I've heard it mentioned before that women cyclists are indicator species of good road design. The idea being, I suppose, that women are more cautious than men and so if you can make them feel safe, then you're getting somewhere. Usually when we think of safe cycling we think of safe from collisions and falls, but recent post elsewhere have highlighted that women are also at risk of harassment. Now, as a guy I can't really speak to this issue. I mean I've been harassed, but not sexually - not beyond being called gay for wearing lycra. I haven't personally heard much about it anecdotally, but I don't doubt it happens.
The guardian's blog started the discussion with a post about "how to ride in a skirt."
I love cycling in a summer dress but it has its embarrassing pitfalls. Keeping your modesty is a bit of a challenge when your dress progressively recedes up your thighs.
Which led to another guardian blogger discussing the fact that she won't ride in a skirt anymore.
My admission of defeat isn't about wanting to keep my poise: looking silly isn't too much of a problem if I am in the midst of a strenuous physical exercise. What made me give up dresses was the never-ending catcalls hurled my way day in, day out. No matter that I was just commuting to work at 8.30am looking disheveled, or biking through the park on a Sunday afternoon looking nice: if biking on my own, unwelcome remarks were de circonstance. I have heard it all: from builders demanding that I "flash my boobs, love" and older men asking if I had panties on, to teenagers making furtive kissing sounds supposed to suggest appreciation.
On this side of the pond, Holla back DC (a blog devoted to ending gender-based street harassment in DC) asked for stories about women being harassed on bikes. There are a few women who respond with stories, the worst being
I was asked why I thought it was so funny that my [male] friend was assaulted by a [female] passenger in a car driving so close as to really menace running him over while trying to grab his butt. My response was “because it happens to me almost every single day.” In addition, I was usually groped multiple times a day in elevators.
I guess its easy to assault women who, such as a bike messenger, you are unlikely to have contact with again. Plus, a guy in a suit just looked like a guy in a suit to me. They would have a much easier time remembering me than I would them, although I doubt they put that much thought to the matter.
The City Paper picked up the line with "Why Female Bikers Get Harassed." You should read the article but basically it's a combination of: 1) People (mostly men) like to harass cyclists and 2) Men like to harass women. Put the two together and it's all that much more appealing.
Unfortunately it's hard to say what to do about it. It's not like this problem can be fixed with extra bike racks. I'd like to think that the readers of this blog aren't the sexual harassment (or sexual assault) types, but they are mostly guys. So it's on us to behave right and straighten out our fellow men when we see them misbehaving. Holla back is about women standing up for themselves, but I don't think it's sexist to help out by standing with them against this kind of behavior. And for whatever reason, it seems men who assault women do seem to be attracted to places, like bike trails, where women exercise.