| ‘As a female cyclist, you are all too often the target of a particularly|
unsavoury male aggression.’ Photograph: Steve Vidler/Alamy
Video of a woman being pushed off her bicycle by an angry pedestrian has inflamed social media. But while the abuse female cyclists get is real, the freedom bikes offer more than makes up for it
“Please don’t try and knock me off.” It’s not exactly the rallying cry of Henry V. And yet, a video released yesterday by London Metropolitan police showing a woman getting pushed off her bike by a pedestrian in a grey hoodie after uttering these words has acted as a balefire to cyclists and their would-be murderers across the internet.
“Not justifying violence but as a London pedestrian who sees ignorant cyclists like this every day, I understand the rage,” commented @OffencePolice on Twitter. “I would have bitten her finger off,” added @yermastinks. “Most of you cyclist have no no respect to drivers that has to work and look after their family’s,” [sic] added @kelkoca, helpfully.
To watch a woman get pushed from her bike, into oncoming traffic, to hear her body hit the ground and her cry of fear as she slams against the road, is awful. So imagine then taking to Twitter to write: “Let us know if you catch him so I can buy him a pint,” like “Millwall supporter and general nice bloke” @BermondseyGB did. The fact that the light was red, that the cyclist had right of way, that to push someone into the path of an oncoming car is wilfully dangerous and that giving the finger (as the attacker accuses) is hardly grounds for assault, seems so obvious as to barely be worth saying. And yet it is worth saying. We deserve better than this. We all deserve better than this.
As a female cyclist, you are all too often the target of a particularly unsavoury male aggression. Whether that’s the violent sexual threats shouted from passing vehicles, the passive aggressive “tutoring” by older men at traffic lights who tell you how to hold your own handlebars, being slowly and wilfully pushed off the road by City boys in their shiny black cars who cannot bear to have the throbbing power of their engine compromised by a woman on a bicycle, or the subtle patronising aggression you can feel from men in bike shops, we’re too often made to feel unwelcome, in the way, out of our depth or unworthy.
“I hope you die, you cunt,” shouted a cab driver at one female friend after almost killing her on a back street in Angel. “Stupid little whore” shouted a middle-aged white man in an estate car at another, before adding “fucking cyclist scum,” as she dared to turn right at a junction. These sexual threats say: “You don’t deserve to be on the road. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re indecent, depraved, ignorant and dangerous.” Which, of course, is pure pedal-powered bullshit.
I have been cycling through cities and across countries since I was nine years old. My first bike – a hand-painted, two-tone purple Raleigh – was more than just an unexpected Prince tribute. It was freedom. I never have to worry about night buses, don’t have to catch a last train, am at liberty to go wherever I want, whenever I want, and at speed.
The first time I cycled from my front door to the sea (a ride of about 65 miles thanks to a particularly poor map) I stood on the beach, looked out at a bending blue horizon and realised that I had reached the very edge of the country using nothing more than my thighs, sweat and gears. I felt like Tessie Reynolds, the 16-year-old girl who shocked 19th-century England by cycling from London to Brighton and back in eight hours, wearing knee-length breeches. I felt like Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst cycling around Manchester and London agitating their female comrades. I remembered the words of the American suffrage campaigner Susan B Anthony: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling: I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”
From suffragettes to midwives, Olympians to resistance fighters, commuters to campaigners, the history of the bicycle runs like a dual carriageway alongside the history of feminism. Cycling put us in trousers, let us pass messages behind the frontline, stood us on podiums, helped us mobilise in the streets, took us out of our conscribed domestic sphere and taught us the thrill of having the wind in our eyes. Despite the warnings from AD Shadwell published in 1897, our wombs did not fall out, we did not suffer dementia and we avoided the “bulging eyes” and “tightened mandible” that characterised the dreaded (and entirely fictional) “bike face”.
And we are good cyclists. Many of those victim-blaming on Twitter were keen to point out that cyclists jump red lights, cycle on pavements or hog the road. To which I say yes, sometimes, we do. The mayor of London does, the prime minister does and probably I have too. Primarily because I don’t want to be accidentally crushed by an HGV – one of the few road casualties that disproportionately affects women, too timid to overtake on the right or pull ahead, out of a driver’s blind spot. But the urge to push a woman off her bike while calling her a mug and shouting in her face has very little, if anything, to do with road hogs and red lights.
Of course, this video is news precisely because it is out of the ordinary; shocking, unpleasant and unexpected. It caused controversy because this isn’t the sort of thing we see every day. As a woman on a bike, you may occasionally feel bullied on and off of the road, but don’t let one furious man colour your view of cycling altogether. Yes, you may sometimes get strangers commenting on your legs, you may get taxi drivers pushing you into parked cars, you may be laughed out of a bike shop for asking about panniers, you may have a door opened on to your oncoming knees, you might get a middle-aged, lycra-clad bore asking “is that’s your dad’s bike, love?”, you might nearly get hit by pedestrians tapping away on their phones and you might get heckled by people outside pubs. But, my god, it’s worth it.
The world and its roads are there for the taking; we can chase the wind and conquer the weather, we can get anywhere at any time without spending a penny or relying on anyone. A bike is a two-wheeled instrument of freedom, emancipation and power. And most of us don’t even have to worry about crushing our testicles on the crossbar. So go on, put some fun between your legs. Get back in the saddle. You can give a man a fish, but you should give a woman a bicycle."