Riding While Female: Casual Interactions

Charles Montgomery, author of The Happy City, spoke at Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place (THIS IS A TERRIBLE NAME) about the importance of casual interactions with other people in public space. His research has showed these interactions are positive & make people happy.

While we were out riding along False Creek I remarked to Stephanie & Chris that the slate pavers (WHY OH WHY) on the bike path were not the best material, especially since the side for people walking had soft permeable pavers. A man running started chatting with me about the surface of the path & we spoke for a minute or two before our paths diverged. This interaction made me happy.

When I got off the train from Vancouver I had to use the elevator to get back up to the street to catch the link. The alley (?) to the elevator was dark & I was waiting with two men, one who kept staring at me. Maybe he was just looking at my awesome bike. Or maybe he wasn’t. But I didn’t like it. Once I got on the train I ran into another man who kept leering at me. Maybe he liked my bike. Or maybe he didn’t. But I didn’t like it.

And so this is where the advice of a cis-gender white male fails. I don’t know that these men wanted to do me harm, but it felt like it. I didn’t want to talk with them or engage with them. I wanted to get the hell out of dodge ASAP.

So what was different from the man running? He was 20 feet away from me, on the other side of some landscaping. My friends were there. It was a large space. It was well lit. I was moving. Standing in a dark alley, penned in by a chain link fence with no once else around & no escape routes was terrifying. Even the moving train, knowing he was watching me, that he was getting off at my stop & might follow me into the elevator was terrifying.

Women are murdered every day for not talking to strangers on the street. My advice to men: recognize your privilege & don’t dispense advice you don’t understand. And for fucks sake: talk to more WOMEN in your research. The women I spoke with at the conference agreed that it’s far easier for men to say it than for women to do it so it’s clear that there’s a disconnect here.

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