Another day, another catcall – that’s the reality for many women who cycle around London.
From being told we have a “lucky saddle” or being propositioned to ride men like we ride our bikes, the harassment is both overwhelmingly commonplace and utterly unoriginal.
Spurred on by my own experiences over the past few weeks, I reached out on Twitter and Facebook to collate women’s stories and raise awareness of sexual harassment aimed at female cyclists – because, frankly, I’m sick of it.
The majority of experiences are of verbal harassment, but there are examples of physical harassment (see: bottom slapping) or men taking photographs of women as they cycle.
Some are so intimidated that they dare not answer back for fear the situation will escalate; for others, the abuse got so overwhelming that they quit cycling in the city altogether.
This isn’t to say that male cyclists don’t get abuse hurled at them or that women do not hurl abuse at cyclists, but this is an attempt to highlight the sexual harassment women face, from men, while cycling through London.
Bryony Beynon, co-director at Hollaback! London, a collective fighting sexual harassment in the capital, told The Huffington Post UK: “It’s really hard to find statistics, but there’s no doubt this is a daily occurrence.
“We hear similar from those who are harassed while running, it’s all about whether women are allowed to be present in public, and riding is a statement that I am here, I am taking up space. Men who feel entitled to space are responding to that in a violent, ignorant way.”
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Here are just a few of the women’s stories, because there are many, many more.
“It happens a lot, but this one particular time I was waiting at a traffic light and a group of men in a van were once all yelling at me as it was summer and I was wearing a short dress – that was one of the classic ‘I wish my face was your saddle’ times… It makes me feel so uncomfortable and is also really embarrassing in front of all of the other drivers.” – Joanna
“Being a black female, I seem to be a bit of a cycling novelty. I once had a guy approach me at a traffic lights in Bermondsey saying “I didn’t know they taught you to ride bikes in Africa, how about I teach you to ride something else?” whilst grabbing his crotch.” – Chizzie
“An older guy, while driving in traffic, put a camera with a long lens out of his window to take a photo of me as I rode by. It was nose-to-tail so I guess he’d seen me in his mirror or something. I confronted him at the lights, and asked him if he had taken a photo and why. He replied with such utter simplicity (‘Because I think you’re lovely’) that I was dumbfounded, I just couldn’t find the words to express how wrong that was – he seemed so entitled, and I felt disgusting.” – Alice
“One guy made a gross smoochy kissy noise at me from his car window when we were at traffic lights. Then when I ignored him called me a ‘slag’ and spat at me before speeding off. Lovely.” – Lucy
“I was riding up a hill one evening and I noticed a passing car slowing down. It was four guys in a convertible and they slowed down to match my speed. Driving stupidly close to me all of them staring and yelling generic sleazy comments regarding my butt and suggestions to spend a night together.
I was just too tired to come up with anything so I guess they got tired and sped along eventually.” – Lena
“[I’ve been told I have a] ‘nice arse’ a few times, a few crawlers who slow down and drive by my side. Usually vans, often more than one dude.” – Ruth
“I was waiting at a traffic light down Clerkenwell Road on the left hand side of a car that was in the green bike box. The passenger window was down and the guy in the passenger seat took a photo of me on my bike. He didn’t realise his phone would make the camera shutter noise and as I was right next to him I heard. I asked him “Did you just take a photo of me?”, even though I knew he had. He denied it and said he was taking a picture of the road but then I continued to ask him to delete it immediately and didn’t stop repeating myself until he made some attempt to delete it but I’m not sure if he actually did as people were starting to beep us. Despicable behaviour, I have no idea why he felt the need to or thought he had the right to take a photo of me on my bike.” – Laura
“I was once happily cycling home, in shorts (but why should this matter!?) and a man I passed commented: ‘Lucky seat you got there’. Just grim.” – Laura
“I was heading home along Great Eastern St. The roads were clear, so was moving pretty fast. This car came up quickly and started honking at me. They then pulled up alongside me and two men in the car started leaning out the window and making comments with various sexual innuendo. While they were doing this they were cutting in so close to me that I was yelling at them to give me more space as felt they were putting me at risk. I was slowing down quite a lot at this point but was basically blocked in by them and didn’t want to totally stop cause again they were making me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I eventually ran a light and cut up a one way road to lose them, which is ridiculous to have to resort to.” – Laura
“This HGV driver honked at me once making me think I was about to die. Then I saw he was just waving.” – Julia
“I used to cycle to work in London. Everyday in Colombia Road area, men would shout obscenities at me. The last straw was a man who tried to grab my bike shouting that I needed a fuck. I stopped cycling.” – Anon, provided by The Everyday Sexism Project
“Cycling through London, with my boyfriend, first one guy crossed in front of me and jeered and mimed breasts with a leery look on his face; half an hour later another guy yells after me ‘jealous, wish I was your saddle’. Why do men feel they have any right to comment on your body as if it were public property. Why is this so normalised? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr” – Anon, provided by The Everyday Sexism Project
Hollaback! were one of the headline speakers at last weekend’s Spin LDN, discussing their movement to end street harassment, and how it translates to cycling.