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.

The real rules of the road

March 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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It’s clear that many motorists ignore much of the Highway Code. However, the reasons for this have been obscure until now. As my teenage neighbour sloped out of her driving instructor’s car yesterday, a dog-eared scrap of paper fluttered to the ground in her wake. I picked it up, and realised I’d stumbled upon a top-secret document of extraordinary importance, which supersedes the Highway Code in all circumstances.

The Motorist’s Rulebook

1. Get out of the GODDAMN way.

a. Stopping or going slowly? Move over as far as possible. Up the pavement, preferably. Pedestrians? They’ll shift.Dorking Dene Street

b. Park quickly. Come on, it’s not a bus. You can get it in there. That’ll do.

c. Move quickly when someone lets you out, even if it means simultaneously steering, changing gear and doing that left-right-left thing with the indicators to say ‘thank you’.

2. No holding ANYONE up.

a. No indecision, particularly at roundabouts. Go, damn you. Go!

b. Overtake immediately. You don’t need to see round the corner. It’ll be fine. Go on. Go ON.

c. Speed limits: stick to them if you must, but NO driving at 30 in a 50 zone. Or 40. Or even 45. We have places to GO.

d. The faster vehicle has priority. Like, DUH.

3. Life on the road must be FAIR.

a. Let someone out, but not EVERYBODY, fgs. One car, or two if you don’t mind us assuming you’ve stalled. Then drive on. Think about all of us, waiting. Places to GO.Traffic Queues - geograph.org.uk - 1288920

b. Take turns. If you’ve already had to wait at three pinch points, it’s OK if you force your way through the fourth. We understand. When it’s your turn, it’s your turn.

c. No CHEATING. No driving up the bus lane. No forcing your way into queues. If you do this from a motorway slip road, expect us to pretend we can’t see you.

4. Driving is a SERIOUS business. Absolutely NO enjoying yourself.

Eagle-eyed readers will spot that this explains a LOT of driver behaviour around cyclists. Here are some cyclist habits that irritate motorists:

i. Travelling at less than the speed limit

ii. Zipping up the inside/ outside of lines of trafficCyclists on Killyclogher Road, Omagh - geograph.org.uk - 584320

iii. Moving off slowly from lights/ at roundabouts

iv. Taking the lane

v. Wanting to turn right

vi. Riding two abreast

vii. Chatting, laughing, smiling, having fun

viii. Getting to work before them

Note that item (i) violates Rule 1a (get out of the GODDAMN way when moving slowly), forcing the motorist to obey rule 2b (overtake IMMEDIATELY). Item (ii) is in direct contravention of Rules 2d (faster vehicle has priority) and 3c (no cheating). And item (viii) flouts both Rule 3c (no cheating) and Rule 4 (no enjoying yourself). I’m sure you can match the rest up on your own.

This is, of course, the clearest argument yet for separating cyclists from motorists. We operate according to different rules; we’re simply not compatible. So I propose the provision of safe, custom-built, off-road tracks. Here, motorists can overtake, intimidate, scold and generally hassle each other, leaving the roads for the rest of us to go about our business slowly, calmly and happily.

‘Cross diary 25: I interact with some motorists

April 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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One of the great things about a ‘cross bike is a bit of off-road optionality. Don’t like getting squeezed by buses in Mytholmroyd? Simply drop down onto the towpath instead! But nearly everyone rides on the road at some point, and motorists can be downright scary. So here’s a quick straw poll.  You’re riding along, humming a ditty, when a car overtakes you close enough to shave your legs. Do you:

(a)      Shout ‘YO, BUMFACE!’*;

(b)      Shake your fist at them in impotent fury, like a Scooby Doo villain;

(c)      Chase them down so that you can do (a) and (b) right up close;

(d)      Smile and wave happily at them.

 Happy Cyclists

My one-handed riding is still a bit shaky (I once fell off trying to fling a banana skin into a hedge), which more or less rules out (b) as an option. So I’ll admit that I tend towards (a). Like many of us, this has got me into trouble. A driver tried to run me off the road in Camden. I yelled something NSFW at him; he stopped and got out. Big bloke, menacing expression. ‘WHAT d’you call me?’ Oh, dear. Suddenly remembering some advice from (I think) Richard’s Bicycle Book, I sprinted straight at him. He jumped out of the way; I tore off and hid, sobbing and shaking, until I was sure he’d gone.

Shouting at people sometimes has other, unexpected effects. I SCREAMED obscenities at a driver in Kentish Town, only to realise with horror that he was a colleague. Him (amiably): ‘Oh, hello! Did I do something wrong?’ Me (mumbling): ‘Well, you WERE a bit close back there…’

London is a good place to practise (c), of course, because you do actually catch up with people, even if you’re not very fast. At the traffic lights in Highgate, I pulled up next to a woman who’d sideswiped me. I was STEAMING. She rolled the window down, I took an ENORMOUS breath, and she said, ‘I’m EVER so sorry!’ Me: ‘Oh! Er, well…um. OK then.’

two dogs - dalmatians - driving a red car

So none of these work too well for me. Recently, I’ve started trying (d) instead. The effects are quite interesting. Waving cheerily at motorists freaks them RIGHT out. You can see them thinking, ‘Oh, crap. Do I know her?’ (An added advantage is that you can do it in great anger; as long as you’re showing your teeth, they won’t be able to tell.)

A variant of (d) is Trying To Stay Calm. A bus driver passed me with inches to spare the other day. I growled to myself, ‘I’ll HAVE you! There’s a bus stop in a minute!’ But when I caught him, I thought, OK, let’s try this. I knocked on the window and said with a blinding smile**, ‘Do you think you could give cyclists a bit more room?’ We discussed his driving good-naturedly and he said he would try harder. ‘At least you’re not shouting at me!’. We wished each other a nice day and I rode off, slightly bewildered. Smile for the camera

So I’m trying to extend this principle into general road use. When people let me out, I thank them ostentatiously. If they manage to hold back for a few seconds until it is safe to pass me, or overtake by pulling right out into the opposite lane, I wave and grin delightedly. Once, at the bottom of a long hill with parked cars all down one side, I looked up and saw an HGV coming the other way.  Help. I prepared to leap off but the driver saw me, stopped at the top, and waited patiently while I creaked up in bottom gear. I beamed and blew him a kiss; he looked delighted and blew me one back.

Oh, this sounds preachy, doesn’t it. It’s not meant that way. I don’t live in the city any more. I don’t have to deal with multiple, terrifyingly close passes every day, like I used to. It’s not possible to keep your cool if you feel like everyone is trying to kill you. I absolutely believe that less vulnerable road users need to bear the responsibility for looking after the more vulnerable ones, and I’m not trying to shift any of this responsibility onto cyclists. But I often feel helpless as a cyclist, reliant on motorists to be decent and nice, to behave themselves, to think about what it’s like to be me. Pointing out bad behaviour positively, and trying to reward thoughtful behaviour, makes me feel like I’m doing something, however small. If a couple of motorists come away thinking of cyclists as actual people too, maybe it’s worth it.

Lego Penny Farthing

* you may substitute an epithet of your choice, here

** it really IS blinding. Friend A to Friend B, discussing me: ‘I saw @accidentobizaro outside the Co-op. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because I was so mesmerised by her teeth.’

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