I was chatting to a colleague at work about a recent cycle tour. “Cycling through Norway? By yourself? How many miles”? “4000” “Wow respect. That takes balls” “…Ovaries” “Nah, man. Balls”! “Ovaries” “Balls”.
A man hang out of the window of a van, while I was passing on my bike he leaned out further trying to touch me, I gave him an angry look while he looked back at me with a blank, surprised face; totally oblivious to the fact that his behaviour was unacceptable.
Male cyclist pulls up at red traffic light next to me on my bike. There are at least 4 other male cyclists. He asks me “Am I riding well?” whilst thrusting against his bike frame which he does for the duration of our exchange. “Do you mean are you cycling well? What makes you think you can say that to me? Why are you not asking any of these other cyclists? It’s disgusting, you’re disgusting.” He said nothing in response. I cycled by him again and calmly called out “you’re disgusting.”
Cycling up the street today and a man comes flying out of a side-road, on the wrong side of the road, causing me to brake and swerve away. I call out “Steady on. You still have to obey the rules of the road you know”. He stops his bike and yells after me a torrent of abuse involving the word “hysterical”. Was more outraged at the use of the female-baiting word “hysterical” than I was at the near-collision, coming as it does from the Latin hystericus (“of the womb”). This was a condition thought to be exclusive to women – sending them uncontrollably and neurotically insane owing to a dysfunction of the uterus. I know what is likely to send me uncontrollably and neurotically insane and it’s not my uterus, pal!
I am currently doing a project on Catcalling for the final year of my BA degree that is greatly inspired by the work of Everyday Feminism, Hollaback and similar sites. As I walked out of my university building after a productive meeting with lecturers and tutors on the direction of my work, a man smoking outside of the doors startled me by shouting “Hey Sexy” then proceeded to follow me around the corner to where my bike was parked in a gated lot. I stood at the gate with two choices, either open and risk him following me into the dark corner where no one would be able to help if he followed me in, or to turn around and confront him. I chose the latter and asked him why he felt inclined to follow me and if he studied at the university, to which he replied – ‘not really’ as he relentlessly asked for my number and for me to go out with him. I gave him my number and said that I’d love to get in touch with him and have an interview on why he thought it was acceptable to refer to me as sexy and follow me into a dark alley. He took my number and said ‘I’m going to call you and make sure you didn’t give me a fake number’, (this part of our conversation has really stuck with me as I always wonder what he would have done had I changed the number) so he called and insisted on small talk until I said I had to leave. Disgruntled, he wandered off to finish his cigarette so I was finally able to retrieve my bike, as I walked out back into the alley to join the road he had hid behind a pillar and jumped out in an effort to startle me once again as I walked past. This time I took no chances and jumped straight on my bike and have never cycled so fast in my life. In reflection the situation seems ironic considering my efforts to tackle Catcalling, however the most striking observation I have made both in my personal and academic experiences is that their are no two situations that are the same and it is so hard to produce a response when you genuinely fear for your safety. So the idea that women either enjoy being catcalled or are unaffected by it is reinforced once again in this vicious cycle. There was a point while we were speaking that I almost felt guilty for being so standoffish with him however I know that is because this world has taught me to constantly stroke the masculine ego and be the subject of their dominating gaze, this was another physical reminder that the world is built by men, for men.