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“This is happening because I am a female alone in public space in a city.”

by Prince Of Petworth October 5, 2015 at 1:15 pm 142 Comments

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Photo by PoPville flickr user Jim Havard

“Dear PoPville,

I really wanted to let the community, and especially other female cyclists, know about an incident that occurred on Monday, Sept. 26 at 4:45 pm.

I was biking north on 6th Street NE and followed by a gray Nissan with MD plates for many blocks. The driver kept his car at pace with me, even though that meant he was holding up rush-hour traffic.

He and his passengers, two other males who I believe were in their 40s or 50s, all were calling out to me. Eventually, the two on the passenger side of the car (the side closer to the bike lane) rolled their windows all the way down, hung out of the car from their waists up, and tried to grab me, touching me many times. Because there were parked cars to my right, I could not always swerve out of reach. Because I was scared, and just wanted to get to my destination where friends were waiting for me and I could get off the street, I kept going.

Eventually, I told the passengers closest to me that this was sexual harassment, and if they didn’t stop, I would call the police. At this, they laughed. They weren’t harassing me, they said, they were just having a little fun. I said ok, I would call the cops. I locked my bike on H Street and dialed. They parked the car and waited until I was clearly talking to someone on the other end before driving away. The cops came, I filed a report, they said they had people looking for the car, and I’m sure that will be all from that end.

But something else that I wanted to write, that I hope won’t sound preachy, that I hope you’ll share with our community:

In the past handful of days alone I’ve been yelled to by bus drivers operating metro buses, drivers and passengers in cars, pedestrians, and in one weird incident, another cyclist. In the fresh autumn dark, I have been chased by a group of high school students. I have been touched, threatened, followed, intimidated, and just in general pretty freaking scared–and I am not alone.

This isn’t new, and it isn’t happening because I am particularly young or good looking (even the bus driver told me I needed to comb my hair). This is happening because I am a female alone in public space in a city. Because under those circumstances, it is expected that I will invite and endure commentary and criticism on my body. It is presumed that I’ll remain silent or complacent as I am buffeted by insults, innuendo, and anger.

I refuse to believe that I am especially unlucky. I do not have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I do not happen to encounter only assholes and misogynistic loud-mouths in my path.

I’m afraid that, instead, from behind the safety of a steering wheel, behind a windshield, behind the security of anonymity, and in some cases the knowledge that no one they know is watching and there’s no accountability, some (I’ll sound sexist, but yes, predominantly men) are ready and willing to treat a female stranger the way they would never dream of treating their own mother/aunt/sister/wife/daughter.

I am someone’s daughter, aunt, wife, and I do not want to be perpetually afraid. If you’re one of the good people who spills out some ugly when you’re protected by obscurity, please consider the way your actions or words may resonate with their targets.

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