(Inspired by, and complementing, this post by the excellent Penny as well as the countless tweets, blogs, articles and books that highlight & call out this sort of thing.)
When out running, I’ve been harassed by adults, teenagers & children. When in groups & alone, from groups of men & from lone men. Sworn at, sexually harassed, told to run faster, told that running is bad for you, told to cheer up, called fat, called a bitch, & fairly often it’s just random noises.
I don’t know any women who haven’t experienced this. 32 per cent seems a bit of a low figure.
Two occasions that stick in my mind are when it was from people in their works vehicles – & it sticks in my mind because I reported it to their employer both times. Did it make a difference? No idea. It’s not the sort of thing that gets followed up. Because it doesn’t really matter, stop being so sensitive, get over it, just ignore them.
Sometimes they don’t say anything but physically try to block your path or push you or make you jump. This is sometimes worse, & it’s difficult to not over-react when kids do it because the instinct is protecting yourself & it can happen too fast to tell. (I feel relatively bad about one time I decked a girl of about 12, but maybe it’s stopped her from arsing about & being an idiot to strangers.)
Again, I’ve heard a lot of excuses: they’re just being silly, get over it, they’re not trying to hurt you. But there’s a lot of articles like this one, about how to defend yourself when out running if you need to, which doesn’t quite fit with that attitude.
It’s often a difficult choice between an isolated route where I’m less likely to see anyone but generally less safe, or a busier route where sheer volume of people means harassment is more likely but it’s fundamentally safer. It can happen anywhere though. I do as much as I can to keep myself safe. I always tell someone where I’m going & how long I intend to be, or I send a link to Garmin Livetrack. I only wear headphones in daylight & on reasonably populated routes. I run with friends as much as I can. But most often, I modify the route I take, running down busier main roads rather than quieter canal towpaths, or going out earlier or later than I’d like. I change my behaviour based on the potential behaviour from others.
This does happen to men too, as Penny’s post notes. It’s something I’ve discussed with folk at Frontrunners a few times, & I know several men who have been assaulted or harassed when out running (or walking) who as a result don’t use certain routes or go to certain places. Part of what I like about Frontrunners is that we keep each other safe by default & I’ve been able to explore some more isolated routes on club runs, or run in the dark or the early morning & feel a bit more safe. But the entire point of running as an exercise/hobby is its simplicity and ease – I should be able to wake early & head out for a run before work, or explore a new area when I’m working away or on holiday, without weighing up the options & deciding how much of a risk to take.
People still make comments when we’re running in a group, but the increased numbers usually give us a bit more power. Sometimes it’s complimentary comments/supportive noises – and there’s definitely something about the dynamic of interacting with a group versus interacting with a lone (female) runner – but I will generally not acknowledge any type of comment because the tone is generally not the point. There is no need for anyone to comment on the activities of a stranger who passes them in the street, whether it’s positive or negative.
I don’t owe anyone my time.
As the Runner’s World article states, There’s no immediate, easy solution, because sexual harassment is a complex societal problem. But open and honest conversations about the issue—ones that include men as well as women—are a step in the right direction.
A good start is:
- Don’t minimise people’s experiences. A comment or incident that could be shrugged off on a good day is completely different on a bad day. People respond differently and feel differently.
- Don’t suggest things that women can do differently or change about where they run, what they wear, how they respond to harassment. I feel like this should go without saying but I have heard some well meaning advice that is ultimately misunderstanding the point. Being generally aware of your own safety is one thing, avoiding random hassle shouldn’t be necessary.
Yes, it could be worse. Penny’s post notes that this kind of thing happens on a very frequent basis and it’s easy to get used to it. The same day I started thinking about writing this post, this happened on Twitter:
Twitter for women, particularly prominent & well known women, is pretty much an endless trash fire on a daily basis, but I think anyone will struggle to deal with that level of vitriol. It’s the steep end of the scale, but it’s why dealing with the more minor end is still important. “Patriarchy chicken”, as the New Statesman article describes, challenges the way that many men feel entitled to public space. Harassing runners is an extension of that, making women feel uncomfortable in a particularly vulnerable space & often preventing them from running when and where they want.
There is no immediate, easy solution. But there are conversations to have. I like to say it with badges & pins, mostly: