Sexism, Gender Bias, or… Chivalry?

How and why menacing motorists heckle female vs. male cyclists – or not.

“Don’t you know that it’s different for girls?”

Harassment or heckling of cyclists by manic motorists on the roads of the world is a hot and seemingly inexhaustible topic in the cycling community.  Tragically, a number of these encounters result in injury or death of the cyclist.  For most, thankfully, the result of car vs. bike is more often an emotionally frustrating experience that drains a blissful bike ride of all its inherent joy.  The concerning part of that equation – and the reason why we all get in such a lather over these merely verbal taunts – is that any time an angry motorist veers toward a cyclist the potential for tragic physical injury is clear and present.  Any driving instructor will caution you that all but experienced stunt drivers will automatically and gradually point the car toward whatever the driver is looking at.  Essentially, if a driver’s attention is focused on you, he or she is going to get too close whether or not their intention was to endanger you… even if that attention is considered generally “positive”.  And that is where my perspective comes in.

I have been riding bikes for…  a long time.  I have been reading the accounts, blogs and articles concerning harassment, written almost exclusively by men, in the cycling community with increasing puzzlement.  I’ve been pondering this issue out on the pavement for some months, as car after car gives me a gracious and WIDE berth on the quiet, rural roads I’ve been riding on of late.  I think back at the seeming lack of negative encounters I’ve had even on urban and suburban routes.  Sure, I’ve been passed too close, but rarely has it seemed intentional rather than absent-minded.  The only menacing taunts I’ve ever received have been from rambunctious children in the backseat of SUVs screaming “Ride like Lance!” “Boo!’ or some other silliness.  It makes me jump out of my skin sometimes but it doesn’t oppress my soul or destroy my bike buzz.

I have been cat-called, wolf whistled and AAA-WOOed.  Like most cyclists of any age I pack fabulous back and men often voice their approval.  No harm, no foul.  There have been a few, very few, encounters that have gotten ugly.  Muscle cars with tinted windows have cruised me, passing and circling the block until I finally pull into the driveway of a lighted house or business and wait for them to lose interest.  It’s the silent ones who are really terrifying.  The worst by far are the three instances in which some moronic driver in an open car pulled up alongside me and cheered his moronic passenger on as he reached for a handful of my ass – this is a compliment no woman needs.  Ladies, if this ever occurs to you get the license plate number, stop as soon as it’s safe and call the police.  Grabbing someone’s ass without their consent is called sexual battery and when it’s done from a moving vehicle it’s a felony.  If the halfwit succeeds in his stunt with you, egged on by his bros, guaranteed he’ll keep doing it until some unlucky, nerve-wrecked girl wobbles and goes “crunch” under his wheels – when it becomes third degree murder.  Call the cops; they will take you seriously.  All three of my assailants and their drivers were caught and charged.  As unpleasant as that was, one knucklehead per decade is not that bad considering the frequency of ride-ruining run-ins with road-ragers that my male counterparts suffer through.  Are there more women out there fielding equal amounts of grief and they just aren’t writing as much?

For the most part my encounters with motorists are polite, complimentary or, overwhelmingly, blissfully non-existent.  So what’s up?  Do angry men behind the wheel recognize the curves and leave us be?  Does a guy pass me hurriedly only to see a fair face in his rear view (impinging on his right-hand turn) and think ‘oh, it’s a chick’ and cool his jets instead of yelling “Get out of my way, you stupid bitch!”?  Are men reluctant to scream at a woman in the street because they recognize it as a form of violence against women?  Do guys on bikes simply bring out the worst in guys driving cars?  Do men, already fuming over a bad day, think another bloke on a bike (protected only by a thin skin of lycra)  is a safe target on which to unload their angst, whereas hurling obscenities at a woman would just be Wrong?  Is it all ego and testosterone, rivalry versus chivalry?

I read a statistic that male cyclists killed by motorists outnumber females 7 to 1.  You could answer that simply by saying, ‘well, there are more men out there on bikes’.  Not that many more.  The majority of the men who were fatally injured were between the ages of 50 – 54, so you can’t say that it’s because men engage in riskier behavior.  What’s going on out there, boys and girls?

I think it’s a topic worthy of discussion.  Please weigh in!  Comments encouraged!

"Idle" Chatter

Breaking news:

Bike Scribbles Cross Atlantic!
“City Cruise”

© Kathleen King 2008

While I can’t believe I’m saying this I must admit I am thoroughly smitten with Twitter. At first it seemed like just another techno-gizmo time suck:

“What are you doing right now?”
“Chewing on my pen cap. You?”

Honestly, who among us is moment-to-moment fascinating like, say, Lance Armstrong (who is, you guessed it, also on Twitter. No really, it’s him)? Certainly not I.

But I gave it a couple of weeks and POW it started to work its magic. I now swear by it as one of the most brilliant networking tools in existence. I’ve started meeting all kinds of local creative people and bike people as well as reaching all the way across the US and the Atlantic. Which brings me to the point of this post: The Bike to Work Book by Carlton Reid and Tim Grahl.
One night I was reading the Twitter roll and saw that a British man I knew only from his internet efforts in the cycling world was asking for Americans to look over the rough draft of his new book and make constructive comments. While just breakfast time in the UK it was the wee hours of the morning here so I think I was one of the very few Yanks still awake at the time. I offered and he sent me the pages in an email. Along the way he mentioned that he had seen my website and liked my artwork. Then I had an idea. I sent over a bike Scribble and made a suggestion. Long story short, he accepted. I drew some custom scribbles and in really a head-spinning short time – TA DA! The book is almost here and my Scribbles are part of it!

It is a very timely volume indeed. The perfect manual if you want to sock it to Big Oil in style. Fun to read, energizing and packed with information, these guys have covered every possible question. I’ve learned several things about biking that I didn’t know before and learned about some really cool products that assist in making bike commuting a breeze. And those are from just the first few chapters. The only downside is that when you’re done with the read you will be plum out of excuses to drive a car for much of anything!

I am intensely proud of being involved in this project. Carlton Reid is a really good guy (with an amazing 11-year-old cycling son Josh, by the way). I hope this book gets all the smashing success it deserves. Do check the link for a preview and you can leave comments if you like as well. I’ve never seen an author so gracious about getting critiqued!

Many thanks to Donna Tocci, Tim Jackson and Kris Keim for coaxing me into this fine pot of jam! And thanks to photographer Carson Blume for the digital assistance.

“Zoomin’ Through”
© Kathleen King 2008