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I’m a fast, competitive athlete who also bikes in the streets of Boston. I usually bike Boston in my cycling gear, in a dress, or in other summer clothing. If I’m riding in my cycling gear, en route to the open roads in the Boston-metro area, I find that men in plain street clothes will try to race or pass me in the city. Of course a dude in street clothes who’s not on a road bike will not pass me, but it infuriates me when he tries, and sometimes launches us into dangerous situations in Boston traffic.
When I’m riding on a Sunday afternoon in a dress, I get catcalled. I usually shout back, or raise my middle finger at the cat caller. Am I over-reacting to agro men who try to pass me, or who catcall? What should I do?
I Just Want to Bike
Hats (or helmets!) off to another strong cycling woman riding in the streets of Boston. It’s not a problem to speak up when you’re biking, especially in city traffic, where bikes navigate fast, tight spaces. Shout out, speak up, and take up the space you need-keep doing what you’re doing.
I’ve witnessed and ridden alongside plenty of men cyclists with machismo. I am thinking of machismo as an exaggerated presentation of masculinity, leveraging aggression, physical control and courage, while simultaneously using the objectification and domination of women to inflate men’s sense of superiority. When you’re riding at a strong pace, and a dude passes you then slams on his brakes, you are riding behind someone with a bad case of machismo.
From your question I can tell that you’re the type of cyclist who uses her body and her voice to navigate the streets. When someone cuts you off, and intimidates you, name it. Every situation is different, so stay aligned with your usual response. Strong, fast women cyclists should not yield to machismo. Don’t make excuses for a dude’s aggressiveness and rudeness.
In terms of the street harassment you experience when wearing a dress, my answer is the same: use your voice and hand signals, perhaps by screaming back and flipping off the cat-caller. Street harassment happens when people are dressed in any outfit. Wearing a cute dress does not necessarily bring the cat-callers to the yard, nor does sporting sweats form a street harassment immunity bubble around you.
Catcalls are public, unsolicited whistles, shouts, or beeps which are implicitly or explicitly sexual and/or combined with racial epithets, motivated by a person’s gender presentation (often, but not exclusively, as a woman), where the cat-caller physically and/or emotionally enters a woman’s space. Catcalling publicly demands women’s sexual subservience and silence. Street harassment and catcalling are facets in rape culture. I do not think, therefore, that you are overacting when you shout back.
Cyclist machismo and catcalling are instances of street harassment that have the potential to make some women feel threatened, intimidated, momentarily unworthy, and embarrassed.
People respond to street harassment in varied tones, actions and words, and they also respond in silence. If you are finding empowerment in the words and actions you are using, stick with it. One response to street harassment does not trump another.
Your shout back is crucial, particularly as street harassment can be implicit and under-recognized. Naming street harassment, aloud and as it happens, is a tool for our survival in the streets. We demand to bike in catcaller-free streets, and streets free from the imminent cloud of street harassment.
My only point of advice in responding to street harassment is to respect sex-workers who share the streets that you ride on. Remember that we’re sharing the streets with out sister sex-workers. For instance, if a cat-caller asks if you’re working, an appropriate response is “no,” instead of “what do you think, asshole? I’m not a ho/slut/whore/prostitute!”
Keep shouting back, speaking up, throwing “fuck offs,” and kicking cars with your SPDs.