Street harassment is one major reason why more women do not take public transit, walk or bicycle. Cat-calling, the ‘holla’, whistling and beeping horns are reasonable expectations for any woman walking or bicycling down a Miami street. Who wants to put up with that?
As an advocate for both bicycling and walking, I hear a lot about what needs to be done to get more people out into the public space. Bike lanes, well-lit paths, access to dependable and well-connected modes of transportation are all good and well. However, just over one half of our city’s population has the very specific threat of street harassment to deal with and behavior is not fixed with white paint or street cars.
Street harassment varies widely from the more benign (whistle) to the downright frightening (groups of men, in or out of cars, following you for blocks at a time). All of it, however, is an unfair invasion of a woman’s right to some personal space. One generally accepted definition, from Cynthia Grant Bowman’s 1993 paper, “Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women” is as follows:
“Street harassment occurs when one or more strange men accost one or more women . . . in a public place which is not the woman’s/women’s worksite. Through looks, words, or gestures the man asserts his right to intrude on the woman’s attention, defining her as a sexual object, and forcing her to interact with him.”
Street harassment makes me feel that, just because I’m a woman, I forfeit an otherwise reasonable expectation to not be vocally judged for my appearance or the mode of transportation that I choose when I enter the street. It feels like streets are not for everyone; they belong to men on street corners, in cars or who, like me, are walking or bicycling from one place to another.
I live in the heart of my beloved City of Miami, and I am happy that distance or weather does not keep me from biking or walking to galleries, restaurants, my work or shops. Riding my bicycle all around Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, I am used to hearing misinformed comments from motorists, pedestrians and even bicyclists when I ride safely and legally. I have almost been hit by cars more times than I can count (knock on wood). I certainly don’t let offensively maladjusted men convince me to grab the car keys. In fact, I used to think that I was immune to street harassment, having grown almost numb to it after years as, well, a woman.
Then this afternoon, while crossing Biscayne Boulevard at a particularly difficult intersection on my bicycle (the street is a mess of holey concrete, lumpy asphalt, massive steel planks and construction debris), some construction worker pierced my intense focus with a cattle-call. I looked just in case there was something urgent, some reason for extra caution or maybe a need to stop suddenly. But there, laughing at their buddy’s success, was a group of construction workers and a police officer. I kept my cool as I said, ‘Hey Officer, that wasn’t safe! Hey, isn’t it against the law to do that?’ The response? ‘What’s your problem? We were just…’ I didn’t catch the rest. I was consumed by something else:
It is not against the law to intentionally distract the driver of a vehicle without cause or to make a woman feel unsafe in public space.
As I rode back towards my office, I thought about all the women who tell me they don’t ride because they don’t feel safe. It’s not cars they are afraid of, it’s the men who drive them, following women on foot or bicycle, calling out to them with words unwelcomed. Who wants to take the bus to work when they have to wait at a bus stop at night to get home? I know what they are talking about but I just accept it. Most men are not mean. Interacting with people who are different than I is one my top reasons for riding or walking! I do not want to accept this anymore. More and more, studies are showing that it is not all in our heads. Many men do this because they feel it is culturally and legally acceptable but studies show that this behavior is connected to rape and other forms of physical violence towards women.
I think there should be a law against street harassment. There are movements to take action, like HollaBackDC, Back Up!, Blank Noise and others. Where is the movement in Miami? If we are serious about equal access to transit and transportation options, public safety has to take a more prominent and publicly supported role. Women are 50% of the population. If we could get just 1 out of 10 of Miami-Dade women to take public transit, bicycle or walk, we could take 125,000 cars off the road. Would you support a law protecting women from street harassment?
Subscribe via Email
Find us on Facebook
- Mike Moskos on Event: Donald Shoup-The Godfather of Eliminating Required Parking
- Matthew Toro on ‘Mixed’ Land-Use in Miami-Dade
- Adam Old on ‘Mixed’ Land-Use in Miami-Dade
- Mike arias on County Announces New Vision for Pedestrians and Cyclists: Vision Zero 305
- Matthew Toro on Commercial Land-Use in Miami-Dade
- ivo on County Announces New Vision for Pedestrians and Cyclists: Vision Zero 305
CategoriesAccident Architecture bicycles bike lanes Bike Miami Days biking Biscayne Boulevard Brickell bus Climate Change Coconut Grove complete streets Downtown Miami FDOT High Speed Rail Metrorail Miami Miami-Dade County Miami-Dade Transit Miami 21 Miami Beach Museum Park News Parking Parks Pedestrian Pedestrians Pic o' the Day Planning Real Estate Development Rickenbacker Causeway Sprawl Streetcar Traffic Transit Transitography Transit Oriented Development Transportation Tri-Rail Uncategorized Urban Design Urban Development Boundary Urban Growth Urban Planning Walkability
- Walk, Bike, Transit Advocates Lose Sunday Parking Vote April 17, 2014Despite a grassroots campaign to retain Sunday parking meter charges it only approved two years ago, the San Francisco MTA agreed with Mayor Ed Lee to drop the charges, hoping that voters would approve two transit funding measures in November.
- Why Don’t More Conservatives Support Smart Growth? April 17, 2014A self-identified conservative who supports the “broader vision of smart growth” has identified a reason why more conservatives don’t support smart growth: the political economy of sprawl.
- Pittsburgh Land Bank Approved—With Compromises April 17, 2014Pittsburgh recently approved a land bank to acquire properties when owners fall behind on property taxes. The question about how much control to grant an independent authority, or maintain with the City Council, remains controversial.
- Is Cleveland Too Negative? April 17, 2014A recent opinion article by Richey Piiparinen of the Center for Population Dynamics at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University says “Cleveland's negativity is a challenge to the city's future.”
- New Urbanism Gets a New Leader April 17, 2014Lynn Richards, formerly of the U.S. EPA's Office of Sustainable Communities, is set to become President of the Congress for the New Urbanism in July. In this interview, Richards says that forging new alliances will be a key goal for her.
- Bike Lanes, Maybe, But Let’s 'Lose Yourself to Dance' April 17, 2014Being on the street used to be a dance, but not so since the automobile took over. Is there a way for all modes to coexist through a mutual ethic rather than compete for a street’s right of way?
- A Comprehensive Examination of the Bay Area Housing Crisis April 16, 2014The Google Bus protests got the media’s attention, and the Ellis Act has politicians' attention, but the Bay Area’s current tech-housing-gentrification crisis is a big, complicated mess.
- What Does 'Feminine' Mean to Women Who Bike? April 16, 2014Women are less likely to ride bikes than males in the United States, and part of the complicated issues of gender and biking have at least partly to do with perceptions. A recent article examines what it means to be “feminine” while riding a bike.
- Capital Beltway Peak Toll Tops $11 April 16, 2014Use of the 495 Express Lanes, a HOT variable toll, has been fetching a pretty penny this year for commuters looking to escape the notoriously congested Capital Beltway. The ongoing experiment in commute pricing should recede before a tipping point.
- Details on the Drastic Legislative Efforts to Block BRT in Nashville April 16, 2014Although other states prohibit the use of state funding for public transportation projects, Tennessee state legislators are moving toward an outright ban of bus rapid transit projects anywhere in the state.
- Walk, Bike, Transit Advocates Lose Sunday Parking Vote April 17, 2014