I’ve always considered myself relatively lucky on the street harassment front. It’s not something I’ve had to deal with much – which is a blessing, because I know from other people’s experiences that it’s very prevalent, especially for women.
But then I was reading a blog post on street harassment the other day, and I realised just how many times in the last two months I’ve been harassed while out on my bike. I ride to uni and back every day along quite busy roads (much faster than catching the bus from my house!) and often take it shopping as well, lacking a car. Sometimes I ride in the dark and late at night, if I’ve stayed at uni for choir, or am coming home from a night in the city. Sometimes I ride in skirts and dresses, because I refuse to wear lycra.
You’d think it wouldn’t be a big deal to see a person on a bike. But once I started counting it up, I realised that hardly a week goes by where I am not harassed in some form or other, just because I happen to be riding a bike, in public, while female.
People – young men – yell out at me from their cars. Often I can’t make out what they’re saying, but I bet it’s not asking me how my day was. That happens every few days. It’s just enough to make me pedal a bit harder and want to give to yell back at them, which I don’t.
People race past with an inch to spare, speeding up just as they pass me. Two weeks ago, a bunch of young men had their windows down and one of them tried to grab at me. Luckily he didn’t succeed, because I there’s a good chance I would have ended up under their car, or at least sprawled across the side of the road. That one got my heart racing.
Last week I was walking along a quiet street on my way home from the busway station in the evening and two men on bikes thought it would be hilarious to ride straight at me and swerve away at the last moment. That incident made me feel particularly vulnerable, because for once I wasn’t on my bike and wouldn’t have been able to get away quickly.
And why? Is it that hilarious to yell out at women, to grab at them, to make them feel vulnerable? Does it make them feel more masculine, like they’re only worth something if they can show they have power over me? Does it remind them that this is still a patriarchy and anyone out in public while female is fair game? Or that women are only really second rate people? Is it just a bit of ‘harmless fun’ to make women feel threatened?
I refuse to believe that this is just the way the world is.