“I said sorry,” the businessman shouted at me as I swore at him. Not because it’s fun to swear at businessmen (it is), but because he had just opened the car door of his Uber onto me as I cycled past, apparently oblivious to my bright red bike in broad daylight.
I have been cycling around London since I was 9, but only recently have I started noticing the behaviour of men on the road. Be it as a cyclist, driver or pedestrian, an underlying entitlement permeates every move.
My daily commute is the only long passage of time where I’m not distracted by something, so in order to pass the dull minutes inside my own head I tend to observe the behaviour around me. The more I cycle around London, the more it becomes clear: men feel entitled to the road, men heckle you as you ride past, and men are almost always the ones knocking you off your bike as they ride through a red light, presumably guided by some super-male power of premonition.
This might seem anecdotal, but it does fit with a statistically observable trend: drivers treat women worse on roads. A 2015 survey noted that, even though women make up a smaller portion of cyclists in London, and cycle slower, they’re still twice as likely to have a “near miss”.
In the same year, women were most likely to be killed by a lorry: a striking statistic, considering the lower number of female cyclists. Women are on average slower and more cautious, yet are constantly penalised for being on the road. No wonder women make up only 27 per cent of London’s cycling community.
If you’re a female cyclist this gender disparity is noticeable, especially in the way you’re treated differently to the lyrca-clad cyclebros. It is almost always men who will walk in front of me as I’m cycling, their glowing shield of virility and manliness forcing me to slow down for their passing, clocking my gaze as if to say “I, man, am walking now.”
I am surrounded by a sea of men weaving past in the mornings, but even the obvious amateurs (Santander bike/ sweaty shirt/ dangerous levels of enthusiasm at 8am) overtake and cut me off, running red lights because who has time to wait when you’ve got important things to do like be a man? Men, in their unchecked arrogance on the road, make my cycling life crap.
The way women are treated on bikes is similar to the way women are treated running – or doing any form of physical activity that isn’t directly related to the pleasure of men. The audacity that we might use our bodies for something other than being passive sexual objects: taking up space, exercising, being strong – all a big no no for women in public. Not only would that discourage women from cycling to work, but it can be a sweaty business, which is not ideal for a gender that is expected to appear perfectly made-up and devoid of bodily function.
Cycling is just another subculture that men dominate, even when it comes to just getting to and from work. The ownership that men feel on road, on bikes, even as helpless pedestrians, is just another opportunity for them to assert power. A cycle home for me is a constant barrage of fragile masculinity manifesting in jeers and near collisions.
I’m grateful that I was bought up feeling confident cycling around London, and for the advice I’ve been given by my other female friends who cycle (“take up space – you’re allowed to be on the road too”). But the condescending and sexist behaviour by men is more than just irritating – it’s potentially dangerous. Sexism isn’t usually fatal – but in this case, it could be.
Ruby Lott-Lavigna tweets as @RubyJLL.