“Riding a bicycle and feeling the breeze of the air is one of our simplest dreams,” said the campaign’s event page, adding that all women should be allowed to freely ride bicycles without being harassed or judged.
The activists behind the campaign said they chose the theme of riding bicycles to promote women and girl’s rights to run errands through cycling without being afraid of attracting negative reaction in the streets.
Photo and quotation sources: stopstreetharassment.org
As a lady cyclist, hearing about this campaign called We Will Ride Bicycles warmed my heart! With recent statistics from the U.N. estimating that 99.3% of women and girls in Egypt have been subjected to street harassment, it's amazing to see that both women and their male allies are taking a stand against this form of oppression.
As a woman who lives in the United States, I acknowledge that whatever oppression I face pales in comparison to that which women face elsewhere in the world. I can ride my bike around NYC without facing the level of harassment women in Egypt face. However, in reading about this campaign, I couldn't help being reminded of the countless times that I have indeed been sexually harassed while cycling around here.
I'll start with the most recent instance that I remember (my brain dumps most of the street harassment I experience). I was going downhill on Fordham Road, which, if you've ever biked on it, you know how treacherous it is for cyclists because of all the traffic and the potholes. As I was coasting along, some joker decided it would be funny to step onto the road and hold his hand out in my direction.
Did I mention I was coasting downhill on one of the most treacherous roads in NYC? I highly doubt this guy would have dared to distract a male cyclist in this manner...Not only would the implied threat of male violence probably be enough to deter him from doing so, but as a lady cyclist, I don't get the sense that men take me seriously while I'm on my bike. In other words, men don't seem to get that, like male cyclists, I have somewhere to be! This isn't a leisurely cruise just for funzies...This is my commute! Like male cyclists, I want to get to my destination as quickly and safely as possible...and yes...I'm pretty fucking fast...you best not distract someone who's going nearly the same speed as a car!
A couple of years ago, I was cycling on the Hudson River Greenway and some guy comes up from behind me and said something to the effect of "I was riding behind you - I liked to watch you ride." He then got off at his exit, leaving me feeling sick...This guy, who was all decked out in spandex riding an expensive road bike and could thus have easily passed me, had just told me that he was instead staring at my ass while chasing me on his bike. In other words, I was being stalked at about 20 miles per hour. This was a whole new level of dangerous...
Another time on the Hudson River Greenway, some other spandex-clad, expensive bike guy decided it would be fun to start racing me. We were already cycling really fast...it's not like we had previously agreed to a race. He just pulled up next to me and started saying "GO GO GO," because that's not distracting or rude or dangerous or anything...Again, would he have challenged another man to a race in this manner? I somehow doubt it...
Most of the time I'm harassed while I'm on my bike, it's in the same form women experience while they're walking: Catcalls. As someone who's both a pedestrian and a cyclist in NYC, I can say with confidence that being catcalled while cycling is a bigger threat to my sense of safety because it distracts me from a task that requires my full attention.
As is demonstrated by studies of rates of sexual harassment, namely the one above on Egyptian women, we face sexual harassment no matter what we're wearing, no matter the time of day. Many of the times I've been harassed while on my bike, I was indeed wearing a dress, which seems to excite men as though they have never seen a woman's crotch. However, most of the time I'm cycling, and most of the time I've experienced street harassment while cycling, I was wearing pants, leggings, or my cycling gear. As long as it's obvious I occupy a woman's body, there's no escaping the additional danger I face for committing the crime of cycling while female. In addition to avoiding collisions with cars, pedestrians, traffic cones, and debris, I have to stay focused despite the discomfort and, at times, the direct threats to my safety I experience when I'm harassed while riding my bike.
Major hats off to the organizers of the We Will Ride Bicycles campaign in Egypt! You all are not only fighting street harassment in your own country, but you may be alerting people around the world to the fact that cycling is indeed more dangerous for women because of the street harassment we are practically guaranteed to experience.