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Gear Prudence: One time, I was riding ahead of a man who pulled up next to me and said he really liked my bag. Given that it was a faded ugly orange and covered in blood from a recent wreck, I didn’t quite believe his sincerity. In retrospect, I think he was hitting on me. What is proper protocol for ladies dealing with stupid pick-up lines mid-commute?
—Stop Trying Really Evident Entreaties To Harangue A Response And Subtly Suggest Expanded Discussion
Dear STREETHARASSED: Was this a few weeks ago? Over by the convention center? Maybe on the weekend of the annual Faded Ugly Orange and Somewhat Bloodied Bag Aficionado convention? I guess they have to meet somewhere, but like all niche groups (bicyclists included), their ways are mysterious and their interactions with the general population are sometimes fraught and awkward. While their presence might be good for the local economy, the lack of understanding that you just happen to have a faded ugly orange and somewhat bloodied bag, but aren’t an aficionado or fellow conventioneer, sounds trying.
Assuming your interaction was not actually about your bag, it does sound like this out-of-the-blue comment was a pretense to engage you in conversation, one it sounds like you didn’t really want to have. Sadly, women in public space are subjected to a wide variety of remarks, come-ons, commentary, and interjections with a varying level of benignity or crudeness. It sucks. Nelle Pierson, head of the Women & Bicycles initiative at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, stresses that there’s no one right or wrong way to deal with the unwanted attention. Each situation varies, so trust your instincts. You get to decide how to respond—an eye-roll, a “‘seriously?” or just ignore it and ride away—and you shouldn’t feel compelled to react—or not—a certain way. You can further equip yourself with additional tools by attending a workshop that discusses the problem and covers assertive responses to street harassment and innovative ways to combat it, including activism and advocacy.
As for the “nice guys” who just want to flirt a little, a reminder from Zosia Sztykowski, outreach coordinator at Collective Action for Safe Spaces: “The person they’re talking to gets to decide whether the attention is wanted or unwanted…no one is entitled to a positive response.” As beguiling as a fellow cyclist might be, if that person wants none of it, just keep on riding. Bike lane pickup lines will most likely leave you spinning your wheels.
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who blogs at talesfromthesharrows.blogspot.com and tweets at @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email email@example.com.