THE BLOG

Today, I Wore a Dress

25/08/2015 11:14 BST | Updated 24/08/2016 10:59 BST

Today I wore a dress to cycle to work. When I stand up the dress comes just above the knee, when I sit down it rides up slightly - for this reason (and because it's bloody windy today) I'm also wearing cycling shorts, so I don't flash my knickers as I cycle around London.

Still, this precaution may as well have been in vain. Because it didn't stop about 20 or so men trying to look up my skirt at various points during my 25 minute cycle to work.

In fact, it doesn't really matter what you're wearing as a female cyclist - a longer skirt, shorts, jeans, gym clothes, a bin bag - you'll still get unwanted attention from men with the horn asking you to "ride them like you ride your saddle" at 7:30am.

And these men aren't just men in white vans - although my route to work means a fair few of them are - the unwanted attention comes from all different guys: men walking, men waiting for the bus, men cycling alongside me; men wearing hard hats, men wearing suits, men wearing jeans; men on their own, men with their colleagues and even - most bizarre of all - men with their wives, girlfriends or children in tow.

I didn't count how many men stared, honked or hollered at me this morning. I wish I had, because I'm almost certain I've underestimated - I think the number is far higher than 20. It's not an unusual experience, it happens to me every day, but there was something about this morning that made me have to say something.

This isn't an opportunity for me to brag about how many lads had a look at me this morning. Far from it. It's an attempt to highlight just how much sexism women experience when doing something completely normal, such as cycling to work to earn 22% less than them per year, on average.

It's no co-incidence that earlier this week my editor Poorna Bell also blogged about being objectified by men - being told to "smile, love" at a petrol station is no way to attract a woman you fancy. She was at a petrol station filling up her car - lucky us, sexism happens even in the most mundane places.

In short I felt violated: violated by individual men, violated by the patriarchy, violated even by my own fleeting, pre-conditioned thoughts that maybe my dress was a bit too short to cycle in. (It's not, by the way, I'm not "asking for it".)

Just over three years ago, Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism project to highlight the casual sexism experienced by women around the world on a daily basis - catcalling is the project's bread and butter. Now, it's a global movement operating in 18 countries and attracting media attention around the world.

The battle is far from over. While I anticipate getting tweets and messages of support for writing this blog from women (and men), I am also prepared to receive abusive messages telling me I have had a sense of humour failure or am a prude (mostly, but not exclusively from men).

This second guessing before opening your mouth is part and parcel of being a woman. That's why I don't stop in front of one of the aforementioned men and give them a piece of my mind or throw a heavy rock in their direction. Because while men feel they have the right to exercise power over our bodies, they also try to reserve the right to exercise power over our mouths - it's intimidating to stand up as an individual, we are stronger collectively.

And it's not just trolls or horny strangers that commit or try to shrug off tales of casual sexism, it also comes from our male friends, our family, our colleagues. Women need support from men closest to us if we are going to make changes.