Male cyclists of Melbourne, what the hell is your problem?
As a Dutchie, I love riding my bike. Cycling is a big part of Dutch culture and we love cycling so much that the Netherlands has more bicycles than people. Cycling, to me, means freedom – no delays, no peak hour, no rush, the feeling of wind in my hair (helmets are not a thing in the Netherlands). So, naturally, the first thing I did when I arrived in Melbourne was get myself a bicycle.
In Melbourne, the lack of bike lanes, in combination with often aggressive car driving, makes cycling among the super busy inner-city traffic a rather unpleasant experience. It's not surprising that many people stay far away from cycling.
What did surprise me is how gendered cycling in Melbourne is: more than four in five Melburnian cyclists are male. Typical of the Melburnian cycling scene is the preference for bikes associated with masculinity, such as road bikes and mountain bikes.
Dressing up as a professional cyclist (in an aerodynamic, shock-absorbing and padded cycle suit) is another highly popular phenomenon. Interestingly, in the Netherlands, where cycling is not a male-dominated activity, with female cyclists in the slight majority (56 per cent), the more or less gender neutral city bike is by far the most popular type of transportation among everyone, regardless of gender.
I didn't think much of the "gender gap" in the Melburnian cycle scene at first. But soon after I started riding daily through the busy CBD, I noticed being commented on by fellow cyclists. I've now experienced many of these incidents, and sadly they're often very unpleasant – except for the random compliment on my bike decorating efforts.
Most comments are aimed at policing my riding behaviour or reveal a sense of entitlement to right of way. For example, "Look to your right/ Let me pass lady/c---/bitch! These comments are usually followed by an angry man – yes, I've only experienced men doing it – riding past me while vigorously shaking their head, throwing me a look of utter disapproval.
As a non-native English speaker, I never knew how hurtful the word "lady" could be, when used in a derogatory and patronising tone. Although the "c---'' and "bitch" versions seem far worse, I experience the opposite to be true. It's awful to realise there's no need for a swear word, when a synonym for "woman" counts as one.
I think it is often overlooked that what makes women feel unsafe is not only the poor bike infrastructure, but also the harassment they endure. Cyclists as a whole are disrespected as road users, so add being a women to the mix and you'll be disrespected even more.
I decided to decorate my Aussie bike because I missed the Netherlands. It was an attempt to recreate a little part of Dutch culture, so I would feel more at home in this beautiful country. Unintentionally, this act made me into a daily activist. Some women might be able to avoid sexist slurs by hiding behind their helmets, but there's no hiding for me on my ultra-feminine bike.
Note....I didn't include a paragraph on her experience with Social Media after posting a reply to a sportsbet post. I saw no need to include further confirmation of Gender based harrasment with only a tenous at best link to cycling. You can see it for yourself here
http://www.theage.com.au/comment/male-c ... z2igy.html
So really....how common is this sort of behavior? Yeah, I know that once is too many times and agree with that. Reading this gives the impression that it's weekly if not daily. In inner city Melbourne? And I wonder if the "look to your right" comment that she comments on isn't the oft advised "warning" of being passed? Is it a case of enthusiast behaviour being misconstrued by a transport cyclist? An example of our (Australian) obsession for rule adherence and order being so alien to someone from another country as to be offensive?
So many questions.
Oh yeah. Alternate post heading:
Dutch woman proves that the joy of cycling overrides any issue with helmets