The Burden of a Female Runner
I recently came across this great Runner's World article, which did an excellent job of calling attention to the harassment women often receive while running, though I am desperate to find more of a call-to-action for men out there.
You may call me sexist for for saying it is a male responsibility to change the way women are addressed while exercising, but we already do everything we safely can to deter unwanted (and unwarranted) attention while out. While I'm sure men have received undesired comments as well, the fact of the matter is that as women, we tend to be physically weaker, and we navigate our daily worlds with the knowledge that we could be overpowered, raped or attacked by men. Though there are exceptions to this generalization, men simply do not go about their outdoor fitness regimes (or every day routines) with the uneasiness that comes from knowing you are vulnerable to sexual come-ons and physical interactions.
We choose to wear loose, unflattering tops over tight tanks or sports bras when we don't feel like being ogled or yelled at.
We run in the heat or at random times of the day, when people are sure to be out and about, even if we would rather run at dawn or dusk, without having to dodge other sidewalk-goers, strollers and annoying traffic.
We leave out one earbud, or none at all, to be more alert to people approaching us.
We ignore comments because flipping the bird or addressing them may provoke further altercations or bodily harm.
We alter our run route. Though we would rather run through the forest or that lovely part of town, we'll likely change our course to the safest route.
And the list goes on. I've been catcalled, had kissing sounds made at me, been called a bitch for not responding, asked for my number, told I had nice legs, asked if my boyfriend likes how I look...the ridiculous list goes on. I'm willing to bet you, or the women you know who run have been harassed many times before. In fact, I'm sure of it. Whether or not you are a image of beauty according to society: if you have breasts, or legs, or look vaguely female, some jerk out there will make a comment whether to impress his friends, or remind you of your vulnerability.
I've put on longer shorts though my short shorts are the most comfortable for long runs, especially in the warmer months. I've put on a loose cotton T-shirt instead of the lightweight, flattering V-neck I love so much. I have worn my hair in a way that would maybe it harder to grab. I have carried my keys in my hand wolverine-style, and I have run with my finger on the pepper spray trigger.
And it makes me mad.
I want to run without fear of attack, without fear of sexual comments made, without coming home crying as I have at least twice in my life. Once when I was exploring my new Maryland neighborhood, and once in Arizona. Both times I was called a bitch; once it was directed at both my race and sex by a group of men, the other, from a man slowing down driving past in his car. In Texas, I've been whistled at, and called inappropriate names, in Oregon I have been catcalled at and called "sexy legs" when wearing my favorite shorts, and been harassed in California by men on bikes and hanging out in groups along the bike path, and had lewd gestures made at me. It has happened in literally every state I have lived in, or visited. I love America, but damn: let's treat our ladies with a little respect, mmk?
I dream of my twin girls, Blair and Ivy, being able to head out for a run in a sports bra and shorts, confident, happy and blissfully void of harassment. I'm not naive; the world will never be a completely safe place, and unfortunately there are those who wish to cause others harm, and there always will be. But as a man, if you commit to saying something to your buddy who catcalls at jogging women, that's making a difference. If you're raising children, aim to raise confident children who respect fellow humans. If your friend/teen/father/male counterpart makes a lewd gesture or comment towards a woman, do not stand for it. Speak up, and let them know it. is. not. okay. Do not ask a woman jogging her cup size or if she's single. Maybe you genuinely want to know, but she genuinely does not give a shit. She is out being healthy: relieving stress, refreshing her energy levels, maybe training for a race. She does not want to be afraid, or be made to feel small and powerless.
Maybe you don't want to call yourself a feminist because of negative connotations: for some reason, many men see feminists as woman who hate men. But we don't. At least this one doesn't. I have a wonderful husband, brothers, a great dad, and other fantastic male friends and family whom I love dearly. But I would love to have us treated equally as men, and not just in terms of equal pay for equal experience and competency in the workplace. I want us to be treated as you would treat a man casually jogging along. How often do you see a man catcalled at or made inappropriate sexual hand gestures at by women? Um, never. A guy, as several of my friends have before, might say "that would be great! I'd love that!"
I'm willing to guess though, that a man wouldn't see those comments as a funny, positive thing if he could easily be overpowered and/or raped by that same woman. It doesn't seem so great after all when you take a realistic, darker reality into consideration. I'm NOT saying men are waiting in the wings to push running women to the ground and rape them; but the simple possibility and twinge of fear that remains with many of us women out jogging alone is what makes comments, gestures and touches completely inappropriate.
Some of my fave devices for running safety: