“You look so sexy on your bike.”

shawna bike dcHe did not yell it. The voice met my ears just as the light changed and I rode away. I looked back at the pedestrian who was still standing on the curb, smiling, with his black hair in a ponytail, wearing a tan Members’ Only-type jacket, hands in pockets. He looked like someone out on his lunch hour, someone who pays his taxes. I laughed a little at the surprising statement and his audacity to make it. It was a chilly day and I was on my way to the drug store, bundled up in jeans, black hoodie, scarf, sunglasses and helmet. I mean, I wasn’t even wearing my little bike skirt! But I don’t think street harassment is caused by what we’re wearing, and though I do think, as the Hollaback movement states, it’s about intimidation or making targets feel uncomfortable, my guess is that this man meant this sentence as a genuine, spontaneous compliment. I was not mad. I am not sexless or humorless. It just got me thinking.

Being out and about on a bike makes us more accessible than someone in a car driving around in a bubble of music or silence, tuning the world out while focusing on the road. I am vulnerable to the elements (I’ve learned what a good windbreaker actually feels like), moving vehicles, loud sirens, clouds of pot and cigarette smoke, bus exhaust, broken glass and yes—people. Sometimes this is my favorite part of riding—people ask me for directions, other cyclists sometimes chat me up, cops wave me through road blocks, kids smile when I ring my bell as I pass by. Other times, men hoot, holler, whistle, comment on my body parts, and feel the need to tell me to “be careful” or tell me how I look. I wonder how many men on bikes hear how sexy they look each day? And why is it kind of funny to imagine the situation reversed? There is a line between accessible and vulnerable. Who draws it?