Picture this

I’m cycling to work when my rear brake cable snaps, trapping my little finger momentarily (but painfully) between handlebar and brake. I signal left and pull over to survey the damage. The cable lies forlornly in the street. I don’t know any bike shops nearby, and, as I’ve slept badly and past my alarm, I’m already running a few minutes late. I decide to press on slowly with just one brake.

Minutes later I’m nearly flattened by a black cab which accelerates aggressively to overtake me, then cuts directly across my path without signalling. As the cab speeds away down a side road, its driver honks the horn loudly and shouts incoherently from his open window. I am left standing shocked and panting in the gutter as passers-by newly arrived to the scene shake their heads, clearly under the impression that I’m just another idiot cyclist with no respect for the rules of the road.

Really shaken now, I dismount and cross Hammersmith Broadway on foot. As I wait at a pedestrian red light, someone shouts ‘lucky girl’. It is a young man sitting in the passenger seat of a van. He and the driver of the van, a man in his forties, look very pleased with themselves.

Before I can react, they are gone. I review my appearance: there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly lucky about me today. I am wearing my favourite dress (black with white polka dots, knee-length, V-neck). Black opaque tights. Black brogues. Hair drying into its usual curly hedge. Glasses on top of my head. No shamrocks. I cycle on.

A few minutes later I am freewheeling down King Street when I spot the same van again. It’s pulled over on the left, and the two men are unloading things from the back. I’m almost past them when the young one addresses me again. Except this time he’s closer, and I hear him properly, and its not ‘lucky girl’ he’s saying, it’s ‘lucky saddle’.

Something snaps.

I pull over (which takes a while, because I have only one brake), dismount and wheel my bike back to where the men are standing.

‘I’m sorry, what did you just say?’


‘Yes, you did. What was it?

‘It was a joke. I said “lucky saddle”. It’s a compliment, love.’

He smiles and looks to his friend for approval. The older man looks worried.

‘OK. Why is my saddle lucky?’

‘Nothing. It’s just a compliment.’

‘Are you saying my saddle is lucky because it has me sitting on it?’

The man smirks. ‘Yeah.’

‘So you’re saying the saddle is lucky to have my genitals pressed against it?’

‘That’s not -’

‘And, when you say that the saddle is “lucky”, I suppose you mean that you envy it?’

‘No, that’s not -’

‘What you’re saying is that you want to be pressed up against my genitals, is that it?’

‘Listen, you’re taking this too seriously. It’s just a joke. I’m trying to be nice.’

‘I don’t know. A stranger shouts at me in the street, twice, saying that he wants to touch my genitals. That doesn’t seem nice to me. Do you understand why that might actually sound quite intimidating?’

‘Listen, you’re blowing this way out of proportion. Most girls can take a compliment.’

‘It doesn’t feel like you’re trying to flatter me. It feels like you’re trying to humiliate me.’

The man rolls his eyes and winks at his colleague.

‘Oh, that’s what this is about – you’re trying to impress your friend. Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t you both just get in the van, take down your trousers, and show each other your willies? That way there’s no need to involve me OR my saddle.’

I get back on the bike and cycle off to work. This has been, without doubt, the greatest feminist victory that Chiswick has seen all week.

Except it doesn’t happen in Chiswick. In fact, it doesn’t happen anywhere except in my head as I sit in the toilets crying before work.

When I leave the cubicle to wash my face and hands, I look in the mirror. There’s a huge smear of black oil across my forehead.

About Christina Kenny

Christina Kenny is a music journalist based in London.
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60 Responses to Picture this

  1. Anita says:

    I feel your pain. This seems to be the latest white van driver witticism. I have had this yelled at me quite a lot when I’m cycling. My normal reaction is to give them the v sign and look unimpressed. But it is really frustrating, as would love the chance to ask them what the hell they are thinking rather than reverting to crude body language.


  2. Jane says:

    My usual response to ‘lucky saddle’ is “In your dreams, dickhead.” It’s not parTICularly clever, but it generally does the trick.

  3. I get stuff like this (being rather large up top) quite often. One summer I was actually forced to stop weeding my front garden and go inside because I had three ‘compliments’ in the space of 15 minutes and, had a fourth such ‘gentleman’ felt the need to make a similar one I would have chased him down the road and battered him with a rake. Sometimes I can let it slide, sometimes it makes me laugh, but sometimes it really upsets me. It’s so uncalled for, what makes them do it, apart from a basic lack of braincells/manners? They should keep their ‘humour’ to themselves.

  4. Heather says:

    Oh, I hate that line, it’s repulsive. Seriously, take aside the lack of originality, it’s disgusting and reductive and when you’re just trying to get through the traffic – and all that those words entail really, who needs that shit?

    Sorry for your shiity day, hope you have a better one, tomorrow.

  5. DR says:

    One of the best put-downs I heard was from a comedian (can’t remember who) – some white van man shouted to her “‘ere love – d’ya wanna sit on my face?” then laughed at the hilarity of his witty comment with a fellow neanderthal.
    Her reply: “why? Is your nose bigger than your c**k?”

    • AnnaElizabeth says:

      On the off chance I’m confident (and awake!) enough to think of something as brilliantly funny and appropriate as that, something always stops me.

      Part of it is the power relation – they’re in a van speeding off with their mates, I’m alone on the pavement and will look like a nutter if what I say comes out as a random string of swearwords, or even if I’m surrounded by other people who will hear my witty retort. The other part is that I often don’t feel proudly defiant, I don’t feel like a put-down will help me at all. I feel humiliated, weak and exposed, like no matter how hard I work to make my sexuality my own, private business, one unwanted sexual remark reminds me that to many people my sexuality is public property for them to assess and comment on. I don’t want to make it a game of back-and-forth or give them something to laugh and high-five each other over, I want to sit them down and talk to them about their mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who are hurt by what they do. But of course that never happens.

      Next time, I’ll try to remember that line – at least it’ll make for a good story to tell my friends instead of ‘I swallowed my pride and pretended I hadn’t heard’.

      • Christina says:

        Your point about the power relation is so, so important, because that’s nearly always what happens. I’m shouted or whistled at weekly and it’s only ever while I or the cat-callers are moving. Even if you ARE in a position to be able to stop and defend yourself, it means a) changing your immediate plans to stop whatever you’re doing and challenge them, and b) engaging with a stranger who’s, let’s not forget, has just participated in an act of aggression towards you.

        And that’s exactly why cat-callers do it – because they know that most women just can’t be arsed to stop and do the basic parenting that someone else should have done years ago.

  6. Laura says:

    Solidarity! I read this electrified and feeling vicarious victory for every time I’ve tried to deal with this comment by a) flciking the v’s b) laughing sarcastically or c) staring in genuine incredulity. Thanks for giving me a script to respond with so next time it won’t be l’esprit de l’escalier for any of us. xxx

    • Christina says:

      And thank YOU for this amazing addition to my vocabulary!

      In all seriousness please be careful in your dealings with psychos in the street. Have a getaway bike ready.

  7. andyjogger says:

    Great post. I think I’d like to empathise rather than ‘like’ though!

  8. Just reply “yes, luckier than you’ll ever be”, and make that tiny willy gesture with the little finger.

    • Mary says:

      Suggestions like this don’t work for me. WOn one occasion a bloke came up to me and my girlfriend when we were looking at underwear in the window of House of Fraser and whispered “I’d like to see you in that” in her ear. We actually did give him an earful, about how threatening and horrible and nasty that was. He tried to claim it was a joke and a compliment, and eventually went away muttering about what frigid bitches we were. Did we feel better? Did we fuck. We stayed furious all the way home, and it still spoiled our night out.

      I don’t want “good comebacks” – it’s not funny, it’s not a game, and “winning” isn’t a triumph. I want them to not bloody comment in the first place.

      • KateClancy says:


      • Christina says:

        Mary, I’m 400% with you on this one. Women shouldn’t HAVE to defend themselves against this sort of unsolicited feedback, ever. The reason I wrote this post was the same reason I ended up in the toilets crying. I didn’t choose to be included in this encounter, and I didn’t have the time or resources to steer it in the direction I wanted. No matter how witty the comeback, Team Woman never wins in a cat-calling situation.

      • I see your point but it’s a bit like not wanting the tide to come in.

    • Christina says:

      Anita has experimented with the ‘you must have a dick the size of a peanut’ line before, but on the whole I think I’m anti. I don’t want someone who has shouted sexual remarks at me to have the satisfaction of me thinking about their penis, in ANY context.

  9. Geoff says:

    See, it seems to me you’re conflating two things here. 1. The fact that you had a bike accident. 2. The fact that men in white vans make sexist comments. Both are bad, but they don’t seem to have much to do with each other, so there’s no real reason why 1 should make you more unhappy about 2. Hope you’re okay now.

    Plus, i don’t think he was trying to humiliate you. He was trying to publicly ogle and possess you, which is equally nasty, but has your humiliation as, from his perspective, an irrelevant by-product.

    • Heather says:

      “He was trying to publicly ogle and possess you, which is equally nasty” < Thank you, that is exactly what it is about these sorts of comments that riles women.

    • Mary says:

      Actually, 1 would definitely make me more unhappy about 2, because it’s yet another reminder that NO MATTER how shit my day is and what other considerations I’ve got going on, some wanker thinks that it’s appropriate to shout at me about my appearance.

      Maybe you’ve not experienced that?

    • Jennifer says:

      God forbid a woman should get upset at both things and that one should feed into the other. She isn’t confused, okay, or stupid. His motives don’t matter, it’s the result that matters, K?

    • letterwounded says:

      She’s not ‘conflating’ anything. Sometimes people act like shits. Sometimes people act like shits when you’re already having a terrible day. The two things may not seem connected to you, but when you’re living them they are both very much connected for you. So yes, sometimes offensive comments DO make you more upset because you are already emotionally or physical vulnerable and/or distressed. That’s one of the many reasons this kind of behaviour is so out of order. That guy shoehorned his way into the day of someone whose psychological, physical, and emotional state he knew nothing about. Not that the best of us on our sassiest days should have to deal with stuff like this, but you get my point.

    • Christina says:

      What Heather, Mary, Jennifer and letterwounded said.

      Plus, I’m going to have to take you up on this distinction you’re making between humiliation and the desire to ogle/possess.

      Ogling you can do without making a sound. Similarly, playing out a desire to possess is something that can be done quite well within the confines of one’s head. I’m doing it now, for example. Now I’m not.

      But men who want to ‘possess’ (and by this, do we mean fuck?) women on any real level, publicly or otherwise, nearly always understand that the best way to do does not consist of insulting her in public. Except when you’re 15: then, all bets are off. No cat-caller seriously thinks that he’s going to achieve coitus with a girl by publicly commenting on her breasts.

      In my experience, humiliation is at the core of cat-calling. It’s usually done by one man from a group of men, who very obviously feed on the woman’s reaction. This happens in a variety of different ways: they might loudly accuse her of rudeness for ignoring their ‘compliment’, mock her response, or laugh at her lack of one.

      It’s rare for women to be able to adequately defend themselves in these situations, because their attackers initiated and sustain the encounters, they usually have the confidence of being in a group, and let’s face it, they’ve probably done this quite a few times before.

  10. Geoff says:

    I appreciate this might not help.

  11. Helen says:

    Great post!

  12. Ang says:

    I think that’s what vexes me the most – the charge that we are some how humourless (which let’s face it is the no.1 crime in Britain) and readily dismissed if we complain. I still pause before commenting on anyone’s behaviour for that reason. Plus I have the added bonus of not being attractive – so therefore they can attribute my complaint to bitterness, and marvel as to how I am not grateful!

    • Christina says:

      Ang, you make a really good point about so-called ‘humourlessness’.

      I personally find it strange that cat-callers are likely to find jokes like ‘Oi, love, nice tits’ much funnier than any of the BLINDING ripostes that people have suggested here.

      Your comment about not being attractive, and cat-callers therefore feeling as though they have done you a favour, makes me feel very sad on a number of levels.

  13. Holly says:

    A useful website for next time. Although hopefully there won’t be a next time. http://ldn.ihollaback.org/

  14. Noble Savage says:

    That is a fantastic response, DR!

    I have noted down the company name and registration of vans whose drivers/occupants were harassing me and either reported their behaviour to their employers or, if self-employed, left negative comments detailing their view of women on their local business pages. Douchebags.

    • DR says:

      Good tactic!
      And EXCELLENT use of “douchebags” as well. Great cuss!

    • Christina says:

      BRILLIANT idea. I have already telephoned ‘Man With A Van’ to complain, but he’s engaged, so I’ll try his other telephone number. He actually has, like, 1,000,000 phone numbers. Weird.

      In all seriousness a brilliant idea and one I have used plentifully to complain about London’s shoddier signallers.

  15. Popsexology says:

    My heart sank when you said it didn’t happen at all – only because I have been in exactly the same situation; replaying a scenario in my head, confidently confronting the wankers who have left me insulted, belittled and hating myself for feeling helpless and intimidated. Next time, next time, white van men beware, that ‘little lady’ on a bike is not going to take kindly to your ‘complement’ at all.

    Hope you’re feeling better & thanks for sharing.

  16. Margaret says:

    One of the best ideas I’ve heard for responding to this sort of thing: http://thegloss.com/culture/nerdglam-how-to-shut-down-street-harassers/

    Doesn’t work so well if they’re in a van, but it’s genius for people on the street.

  17. I really liked your post, well written and interesting. So sorry that some men are such Neanderthal dickheads. On behalf of the non misogynistic males in the world I am so sorry that shit like this happens to you and other women so much. Just console yourself in the fact that the arsehole in question most likely is some mummies boy who can’t get a girlfriend to save his life and therefore will never breed and pass on his stupidity to another generation.

    • Christina says:

      PLEASE DO NOT APOLOGISE ON BEHALF OF 48% OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION. I spoke to All Men just after the incident in question and now all is cool between us.

      What really saddens me is that the ‘arsehole in question’, in any other situation, could very well be an OK kind of guy who loves his mum and looks out for his sisters.

      It would be lovely to think of him dying loveless and alone, but the reality of the situation is that he’s not a sex attacker and he’s probably quite average. That’s the thing about cat-calling: it’s just a fun kind of misogyny that nearly everyone can participate in without much fear of repercussions.

  18. Marthaamay says:

    Amazing, one for the ladies!
    Congratulations on your quick wit and strength.

  19. Milly says:

    Thank you for writing this. Incidents like this happen to all of us, but because we’re invariably alone when they happen it’s easy to end up feeling isolated.

    Not reacting is the easiest reaction, but also the most frustrating, as it means the guy who harass you will never realise just how upsetting it can be. But the alternative, to react, takes a lot of courage. Will the words come out wrong, and make him just laugh harder, more cruelly? Will the words come out right, but make him get angry and aggressive? If I get attacked will it be my fault, for provoking him? It’s easier to just look away and pretend it didn’t happen.

    But I love your reaction – I don’t care that it was imagined. You’ve written a script, imagined a situation we can emulate. I can see that situation unfolding, I can picture myself saying those things. Maybe next time I will have the courage to do so.

    • Christina says:

      I agree and empathise with everything you say, Milly. But please be careful with responding to revolting strangers. A dignified response is a COMPLETELY valid reaction to being put in a situation you didn’t ask for.

  20. Gwen says:

    I usually resort to using the Death Stare, as I am never quick enough to think of anything more creative than “F*ck off”!

    My most recent encounter was with a moron working at Her Majesty’s pleasure. I was preparing to go on a long journey, and so was giving the car a once over, checking tyres, water level etc, outside my house. A postman in his van pulled right up alongside me and said “There’s no way you know what you’re doing, there”. Utterly gobsmacked by the sheer audacity of this imbecile, I could only muster, “What???!”, to which he replied, “No woman knows what she’s doing under a car bonnet”.

    Cue the Death Stare, but was what amazing about this d*ck was that he was working, in a traceable vehicle, and the sorting office at which he was undoubtedly based was just round the corner-piece of p*ss to pop in and report him. This clearly had not occurred to him.
    Sadly, the idea of reporting him did not occur to me either until after I had ranted and stomped about for some time, seething. I do so wish I had an arsenal of retorts to access at such moments. I hate that when men like this “win” out of the situation.

    • Christina says:

      What a knobjock: presumably he’s YOUR postman though. Can you not introduce some controlled mayhem into his day-to-day regime? Have you got a dog? Or a randy rabbit?

  21. Pollyanna says:

    Thank you for writing this article. It’s one to which I can really relate. Just last week I was riding along in the sunshine in my local park thoroughly enjoying the warmth and freedom of a nice solo ride out, I was approaching the end of the park where the path was blocked with people and not wanting to fall into the lake, I rang my bell to signal I was behind and wished to get by, all very well until I got to a group of young men who blocked my path until the last minute and said to me “you can ring my bell love”. It’s amazing how your mood changes from happy and carefree to belittled and foolish. I yelled back “I’d rather ring my own, fuck off” but it didn’t make me feel better and it just made them all laugh. Funny to them, humiliating and upsetting for me. They ruined my nice day.
    I feel your pain sister because I know it well.

  22. Alyson says:

    There seems to be something about cycling while in possession of a vagina that attracts street harassment. Last week I was out on my bike, and got physically grabbed by a pedestrian when I indicated.

    I was at the back of a queue of two or three cars at a junction, with both hands on the handlebars because I had just pulled the brakes. Another car came round the corner behind me, so I stuck my arm out again just to be really clear to the driver about which way I was planning to go, and this man on the pavement took my arm in both hands. I shook him off and gave him a death glare (I was too shocked to think of anything to say, and knew that I’d probably get arrested if I hit him with my D-lock), so he pulled a “hurt” face and said “but I thought you were reaching out to me”. He and his friend proceeded to wet themselves laughing just as the traffic started moving again and I cycled off feeling humiliated and utterly creeped out.

    • Christina says:

      “Cycling while in possession of a vagina” is my new favourite phrase and I shall be using it a LOT in future. I hope this is ok.

      • Alyson says:

        Feel free, although as a feminist I am duty bound to point out that there are many other things one can do “while in possession of a vagina”.

  23. Kat Arney says:

    I feel your pain. I’m quite busty and often get blokes shouting things like “oooh you’ve got big tits!” at me (like I hadn’t noticed?). Sadly, the obvious retort – “ooh you’ve got a tiny penis!” – only comes to me when I’ve cycled off with a shameful red face.

  24. Fuckwits, all three of them. Sorry so many of my gender seem not to have moved out of caves yet.

  25. Saw this posted on Twitter and just had to comment. As said earlier, it’s ridiculous that people feel it is acceptable to shout at someone in this way, whether male or female. What makes it worse, in my opinion, is that many of the people who make these kinds of comments genuinely think that they are being flattering, and that you should be grateful. I find it disgusting and shameful.

    I’ve actually had quite a few comments thrown at me of that nature, and the sad thing is that a male who comments on this usually gets even more ridicule than a female and it some people actually almost manage to convince you that being upset about it is out of line. It’s completely unacceptable to make comments of that nature to anyone regardless of sex. Some people should just be sealed in a box and dropped in the ocean.

  26. Maximilian H says:

    I am always hugely impressed with women who cycle in London as they have to overcome the sense of frailty common to all urban cyclists but are also vulnerable to this lame but intimidating kind of harassment.

    To all those that curse their slow wits you should be fortified in recalling that the COMPLETE IGNORE is usually in fact the best, and certainly the safest, riposte. However if you want to lay down an arsenal of one liners can I make two suggestions: ‘What would your mother say?’ and, more succinctly, ‘Thanks Pee Wee’ convey two different but equally useful sentiments.

    If you are ever touched, groped, or otherwise manhandled can I suggest that you do notify the police IMMEDIATELY. My experience of prosecuting sexual offences suggests that ‘minor’ assaults are often a prelude to much more serious incidents and you would very likely be doing another woman a favour in having the scumbag brought to book before he starts getting rapey. The police are a lot more sympathetic to these sorts of complaints than they once reputedly were.

    If you find that you are being groped in a tube crush or some other press of bodies may I suggest seizing the perv’s hand, holding it aloft and proclaiming at the top of your voice: ‘Put your hand up if you’re sexually assaulting me!’

    It falls to all to educate our sons and those of others that these sorts of comments and this sort of conduct is NEVER acceptable and is NEVER a compliment. Once they’re driving white vans it is far too late for education.

  27. Thanks for writing this

  28. Lisa Hughes says:

    Great post, Christina. We’ve all been there! I have to agree with Popsexology though, my heart sank a tiny bit when I got to the “I woke up and it was all a dream” ending. I’m admittedly gobby and will always answer back or tackle anyone (men or women) who are rude. I would prefer if they didn’t do it in the first place, but, through experience I’ve learnt that I just go home and kick myself for letting them away with it if I keep quiet so yes, I do feel better if I answer back. If less women responded by fluttering their eyelashes and taking crap like “lucky saddle” as a compliment then these morons might just learn to keep their vile opinions to themselves. Here’s hoping…

    • Christina says:

      Hey man, sorry to disappoint with my account of what actually happened on my way to work, but… that’s actually what happened. I’m not ashamed of my reaction (or lack thereof). I’m pretty gobby myself, but even with hindsight I still see that I was powerless in that situation. I’m not convinced, even after writing myself a script, that anything I could have said would have changed that.

      Having said that, I’m by no means throwing in the towel. Writing this post was a way for me to express my frustration with what essentially was a very unequal situation.

      Do you think that some women DO flutter their eyelashes and take strangers’ insults as compliments? That thought never occurred to me, but then I do live in a bubble almost entirely populated by exceptionally emancipated women. Maybe it’s a bit like email spammers. It must be working on SOMEBODY, otherwise why would they keep doing it?

  29. sarahamilton1975 says:

    Beautifully written

  30. red says:

    really wonderful quote here…keep cycling sisters…

    “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
    ― Susan B. Anthony

  31. blackwatertown says:

    Good post. As if cycling through London wasn’t bad enough.
    The noting down of company name and reg number isn’t a bad idea.
    Or perhaps a bit of telling off but more in sorrow than in anger – the leering eejit might feel less defensive and more ashamed. Though be ready to cycle off quick just in case they take being challenged very badly indeed.

  32. MichaelEdits says:

    I’m the white guy who’s been bicycling in Hanoi for the past year. I get lots of negative commentary too. I know I react far too much, Just keep riding. Even with a busted brake cable.

    • mtumcemergingworship says:

      Actually, I’m the old white guy who has been attacked on bicycles (and motorcycles years ago) from the mid-west to the east, and now in the south in the US. People in cars believe people on bicycles are vulnerable and so they attack – verbally, and even once, right in front of me, using a car to strike down a female on a bicycle. Cars breed something odd in people, lots of people, who swear, blow horns, swerve to hit you, scream and throw all sorts of stuff. Thanks for the therapy from all of my new UK friends on how to learn to control my temper when in these situations. I have been known to take on a carload of 4 teenagers, when I caught them on my road bike… Guess that doesn’t fit my blog of emerging worship issues, but some times I just can’t understand what gets into people. Thanks for the post!!

  33. Haha brilliant! You are clearly a hero and for that I shall follow you x

  34. Pingback: Cyling in London / Things I wish I’d said pt.2 | D for Dalrymple

  35. Pingback: Reflective Girl

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