Harassers Won’t Even Leave Women Alone While We’re Running
Apparently a lot of women runners have more trouble with street harassment than I do when I go out for a jog. The Guardian posted an op-ed today about the experiences of female runners, and it’s pretty grotesque: the author was solicited for a blowjob; women have had things thrown at them; one running blogger spawned the hashtag “whorepants” after writing about how one particular pair of lycra pants seemed to spur an inordinate amount of unwanted attention from men; and another has been fat-shamed, of course, while on her runs.
It’s tempting for me to try to parse out what I do differently than these women, as if that makes a difference, but the truth is that while men seem to take me walking outside as an invitation to let me know they want to bone me, I’ve never gotten anything more than questions about my tattoos while running (and I did a lot of running last year). But hey, maybe I just can’t hear it — I never run without headphones. Maybe I don’t see it — I look straight ahead. Or maybe I look like a wreck and definitely not stylish or put-together in my running clothes, which I’ve assembled piecemeal from old tank tops I don’t wear anymore and clearance-rack capris, in shades of black and grey. Maybe guys harass women who look very fit or women who look not fit at all, and I escape it because I fall somewhere in between.
More realistically, I’ve just gotten lucky. It’s not that I’ve never been harassed while exercising — for instance, there was an incident wherein I was biking home on a major street on the north side of Chicago, and a man biked up behind me, grabbed my ass, and when, startled, I started looking back at him and screaming expletives, he pulled a U across four lanes of traffic and biked down a side street, yelling, “Sorry!” I pulled a U and pursued him as long as I could, asking him (at the top of my lungs) why he had enough balls to grab my ass but not enough balls to get off his bike and actually look me in the face, and taunting him for being a chickenshit, which is the least he deserved.
And boy howdy, do I hope I put the fear of either god or me in him, because I do not want that experience to happen to another woman. I was not in a good place, emotionally, because I was in the worst throes of my rape-and-abuse-related post-traumatic stress disorder. I intimidated him on purpose, and if I’d caught up with him I would gladly have brought the situation to fisticuffs (I was in a “oh, please, give me a reason to fight someone” point in my life), but after I lost him, I wound up sitting in front of a church, crying. I had just wanted to get home that night. I felt unsafe in my home a lot of the time, unsafe walking around, unsafe on the train, but I had at least felt safe on my bike, and he took that away from me. The message I receive, not from any one individual man, but from all of the catcallers and street harassers I’ve ever had, put together, is that there is no time or place in which I can reasonably expect to be left alone by men to just go about my business. And there is no time or place in which I can reasonably expect that male strangers will have even the very bottom-line amount of respect that it takes not to touch me — and not just not to touch me, but not to touch sexualized parts of my body.
And running — my god, if someone had had the gall to grab my ass while I was running, as so many of the women in the Guardian’s post said had happened to them? I can imagine eventualities in which I would end up getting arrested. The harasser would be so much closer, and have so much less of a head start. It might seem like overkill to resort to physical violence in response to ass-grabbing, but personally, in that hypothetical situation, I wouldn’t like the message it would send about what was permissible to me, regarding my body, if I did anything less.
Exercising takes a fair amount of focus, and for that reason, it’s a time when women have our guards down — you know, the guards we have to build up because men who harass us, as a group, have sent us the message that we cannot reasonably expect to be left alone or even left untouched, no matter where we are. But I’m not saying, “Ladies, keep your guard up, not matter what, always!” Rather, I’m saying: Guys, is there something you think we’re supposed to be doing to deter you while all of our energy is focused elsewhere? Or maybe, as an alternative, could you back the fuck off just long enough for us to work out, to take care of our health, to attend to ourselves without having to attend to you, too?
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