Female Runner: The Unwanted Attention

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a look at sexual harassment at women runners Female Runner: The Unwanted Attention www.runnerclick.com

One cold Sunday morning a few weeks ago I went out for an unusual Sunday morning run.  Feeling great on a quick three miler in the cold, cloudy Southern air, wearing a pair of loose running shorts, long sleeve race shirt, gloves and a ball cap – no beauty queen. However, after the 3rd car in a row slowed down to take a look at me, up and down really well, my easy Sunday turned into an agitated one. Not because this is something new, but because the last guy who did it had his child in the passenger seat. What kind of example is he setting?

I had left our house with news of all the sexual scandals playing on our living room TV and then I walked into the world only minutes later to come face to face with more of the same garbage. As I headed home from the run it struck me so hard I felt physically moved. During my entire running career I had been dealing with this exact stuff and it had become second nature to the run, like the first aches and pains of getting started.

When It Becomes the Norm

During the summers in high school we were own our own to get runs in for cross country, and I can remember planning mine for a time when I knew the construction workers wouldn’t be working on our growing neighborhood or loading up in trucks on the road. I avert my eyes and pay attention to something else when a car with more than one man drove by. I pretended to not hear catcalls over my music.

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This was my normal. It saddened me and angered me.  And not because there was anything to be done about it, but because short of running home alone on a treadmill, my sport, our sport, takes place out in the world. It seems unfair that any attempt of attaining a goal, piece of mind, a healthy body, whatever reason anyone runs it license for people to leer, ogle or entertain themselves in anyway with my body. This behavior is out in the open because “nothing is happening”.  They are “just looking” or “being guys” or “admiring.” Or “it should be a compliment.”

Anyone who stands behind any of those claims has never felt the lump in their throat, and the fear of what if I’m not fast enough to get away or what if the street becomes empty. The list of fears is devastatingly endless.

Last winter, I was the only female running in a group of men. We had stopped at a light and while waiting at a crosswalk, a truck with three men pulled up. I looked at them, unknowingly yet inwardly sighed and busied myself with my 2 layers of gloves. My buddies on my right got agitated after a while and said under his breathe said, “I mean, really, man. You got a problem? Quit staring. ” On my left quite a bit louder you hear, “Take a picture. It’ll last longer!”  as he stepped in front of me to block me. I didn’t have the heart to tell the both it was normal. Then it crossed my mind, what freedom it is to run as a man.

The Silent Epidemic

My instances are of unfair hassles are minor compared to other incidences women have experienced.  And statistics about this in the running community are scarier. More than half of female joggers under 30 have been harassed. In what stratosphere is that ok? Half of any group of people being harassed is an epidemic. Many of these women had sexual remarks tossed at them in the dead of winter covered from head to toe. Gone are the days where “she deserved it” or “look what she was wearing” as a reason for anything.  Some people feel safer in a large city because more people are around, but unfortunately, the percentage of runners being harassed increases.  A staggering 30% of women have been followed on their run against their choosing. To put that in perspective, if you run six times a week, almost twice a week you will get followed on your route. Seems a bit invasive, doesn’t it?  I spent years feeling juvenile and weak because I was scared to go out on a run sometimes. I just had a bad feeling. Sadly statistics prove that fear is rational. Intuition is real. The concern of any runner should be nutrition and rest, not being harrassed or worse.

Sadly, these harassments, comments and calls can take the ultimate of turns and the world is left trying to making good out of very bad situation. Chelsea’s Law was passed after a 17-year-old female runner was sexually assaulted and killed while running in a San Diego park. Her California law helps put offenders who are convicted of a forcible sex crime against a minor to life in prison without parole. This sexual harassment epidemic is not limited to targeting women of a certain age, status, height, weight or any other demographic. These attacks can happen at 10 o’clock in the morning just as easily as 10 o’clock at night.  Stepping out for a run met with anything other than the elements should be something that was ditched long ago with cotton.

It’d be nice if the stand against this sexualization could be met with defiance, like running in whatever feels best in the August humidity or running alone at night.  But that sad fact is we are still dealing with this junk. Getting the topic out on the table is simply the very beginning. The hashtag #HarassedMidRun has been started to get the topic in mainstream conversation.  It’s not enough to mention our experiences and add it the #metoo movement, we need to discuss the harassment directed at women as runners until we can literally run free.