Friday, 3 May 2013
The darker side of feminine cycling
Every single day she had a new tale of being bullied, shouted at, abused or harassed by drivers or fellow cyclists. She was catcalled at lights, she was constantly on the receiving end of comments from opinionated motorists, male cyclists tried to race her at lights and junctions and jeered if she couldn't or chose not to keep up, if she stopped to fix a puncture the accompanying cacophony of horns was worthy of a Jay-Z track.
It sounded awful. And completely alien. I could count on the fingers of one hand the amount of grief, in fact attention, I got from motorists or fellow cyclists.
The crucial difference between us was her pneumatic hourglass figure, very ample chest and blonde hair. She embraced Lycra and looked fabulously curvy and feminine in it. I am not curvy, wore fairly scruffy shorts, t-shirts, a backpack and my brown hair was usually in a plait.
I felt horrendously sorry for her. To her credit she didn't let any of it put her off. But I just couldn't really identify. When she wanted to talk about the discrimination female cyclists faced I didn't see it.
Until I decided to buy a very girly bike - a pink Pashley Poppy. It was completely unlike anything I'd ever owned before and I adored its luscious curves and gleaming blonde wheels. It made me feel glamorous, feminine and elegant.
Overnight my experience of London commuting changed. On my blue men's mountain bike in my sporty get-up I was invisible. On my pink lady-bike I was suddenly fair game for every motorist and cyclist on the road. I was bombarded with comments. About the bike, about my cycling, about my choices, about me personally (quite how anybody could deduce that I was 'a thick bint' purely from my choice of bike was beyond me).
All of a sudden I went from tomboyish commuter to object of ridicule.
The pink bike was a heavy beast with only three gears so yes, I was probably slower on it. But not so much slower that I deserved a barrage of abuse at traffic lights, with calls of 'get off the fucking road, Barbie!' and other pleasantries. My cycling style didn't change, so why did motorists suddenly feel the need to roll down their windows and shout 'advice' at me as opposed to just going about their business and letting me go about mine?
The pink bike was my equivalent of my friend's hourglass figure. It screamed femininity. My experiences of 'feminine' cycling were radically different to my experiences of just cycling.
I no longer own the pink bike - I didn't get rid of it because of the attention it attracted, but I can't say I enjoyed it either. I have a pretty thick skin and my usual response to the odd rude motorist or fellow cyclist is a big smile and a happy wave. I have no interest in slanging matches or arguments. But I did not enjoy how much attention the pink bike received. It made me look at commuting by bike in a completely different way.
It would never put me off, but even now I notice the difference in attitudes when I am on my bike in sportswear, and when I'm in a pretty dress. The more feminine I appear the more it seems people feel the need to comment, usually negatively.
Have you found this? I would love to hear your experiences - and would urge you to register any sexist harassment or abuse with the Everyday Sexism project.