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Like a fish needs a bicycle - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Like a fish needs a bicycle
Further to the ongoing conversation about whether the battle for gender equality is all done and dusted, you might want to read this depressing article about being a female cyclist.

For what it's worth, my own experience is that most of the verbal abuse I get on a bike these days seems (insofar as I can decode the grunting and hooting of overexcited primates) to be aimed more at cyclists than women. Though I guess I might not get so much of that if I was/looked male -- but that's impossible for me to tell, I have no plausible way of pretending to be male while cycling.

(To be fair, I should also confess that I do my own fair share of shouting, but only at idiots who are actively endangering my life by flagrantly disregarding the rules of the road -- and idiots come in all shapes/sizes/genders/vehicles.)

On the positive side, there is some evidence to suggest that drivers give female cyclists more room when overtaking them. Though now I wonder whether (as the researcher hints) that's because they think female cyclists are more likely to behave unpredictably, or just because it's so much harder to look up someone's skirt when they're disappearing under the wheels of your white van. :-/

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gnimmel From: gnimmel Date: July 23rd, 2010 12:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
My impression (from an admittedly small sample size) is that there is a lot more sexism-towards-cyclists in London. It's not been a problem in the specific case of me cycling in Cambridge. Probably Oxford and Cambridge are unusual, rather than London being unusual. :(
(Deleted comment)
lnr From: lnr Date: July 23rd, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm a bit WTF?! at this comment.
sebastienne From: sebastienne Date: July 23rd, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know. *My* hips may be wider than a bike's handlebars, but I'm pretty sure that's not true for the majority of women cyclists...
j4 From: j4 Date: July 23rd, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Surely it was just a joke... (Made me laugh, anyway.)
lnr From: lnr Date: July 23rd, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I genuinely couldn't tell :)
ultraruby From: ultraruby Date: July 23rd, 2010 12:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, that kind of attention and abuse and stuff (sexist or otherwise, though in my experience it was often sexist) is why I'll never cycle in London again, or indeed probably anywhere. It just feels far to vulnerable a physical and psychological position to be in really, exposed on a bike like that. Although I know not ~all~ other road users are likely to be mean, and not ~all~ blokes are likely to leer and shout stuff out about my body and stuff, I hold out absolutely no hope that the level of hassle and aggression will ever drop to a point where I'd feel ok about putting myself in the line of it. Some people are just horrible, and some men will never stop being leery - I hate to have to accept it but I reckon it is true.
julietk From: julietk Date: July 23rd, 2010 12:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Curiously, I feel *less* vulnerable on a bike (though I admit that I'm not much given to feeling vulnerable anyway*). I think because being on a bike makes it easier to get away from potentially difficult situations.

I almost invariably have headphones on when cycling, which does tend to insulate me from any potential comments, as well.

It makes me incredibly sad that you've been put off cycling to that extent :( I can understand how you feel; but it saddens me that the world is like that.

* this is not to suggest that anyone who does is wrong in any way! Just a statement about my own ways of interacting with / experiencing the world.
ultraruby From: ultraruby Date: July 23rd, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's the weird thing - I generally don't tend to feel vulnerable on public transport or when walking (I walk home from work in London most days, at varying times of the evening) - in fact I sort of make a point of NOT feeling vulnerable, or at least not going along with ideas that women should fear the streets because of the fact that they're women etc. Personal (and psychological) safety still comes into play a bit though, even though I wish it needn't. I think particularly when I'm on foot there's always the sense that if something or someone's bothering me (which doesn't often happen anyway) I can always move off, go into a shop, get on a bus, change direction, can always run, if necessary. When I'm on a bike (not that I've cycled for years, but I used to) there isn't the same sense of freedom, since wherever you go you need to take the bike with you - you can't as easily duck into a public place and if you're stuck at traffic lights next to some dudes in a van shouting at you you kind of just have to deal with it until the lights change. Something about being on a bike, as that article mentions, makes you sort of differently visible as well - not only are you more out there in front of people rather than lost among the crowd, but I think some drivers feel like by putting yourself on a bike you're almost squaring up to them, showing yourself as strong and able (or willing, even) to deal with whatever banter. Not that that's true, obviously, but to me it did feel like getting on a bike and going on the roads with it was like opting into playing a game whose rules I didn't like but couldn't really change.
j4 From: j4 Date: July 23rd, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm with julietk on this one -- I feel a lot safer on a bike knowing that I can get away quickly from idiots on foot. And when dickheads are shouting out of vans you can get off the bike, get on to the pavement, take a shortcut, get totally away from them. Or take a photo of them, or phone the police, or pretend to be phoning the police. (Cagers are trapped in their dumb metal exoskeletons, but cyclists have the superpower to transform into pedestrians and escape.)

Er, though, it occurs to me it is probably very different in London as you'd be cycling on ten-lane roads with no cycle lanes and very few other cyclists but thousands of taxis and buses. So maybe pedestrian-mutation powers are not as effective there. :-( And taking photos of a person or a car would probably get you arrested in London.

But also, y'know, if it was the sort of situation that required running away and hiding in a place that bikes couldn't go, I'd just drop the bike and run. Preferably shoving the bike into the path of the person chasing me first. Bikes are replaceable.
ultraruby From: ultraruby Date: July 23rd, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well roads in London aren't quite 10 lane and cycle lane-free, but they do sometimes get pretty busy so it can feel like you're pressed in among cars and vans and other cyclists and all sorts. Of course yes, there'll always be ways to get away, or to try to, and there'll always be the opportunity to shout back and take pictures if it feels possible, but for me personally I'd rather not have the hassle in the first place - I'm embarrassed to admit it but I really don't feel strong enough and I don't feel capable of developing that cyclist's fierceness, so I'd rather not put myself out there.

(But then a friend said recently recently that one of the reasons she doesn't go to straight clubs is because she doesn't want to have to deal with getting her bum grabbed and her boobs stared at, to which my (unsaid) response was kind of like '!!! But! We can't just NOT GO TO PLACES and NOT DO STUFF cos of IDIOT MENS!' so I'm annoyed with myself for being so fearty about cycling. I don't (and won't) drive either, for slightly similar reasons, but at the moment I live a very walkable life so it works out fine for me. If things change I'm going to have to muster myself some confidence pretty quickly)
julietk From: julietk Date: July 23rd, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are *loads* of other cyclists in London! Loads & loads -- it's been steadily & noticeably increasing over the 10 yrs I've been cycling here.

Roads are perhaps a bit busier in some cases but I can't think of *many* situations in which "hop onto pavement and Be Elsewhere" wouldn't work out. Maybe if cycling down one of the bits of the A4 (? big westbound road, anyway) which has railings. (Railings make me irritable anyway.)

But yes, agreed with all of this in re tactics in difficult situations.
jinty From: jinty Date: July 23rd, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Headphones when cycling! Surely not! What about hearing the sounds of the road? Maybe just me but I would feel totally unsafe cycling with headphones.

::must get a cycling icon::
julietk From: julietk Date: July 23rd, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find I can hear the road perfectly well, don't rely on my hearing anyway (looking around being far more important), and don't feel particularly more or less safe either way with headphones in. I certainly don't think I'm paying more or less attention with headphones on. Individual mileage will doubtless vary -- I know a couple of people who tend to get really engrossed in music & who probably would lose concentration, so not a good move for them :)

(I note that the vast, vast majority of drivers have both music on, and thick noise-reducing windows, and this isn't considered to be a problem.)

In anecdote news, in 10 yrs of cycling in London, at least 5 of which have been almost-invariably with headphones, I've had (touch wood) no traffic-related accidents*, & the customary handful of WHAT THE SOD ARE YOU DOING WHO TAUGHT YOU TO DRIVE? near-misses. So my reactions seem to continue to be up to scratch. Long may this continue &c.

* One bike-falling-apart accident, one clipless moment, three slippery-road-surface (two on the SAME DAMN BIT OF ROAD). I think I've fallen over my own two feet more often in that time... and my only broken bone ever was from falling over the dog. [sigh]
venta From: venta Date: July 23rd, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good heavens. Apparently Reading is a haven of enlightenment. Who knew?

I've been cycling 20 minutes each way across Reading for 6 months now, and to the best of my knowledge haven't had a single remark addressed at me. Admittedly pedestrians glare at me in the area of pedestrianised road which everyone seems to think is no cycling (it isn't), but I think no one could justify that as sexist.

I'd no idea this wasn't the norm. Or maybe I look like a bloke.
lnr From: lnr Date: July 23rd, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have been known to get (ironic) wolf whistles, though not very often and not of late. Mostly I get "fat cow" comments instead though. Or more often just told to use the pavement.
jinty From: jinty Date: July 23rd, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't had any troublesome comments on a bike when on my 15 mins cycle ride to or from work here in leafy Oxford. Normally / often there's a massive flotilla of bikes all setting off at the same time from the lights, which probably helps. I love that aspect of it!

Haven't even had any negative comments when cycling being visibly pregnant, which is quite good. I did have a comment at the lights today when I was yawning massively, but I don't really care - it wasn't obviously sexist, though for all I know the male driver might have been looking my way because I was pregnant or because I was female.
damiancugley From: damiancugley Date: July 24th, 2010 09:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Sorry to hear women cyclists not getting a fair go. I really hope this is something that fades as people get more used to seeing people on bikes.

I think the same researcher that discovered people give female cyclists (actually male researches in long blond wigs) more overtaking room also found that cycle lanes and helmets both reduced overtaking distance. But this is misleading because that’s not where cycle accidents generally happen; it is intersections and other places where the paths of cycles and cars cross that really matter. In Oxford I have the luxury of being able to choose a route that reduces my conflicts with traffic. It must be harder to manage that in a crowded city like central London.
monkeyhands From: monkeyhands Date: July 27th, 2010 11:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I used to get quite a lot of wolf-whistling and "HEY PRETTY LADY!" crap on my bike, but this seemed to reduce when I started wearing a fluorescent tabard-y thing, maybe because it put me into the mental category of "cyclist" rather than "woman in public". And that kind of hassle stopped almost completely for me some time ago. I don't know if it's because I put on weight suddenly or because I became a more visibly confident cyclist.

I still get people shouting at me for being a cyclist, but not very often in Oxford. The shouting is more likely to be coming from me these days, for the same reasons as you: "idiots who are actively endangering my life".
flashofalchemy From: flashofalchemy Date: July 31st, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi! I was clubhopper15 and we were LJ friends before I changed LJs a while ago. I stupidly only just realized how many LJers I'd lost along the way and have been coming across old journals I used to love (like yours). Hope you don't mind me adding you again on this LJ!
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