Biking While Female — ‘Slut,’ ‘Bitch,’ and ‘Dumb Broad’

Car culture is bro culture.

Two large men physically intimidated a woman on a Citi Bike and prevented her from leaving because they said she scratched their car.
Two large men physically intimidated a woman on a Citi Bike and prevented her from leaving because they said she scratched their car.

Car culture is bro culture.

The sight of two men physically intimidating a woman cyclist on Tuesday by aggressively grabbing her Citi Bike handlebars to prevent her from fleeing for her own safety was just the latest incident of violent harassment that women cyclists feel every day.

After posting about Tuesday’s Midtown incident, Streetsblog asked women to share their #MeToo stories about being physically or verbally assaulted or intimidated while biking — and the response was overwhelming. Within minutes, at least a dozen women shared horrifying stories about aggressive drivers who either threatened or actually tried to hurt them with their cars. Sexist expletives being shouted out of a car window are just the beginning. 

The stories — tellingly, there are too many to share — offer a glimpse into the term “biking while female” and explain why so few women bike compared to men. It’s roughly a 72-28 split, according to city stats — and just 25 percent of all Citi Bike subscriber trips were made by women in 2018, according to the Department of Transportation.

Smile For Me

It’s a demand that too many women who walk the streets of New Yew York City have heard — “smile.” Despite the sting, it’s usually easy to brush off and walk away without incident — but when the man saying it is sitting inside a 3,000-pound motor vehicle right next to you and your tiny two-wheeler, that sexist request becomes a threat. 

“Once riding up Greenpoint Ave to Sunnyside a male driver pulled up next to me at a red light and asked me to smile (of course),” said Eillie Anzilotti. “When I ignored him he revved the engine when the light turned green and veered into me, forcing me onto the sidewalk. It was terrifying.”

Another biker said she was pedaling along Lorimer Street in Williamsburg when a truck driver cut her off — nearly hitting her — to make a right on red. When she yelled at him that he almost hit her, the aggressive driver blew her a kiss and smiled.

Female cyclists say they are frequently called “bitch” and “slut” by aggressive drivers, and even sexually harassed. Even when it’s not life-threatening, bro culture is consistently disturbing. 

“A grown man in a convertible once loudly asked me, ‘Can I lick it? Your pussy?’ said one cyclist who goes by the twitter handle Amyamyamyo.

Macho men who already feel invincible inside their cars believe they can spew whatever sexist garbage they want to women because they can then quickly drive off, protected by tons of metal. But to women on bikes, the harassment can often feel more like a violent threat.

“I have too many incidents that are too hurtful and loud in my memory to express in so few characters, but my sexual harrasment (sic) executive summary is that when you’re walking it’s “Smile, shorty” when you’re on your bike it’s “I hope you die you fat bitch,” said a cyclist, who tweets as Shops By Bike.

Taking Up Space 

All bikers who fight for their own safe space on the streets of New York City — which has yet to break its car culture — put themselves in danger. But that danger is worse for a woman on a bike, or a biker of color. 

“Asserting your right to street space is daunting enough when have to share the road with two-plus ton cars and so many others things,” said Laura Shepard of Bike NY. “Sometimes you signal or ask a driver to slow down and it’s terrifying when they respond by shouting. It’s usually some variation of ‘Fuck you, bitch.'”

One biker, Lauren Patti, said she was riding on Lafayette Avenue when the driver of a private sanitation truck swerved into the bike lane. Patti said she tried to pass him, to get ahead of the danger, but he started screaming the sexist expletives “slut” and “bitch,” and then turned directly in front of her, nearly hitting her and others inside a pedestrian crosswalk.

Lauren Rennée, another cyclist, said that the incident captured on video on Tuesday is a regular occurrence —Rennée said she was biking on W. 20th Street last Friday when an Uber driver started tailing her and honking at her because she wasn’t riding in the bike lane — because it was blocked by roadway construction.

Threats of Violence

If it’s not sexual harassment, it’s actual physical threats.

The woman who filmed Tuesday’s disturbing incident said that once she was biking on Second Avenue when a driver cut her off and started revving his engine. As she pedaled past him, he threatened to break her finger.

And another aggressive driver tried to mow down cyclist Bonnie Harper after she snapped a photo of him illegally parked in a bike lane, ironically right outside of a Brooklyn precinct, in June 2017.

“To add insult to injury, the driver realized afterward that I took his photo and took off after me. He first yelled at me with his window rolled down and then attempted to cut me off and hit me,” said Harper.

And another aggressive driver threatened to shoot a woman cyclist in the head back in February.

“Touch my fucking car again and I will put a bullet in your head,” the driver, who comes out of his car, can be heard saying on camera to the woman behind the prolific Twitter account, Bike Commuter NYC. Was the threat of violence strictly related to the gender of the alleged car-toucher? Even Bike Commuter NYC doesn’t know for certain, but gender often plays a role, she said.

“Being a woman can change that dynamic,” she said. “Some drivers seem to be more apologetic, while others become more aggressive. It’s almost like a ‘how dare a woman tell me what to do?'”

These horrifying stories are just a few of the ones women bikers told Streetsblog — they happen every day.

Streetsblog reached out to City Hall for the mayor’s opinion about the behavior of his fellow drivers. We will update this story if we hear back.

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