I tend to be a pleasant rider (most of the time, at least to denizens of the neighborhoods through which I ride). Every once in awhile I get catcalled or some other form of street harassment as I’m riding. Yesterday was one of those days.

I’m riding home from Williamsburg, after sundown, on a street that I ride a lot. It is warm, and though it is a school night many folks are out on the street hanging out. One guy is walking down the street, and then I hear it. Kissing noises. Immediately, I am braced for it. “Hey baby, can I ride on the back with you?” I go to one of my standard responses: I flip him the bird. [Dad, stop reading here.] Then comes the yelling. Mostly, I don’t get yelling when I respond (my guess is the surprise of any response). I can’t quite hear what he’s saying, but the word “bitch” pops through twice as well as some threat of what he’s going to do to me. To which I respond, “Yep, I am a big ole bitch,” and ride away into the night.

Now, I tend to respond to street harassers, but in different ways depending on the situation. I am always aware of my surroundings when harassed, as I bet most harassed people are. I can read the situation and respond in a way that doesn’t compromise my safety. Being on a bike allowed me to do what I did above. In other situations, I’ve told men (it’s always men) they were being rude. I’ve looked at them and just said “No. Don’t do that.” Again, usually, I don’t get any response. As I rode away from this guy, I started to think about what if he was serious about attacking. What if he had jumped in his car? Then I started to think about who would be at fault if he had been able to attack me, about what questions I would be asked and would be thought appropriate to determine if the attack was “justified.” I thought about the people that would tell me “Well, you shouldn’t have…” Then I got mad.

If I don’t like to be harassed, I should be able to communicate my displeasure. I should not have to be silent, because silence will not save me. A harasser’s desire to harass cannot be allowed because of some mythical safety. Guess what? Harassment destroys my safety. Physical violence is not the only way make a neighborhood unsafe.

Let’s get a conversation started about this. People who are harassed: How do you deal with harassers? Everyone: What do you when you see other people harass? People who harass: What makes you think that’s okay? (this question may come across as sarcastic, but honestly I’m curious). Leave comments below. I moderate, so if you don’t see yours right away, give me a few hours.