Cycling & Sexism

Dawn Foster wrote in the Guardian of sexist encounters whilst cycling.

“I’ve had my top pulled down when I’ve stopped at traffic lights and been asked if I put in as much effort in the bedroom – but at least I can deal with it on my blog, 101 Wanker

I believe the only way you can really know a city is by bike. But the one thing that spoils matters, and it seems to thrive whenever I’m on my bike, is the abuse I receive from pedestrians and motorists alike.

The sight of me whizzing away on two wheels seemed to increase some people’s boldness to the point where they’d shout insults they’d never dare express to people who would have the time to stop and challenge them.

Whenever I mentioned these incidents, I met with disparate responses. Men would usually imply I was exaggerating, that I was oversensitive and incorrectly ascribing all comments shouted in public to myself.

My female friends would be indignant, explain that such incidents were commonplace, happened more often than not and be annoyed that men could be so convinced that this kind of thing didn’t happen.

One evening, after struggling up a particularly steep hill in Greenwich, I was angry and aggrieved that an athletic feat met with only sexist comments – “Come on love, put some back into it!” and “I hope you put as much effort into the bedroom!”.

The following day I started cataloguing the comments I experienced, and recording them on Google Maps.

What I found was interesting. Firstly, the opportunity to write about the abuse hurled at me dispersed my anger. I was able to retaliate in a calmer, more amusing way. People found my responses to these idiotic comments funny. I made my peace with the idiots by exposing them.

Secondly, hundreds of women wrote me emails, responded to my blog and spoke to me on Twitter and told me they’d had identical experiences. They didn’t tell me of every incident – they were too numerous – but they told me about their worst ones.

I told people about the time a pedestrian pulled my top down at a traffic light; they told me of people spitting at them and throwing building braces at them as they drove by. A dozen women told me they’d had their backsides slapped by drivers and passengers. I’d opened the flood gates by daring to speak out and say that enough was enough.

What surprised me was that far more men than women contacted me. They said they’d had no idea of the level of abuse women received, and that when they mentioned my site to female cyclists they opened a Pandora’s Box of untapped resentment towards the sexist abuse they’d experienced over the years.

Male correspondents were appalled and ashamed of how much grief their friends had experienced, and apologised for something they’d personally had no part in.

Dawn Foster blogs at 101 Wankers”


It’s worse if you are cycling on your own. You make a good target.

I never EVER get any sexual abuse when I am cycling or walking with male company (no matter how skinny they are, and I’m more likely to be stronger than them:-).

No one has taken my top off at traffic or slapped my bum, however, I do know of a man who has been slapped by a passenger. I would find that very intimidating but I would, if I could get the car reg/witnesses) – you have to show that you are stronger than these people, because ‘they are cowards’ and you have to expose them. Not always so easy, as they could turn on you.

I have had wolf-whistles and ‘double hoots’, even at my age.

I don’t hear their friends apologising to me. Oh no, as they are cowards ‘they rush off’, taking their friends with them. Yes, so much for real men! Some of course can be aggressive, they are the ones to really watch, you don’t know what they are going to do.

They like to think they can get away with it. They rather like ‘bullies’.

Dawn doesn’t say what she was wearing. You can’t deny that some ‘clothes trigger’ sexual abuse unfortunately. Also I don’t have a big bust and big bum which, to be honest, makes life on my bike a lot easier:-) Unfortunately some women do have those which makes things difficult. And it is unfair that they get more abuse than others. I don’t think I get that much compared to others but then my bike ride is quite short and many motorists round me are mature (although can be immature in their driving skills).

You wouldn’t see me going off in a top, on my own, with a ‘cleavage’ which is just ‘asking for trouble’. I even have a job to wear cycle shorts, which I generally only use when out in a group now or with my boyfriend. Or if I do long distance cycling for charity rides, then it is a lot worse.

Having lived in the middle east and ‘covered myself up’, some of this stuff makes sense. Most men are ‘the same’ round the world, but others manage to control their behaviour, others just can’t as they are so immature.

When I cycle to work I often wear my work trousers and that throws immature men ‘off the scent’. And if I wear a skirt, it is medium length and I keep an eye on it to make sure my knees are not exposed. I don’t like to draw ‘too much attention’, although I do ‘go overboard’ with bike bling.I get comments about how nice my bike is.. or men vandalise it!

I really think that what you wear does trigger sexual abuse. I never get it at all in my unisex type Hi-Viz jacket, but instead I get bottles hurled at me by men which is a lot worse.

I actually think the type of abuse I get from males is more about them hating me as a ‘bloody cyclist’, rather than being a woman cyclist. It is the type of abuse that both men and women get. It can be a lot more aggressive and scary.

I haven’t heard of women throwing bottles or stuff at cyclists – yet. And I haven’t heard of women shooting cyclists with airguns either. If you hear of any, please send me a link or tell me about your experiences.

I wouldn’t want to wear very girly stuff at night when we are most vulnerable to attack. And as I have said before, cycling shops in town, refuse to sell personal alarms.

I think the sexual abuse can be annoying and uncomfortable out on the roads, but it is also annoying when it comes from cycling forums themselves. They are one big Sexist Bin. They are probably the types of cyclists who go on wife swapping parties in the Tory provincials. So you don’t mix with them, either in the forum or in their sexist cycling clubs.

I am not on any cycling forums at all. It is no wonder the men haven’t a clue what women cyclists go through, as we are harranged off the forums if we dare mention it. It is a case of ‘women should be at the kitchen sink, not be on bikes’. And when they start talking about Victoria Pendleton it is ‘Cor!’.

The immature sexism in cycling itself makes women cyclists like me blog instead, avoid cycling clubs and have our own say and we can delete any abuse by having our blog moderated. Fortunately, I have never had much problem with blogging, only with feral cyclist-hating motorists swearing at me.

Sexual abuse is everywhere unfortunately. I tend to stand up for myself if I can and at the very least, minimise the risk. It is so much harder at night though, but I try to carry my mobile phone and take my notepad and camera with me just in case.

It would help if male friends of these sexual abuser s would say something instead of letting their friends do this. Often the abuser has a friend with them at the time.


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