Walking along the most they can do is upset me; on a bike by distracting and upsetting me they could cause an accident. I loved Manchester’s public transport but after so many incidents of harassment or the guy who was touching himself through his trousers at 3pm I had enough. Also a bike is so much quicker to get around for shortish journeys.

At a crossing I crossed with a pedestrian on the green man and car drove half way across the zebra crossing I screamed at him and pointed at the green man and he made the patronising talking gesture with his hand. He had done something illegal and endangered two women’s lives but I still had to be reminded I shouldn’t be talking to a man like that apparently.

Once at the lights, as a good cyclist I made eye contact with a double decker bus driver so he knew where I was. He rolled down his window holding a rolled up newspaper and reached out as if to smack me on the head. I looked up at him in horror and he retreated making the pathetic joke ‘’does the helmet work?’’ You might think this was hilarious. The power balance makes this threatening, what if he had actually smacked me on the head and upset me to the point where I dangerous on the road? I will say this again, a man in a vehicle of any kind already has such a power advantage any kind of behaviour can become threatening (beyond waving communication) and distracting cyclists in any way is dangerous.

The incident later that evening was much more sinister I copy and paste what I wrote on facebook after getting home:

Home safe now but got harrassed on the way home, car starts shouting at me apparently for daring to be a cyclist on the road and not a car I state I am supposed to be on the road and am in the right lane they call me a fucking slag, I shout my usual ”how fucking dare you does it make you feel big to shout at a woman?” rant and speed off at the lights, they actually changed lanes and presumably direction to chase me in their car and hurl abuse. I am nearly crying by this point and alternately screaming ”leave me alone” and ”fuck off” they stop the car and I am absolutely terrified by this point they are going to attempt to intercept my bike and physically harm me. I managed to get away at this point through the traffic down Deansgate which has loads of police hanging about. I am fucking fed up of this and feeling like it is my fault for being out alone after dark or for shouting back or for not having the money to get a cab or have a man chaperone me. I should not be fearing for my life like I did briefly tonight and then thinking ”what could I have done to stop this?”.

I had lots of good supportive responses, some of which people have kindly agreed to let us share so that other cyclists can be aware of good practice in event of harassment that endangers you, see these below.

Why can’t we do something about the toxic nature of street harassment? Why can’t we educate men not to harass not to attack not to think it is funny or ok to make fun of or upset women they don’t know in the street? It all adds up to fear whether it’s someone shouting something unwanted or being followed or chased. As women, as cyclists the onus is on us to tool ourselves up with anti rape pants, pepper spray, go out like James Bond on a mission just to get on with our daily lives.

Beyond a helmet, lights and clothing suitable for the weather we shouldn’t need anything but a bicycle and our bodies. Fish may not need bicycles but feminists do.

Anna's bike Wisp

Anna’s bike Wisp

ADVICE (many thanks to the facebook friends who allowed us to quote them below):

‘The more people report the more likely the cops are to act so you should always report even if nothing happens in your particular case.  Don’t let them get to you. Next time calmly produce your phone and take a picture. They will soon get out your face. Idiots are a minority and it is rare for harm to actually occur.’

‘Reported sleezeball who followed my daughter in the dark a few weeks ago and the police took it seriously – now recorded so if he’s seen again they know he has prior. Licence number, calm description of the interactions and how terrified you were and how you felt you had to scream at them. Phone 999 at the time if something like that happens again and try to get a pic/film of the car. Good luck x’

Other suggestions were to get a helmet/handlebar cam, or call the non emergency number and let them know that it happened, in case anyone else is targeted.

I have got back on my bike and will keep cycling. I even did so through wind and rain yesterday and can testify to the efficacy of my helmet when the lid of a large biffa like bin blew open and whacked me on the head and I hardly felt it. Wear a skid lid kids.

In the new year we will be looking to set up an event like Reclaim The Night but for cyclists. Please also share your experiences in the comments.

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About

The Stirred quad is formed of Rebecca Audra Smith, Anna Percy, Jasmine Chatfield and Lenni Sanders.

Posted in Anna Percy, BeccaAudra, Events, Feminist thinking
One comment on “Feminism rides a bike
  1. phonosonic says:

    I was walking home in the early evening along the curry mile (a street near the student areas of Manchester known for how busy it is, and how dangerous it is to cycle through) and witnessed a woman get knocked from her bike by a man who had opened his car door onto the cycle lane without checking his wing mirror. The woman was shaken but uninjured, however her bike was damaged and needed repair in order to be safe to ride. The man who had knocked her off the bike was crowding her, along with several other men who had witnessed the incident, and insisting that he should give her a lift home in his car. She was still in shock due to falling off her bike, and the men were preying on her vulnerability.
    This reiterates the need for a change in societal attitude regarding women’s rights to travel safely.
    Currently there is no safe way. If we walk, we risk being followed and attacked by men. If we take public transport, we are opening ourselves up to men invading our personal spaces, or worse using the confined space as a tool to sexually harass us. If we drive, we are harassed by men who pull up next to us a traffic lights. If we cycle, we have comments shouted at us, and risk becoming vulnerable to predatory men feeding on misfortune and vulnerability in the case of an accident. It seems that the only way for a woman to be truly safe is to be stationary, and even then there are no guarantees.

    We need to reclaim not just the night, not just the streets, but our right to move about in the world.

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The Stirred team at Reclaim the Night Manchester 2015
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