The Sexist

The Audacity of Spokes

This weekend, I bought a new bicycle over at Phoenix Bikes, which I hear from a reliable source is D.C.'s best bike shop. The acquisition was an important one for me—I'm poor green, so I don't drive a car. And I haven't ridden a bike in earnest since I rocked a purple mountainy thing out of my parents' garage in real Phoenix, Az.

I've been riding this little blue Ross number for a day or so now, and it's been a shaky start. My legs are short and unaccustomed to the finer points of pedaling. Most of my head is obscured beneath a ridiculously oversize "skater helmet" reserved only for Tony Hawk and particularly clumsy two-year-olds. When riding, my face is plastered with a cartoonishly anxious look, revealing the sophisticated machinations of my biker's mind. "PLEASE DO NOT DOOR ME," reads my furrowed brow. "MY ASS HURTS," reveal my down-turned lips.

I look, in a word, stupid.

That hasn't stopped the District's intrepid cat-callers from working with me a little bit. When faced with the utter unattractiveness of an awkward biker, they get creative: In my short time biking the streets, I've found that the accessory elicits a new and different vocabulary from the sidewalk commentator. "Damn, would I like to be that seat!" called one, from his vantage point on a neighbor's front porch. "Girl on a girl bike! Girl on a girl bike!" another exclaimed, as I pedaled to work. "Hey! Hey hey hey hey," called another, after rolling down his window and finding, I assume, little inspiration.

So, what else can I look forward to? Have any other lady (or dude!) bikers heard some particularly interesting bike-calls?

Photo by Salim Virji

  • cultureslug

    If by "particularly interesting" you mean "amazingly offensive," I offer what one leering slimeball stopped in a crosswalk to regale me with while I was stopped on 15th, waiting to pedal across U St.:

    "Mmmm, nice legs. Nice from ridin' that bike. Nice and hard. Don't you like how hard your legs are from ridin' that bike?..." etc. etc. etc.

    But aside from that, on a bike or not, I'm interested to know what women think is the best way to respond to street harrassers. I've had mixed success with various methods and wonder what everybody else does.

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    cultureslug,

    Joe Eaton wrote an excellent cover story ("Nice Ass") on street harassment about a year ago that details how one woman deals with this:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/display.php?id=1859

    After the story came out, I wrote a post about harassment on my street with a sort of tongue-in-cheek guide to navigating the different types of street harassers:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2007/09/20/nice-ass-revisited/

    A year later, I still usually ignore. What has everyone else found is the best policy?

  • cultureslug

    Thanks, Amanda; I actually did read and enjoy Joe Eaton's "Nice Ass" piece last year but hadn't seen your subsequent blog post. I've moved toward just ignoring almost everything, no matter what, that comes from a male stranger on the street. The more direct-action tactic (hitting them with an insult or middle finger of my own) usually resulted in the catcaller telling me I was a bitch/cunt/ugly whore in a loud voice that attracted undue attention. (They really don't like being disrespected by the subjects of their disrespect, apparently.)

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Yeah, in general, I don't respond because I'm afraid of pissing off the wrong dude. Ignoring the calls can piss them off too, though---such as with the gentleman who followed me in a car and repeatedly screamed that I was a "dyke" when I didn't respond to his comments. Luckily, I've never been physically assaulted on the street (though I have been followed on foot). Maybe the bike will help keep it that way.

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  • karamel

    I have that problem with the harassers .- usually on foot. They don't have the balls so much in bike-safe areas ("good neighborhoods") or because you're more mobile (and therefore less victim-looking?) or in my city, having a real bike and a helmet as a female indicates trendy and therefore higher class status, signaling more power than the usual cat caller/smile, baby assholes, which of course makes them feel less entitled to invade your psychological space.

  • EmilyBites

    When I was at university there was some construction work going on at my college, and as I cycled to class one day, a bright spark from the construction team felt inspired to shout 'What a lucky saddle!'

    I cycled on for a minute or two, then, consumed with rage, cycled back to college, went to the security station and reported the bright spark. Fair play to college, they took me to the facilities manager and the college higher-ups' offices so I could repeat and parse the offending phrase for its specific offensiveness. Complaint logged, they told me they would speak to the company and in light of my likely inability to pick the bright spark out of a lineup, would issue a blanket warning to the crew.

    The response from my 'friends' was the worst - almost every person to whom I mentioned the incident looked at me aghast, and cried, 'But you could have gotten him SACKED! Why would you DO that?!' One male 'friend' found it so hilarious that he added the quote to his facebook profile page.

    Why would I do that, my saddle-blessing arse.

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