Harassment: it’s just like riding a bike

April 4, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Posted in cycling | 18 Comments
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This morning, this video by the Guardian caused a bit of a stir. If you can’t/ won’t/ don’t want to watch it, it involves a young female actor accosting various men, asking them if they want to come home with her, if they wax, if they’re gay, and shouting ‘get your arses out!’ lewdly at builders.

builders screencap

While this is fun, on some level, it doesn’t really ‘turn the tables’ as the video’s makers suggest. The reason for this is clear: women threatening or demeaning men is not scary or even particularly offensive. As @smaryka points out,

The reason (some) men make sexist comments is not to ‘flatter’ women, or to make them laugh, or even, really, to indicate sexual interest in them. It’s about power. Because men have the physical ability to overcome women, to do them real harm, women can’t just ignore these comments. They carry weight. They’re a constant reminder that we are not men’s equals. As 21st century women, we may have high-flying careers, terrific relationships, fulfilling sex lives. We have control in all sorts of meaningful ways that were unavailable to previous generations. But men still have power over us, and every now and then, it suits some of them to remind us of this.

I understand if you can’t imagine what this is like. Even lovely, right-thinking, educated, feminist-leaning men find it difficult. Surely things aren’t that bad? Surely we shouldn’t take it seriously? Maybe if we just laughed, or thought up a cheeky reply? So here’s an analogy you might understand: It’s a bit like cycling.

You know when you’re riding along, minding your own business, and someone passes you so closely they could shave your legs for you? And then looks surprised when you scream at them? This is builders shouting at you, asking you if you take it up the arse.

You know that feeling of looking over your shoulder and seeing a huge truck coming up behind, and thinking, he might swing wide, but he might not? This is walking along a road, towards a group of lads coming the other way.

You know when you see someone about to pull out from a side road, and you lock eyes with them, and they definitely see you, and they pull out anyway? This is people you know, people you thought were OK, saying and doing things that make you want to weep.

You know when you’re advised to stay off main roads because they’re too dangerous, and you think, ‘Isn’t it up to all the motorists to try not to kill me, not up to me to keep out of their way?’ This is women being advised not to wear short skirts, not to drink too much, not to walk home alone.

You know when someone gets knocked off, by a motorist who was obviously in the wrong, and the motorist gets let off? And the newspaper reports focus on how the cyclist should have been wearing a helmet and hi-viz? This is what women know they’ll face if they accuse a man of rape.

This is what it’s like. Except for cyclists, it stops when they get off their bikes.


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  1. Excellent analogy! Both things are often discussed in our house but have never been put together like this.

  2. Love this, thankyou

  3. Super analogy. Steve Peters might suggest (I think) that 2 facets of the same male chimp are at work in both situations, “sex drive” chimp, and “my space/territory” chimp. How to change Mr Chimp, bad news, you can’t, only the chimp’s owner can do that through education. Which makes me sad because its going to be a long wait…

    • Ha! That’s an interesting idea. No doubt there are gremlins and goblins at work too… May have to come back to this one 🙂

  4. This is a very good analogy, one I hadn’t considered before but one I completely understand.

  5. And to further the analogy, there are people who on both sides suggest its not so bad, maybe you just need to toughen up/get a sense of humour/ride more aggressively/act differently. In one side of the analogy, they would be called out as victim blamers. On the other, they would call themselves experienced cyclists.

  6. […] really loved Accidento Bizarro’s blog on  how harassment can be just like riding a bike – it’s a great analogy, and she […]

    • Thanks so much for including me on your excellent blog. I’m honoured 🙂

  7. If I ever knocked a cyclist off their bike it would only be because I got too close trying to touch them inappropriately.

    • Haha! ‘I’m sorry, your Honour, the Lycra was in my eyes…’

  8. It doesn’t stop for cyclists when they get off their bikes. It continues in the comment threads of news site articles, on FB pages, in YouTube videos, in the judical decisions that see drivers get a slap on the wrist for seriously injuring or killing a cyclist… It’s less direct sometimes, and it’s nothing like the same thing that women have been subjected to for centuries, but it does continue.
    That is all.

    • I understand your point, and agree. It’s just that cyclists aren’t cyclists all the time – we can stop being cyclists and become motorists, or pedestrians, or hang-glider pilots, however temporarily. Women stay women. That’s what I was getting at.

  9. Great post and an excellent analogy.

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