I slammed my brakes as I realized that I wasn’t going to make the light. There are a few lights I absolutely will not cruise through as they turn red; most of them are on Mass. Ave. I hate stopping at red lights. It slows me down, interrupts my biking flow, cars get pissed at me for no reason, I have to kick off and gain momentum again, and other cyclists (who I’ve already passed) decide it’s appropriate to stop in front of me so I have to pass them again when the light turns green.
“Mmmmmmm. What about your legs? Aren’t your legs cold? They sure look cold.”
Oh yes, and the street harassment that I’m forced to listen to.
My music is playing and I’m dancing as best I can while on a bike. I almost don’t even hear this man’s comment as he crosses the street towards me. But I do hear it, of course I hear it. Just like I hear comments about my outfit, hair, and body every single day.
“I’m fine.” I respond and give, what my friends call, my #notimpressed look. It’s about as subtle as teens trying to use their cell phone in the middle of a lecture yet somehow people, mainly straight white men, don’t notice the disdain, impatience, and fuck off attitude radiating from me. I hope that the light will change so I can swerve around this man who decided that pausing in the middle of the street to talk to me was a fabulous idea. Of course, the light doesn’t change. It’s one of those intersections that take forever and is packed with traffic so there isn’t even the opportunity to cut across before the light turns green. So I continue to stand there, trying to avoid eye contact and conversation with this man in front of me.
It’s an (almost) 40 degree morning and I’m outfitted in a windproof coat, gloves, scarf, dress, stockings, and heels. My legs are the only relatively exposed part of my body but they are also doing most of the work to get me from JP to Cambridge. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that exercise and exertion creates warmth. Therefore a lighter layer on my legs is actually a strategic and intentional decision in regards to the current temperature. I’ve been a year-round bike commuter for almost 10 years, and four of those have been in Boston. I would venture to guess, random man walking across the street, I’m more aware of the weather and how to layer properly for cycling than you.
If you were truly concerned about—what exactly? Me catching a cold? My legs turning red? Hypothermia?—then I could look forward to comments ceasing with the winter weather. But in fact the opposite is true. I’m going to experience more harassment, from you and your fellow men, in the coming months when I decide that it’s too hot to bike with a shirt or am wearing my favorite short,flowy skirt.
So don’t pretend that you’re concerned over whether I’m cold when you’re in fact using this as yet another reason to objectify and comment on my body. This has everything to do with you feeling entitled to occupy my time and space when I have no way out as I can’t roll through the busy intersection and to get off my bike means putting myself into your pedestrian area. So I’m trapped and forced to listen to your comments about my legs.
I hope that you will finish walking across the street instead of continuing to stand directly in front of me. I wonder why there are no other cyclists at this intersection and if you would have stopped and commented on my legs if there were. I know, luckily, this interaction will have to expire at some point although the light feels as if it’s dragging on forever. When the light turns, I can kick off and leave you behind. It’s one of the reasons I bike everywhere: being able to quickly put physical distance between myself, these situations, and people who believe they have a right to my time and space.
And, quite honestly, even if I decided to wear that dress and those stockings today with the thought of “weather be damned, I look sexy af”, you still don’t get to comment on my clothing or my body.