I’ve had more than my fair share of unsolicited comments from fellow cyclists over the years, and they have one thing in common: They all come from men.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition that makes my nervous system send and receive messages improperly, making me tired after activities most people don’t find taxing. One of these activities is commuting long distances, which didn’t become a problem until I decided to go back to university in the middle of a transit-barren zone in North Vancouver, B.C.
After several semesters braving a four-hour daily bus ride, my husband and I came up with a last-ditch effort to prevent me from dropping out: an electric bike. What little money we had after paying tuition in the spring paid for my pedal-assist bicycle, which runs on a rechargeable battery and reduces the amount of effort needed to go up large hills. It was a life-saver, allowing me to do things like attend mandatory classes, get to work, and pick up groceries without spending the following two days in a zombie-like brain fog.
Several days ago I was on my bike, travelling to pick up vegetables from a farm-share program when I was passed by a man in his 50s, wearing a fluorescent-yellow cycling get-up that I can only imagine cost more than my entire university degree to date. He was the embodiment of what Donald Trump would look like if he enrolled himself in the Tour de France.
“The motor on the back of your bike explains the fat ass!” he shouted as he whizzed by (the fact that I actually have a fairly average-sized behind, and the fact that CFS renders my relationship with exercise rocky at best is entirely beside the point).
I processed this comment as many women do when they’re faced with street harassment, imagining how I would respond if the cowardly bastard had the balls to stick around for more than a millisecond afterward. After several days of grueling thought, I’ve decided that, since it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll ever implement a one-strike system where we send street-harassers to the Gobi Desert to bestow their vitriolic wisdom on the Bactrian camels (we can dream), it’s best if we treat male entitlement as a severe cognitive impairment that requires a simple system to determine whether one has the right to make comments about the bodies one sees.
I think I’ve come up with a decent strategy. After many years working with a population with varying levels of social challenges, I got pretty good at responding to comments like, “Hi, Jess. Your hair looks terrible,” and “Your breath stinks today,” with a simple checklist outlining how not to be rude next time. Most people find there’s a split second between having a thought, and having that thought come out of your mouth. If you’re socially impaired by masculinity, here’s what you should ask yourself in that moment to figure out whether or not you may comment on a body:
1) Is it your body?
2) Are you a medical professional who is paid to keep that particular body healthy?
If you answered no to both those questions, you don’t have the right to comment on that body, no matter how successfully your upbringing and socialization convinced you that every word you say is like golden shit falling out the ass of a magical unicorn.
What about “freedom of speech” you say? Well, for those socially impaired by masculinity, the step after simple education is meaningful consequences, so the next time I catch neon-dude on the trails exercising his “freedom of speech” rather than his quads, I’m going to practice my freedom to mow him down on my electric bike.