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I'm a Woman and a Runner: That Doesn't Give You Permission to Harass Me

Maiah Miller

Arizona is a great place for running. The sunshine, the wild landscapes, the animals, and friendly people make exercising outside feel less like exercise and more like fun. But recently my fun—and my peace of mind—was shattered when a car full of men pulled up alongside me. At first, they just kept pace with me, ogling me as I tried to run a little faster to get away. Then they started yelling crude things at me. When I finally found a path I could escape down, one of them called out his parting shot: "Hey, does your boyfriend like the way you look? Because men don't like girls who exercise too much!"

It all happened in just a few minutes but it felt like forever before my heart stopped racing and my hands stopped trembling. But while I was shaken up by the encounter I can't say I was surprised. See, I'm a woman. And I'm a runner. You wouldn't think the combination would be that shocking in 2016, yet the amount of harassment I've received on my runs shows there are some people who still see these two things as permission to comment on my body, my sex life, my relationships, my life choices, and my looks. (Here, the psychology behind street harassment—and how you can stop it.)

Over the past few years, I've been catcalled regularly. I've had kissing sounds made at me, been asked for my number, told I had nice legs, had lewd gestures shown to me, asked if I had a boyfriend, and (of course) been insulted and called names for not responding to their awesome pick-up lines. Sometimes it goes beyond inept romantic attempts and they threaten my safety; recently I had a group of men yell, "Hey white bitch you better get out of here!" as I ran down a public city street. I've even had men try to touch or grab me while I'm running.

Running Harrassment

These experiences aren't unique to me—and that's the problem. Almost every woman I know has had an experience like mine. Whether we're exercising outdoors, taking a walk to the store, or even picking up our kids from school, we're reminded that as women we have to navigate our daily worlds with the knowledge that we could be overpowered, raped, or attacked by men. And while men may see their comments as "no big deal," "stuff all guys do," or even "a compliment" (gross!), the real purpose is to remind us how vulnerable we really are.

Street harassment doesn't just make you feel bad, though. It changes the way we live our lives. We wear loose, unflattering tops instead of more comfortable clothes to avoid attracting attention to our bodies. We run in the midday heat or at random times of the day even if we would rather go at dawn or dusk so we won't be alone. We leave out one earbud or forgo music altogether, to be more alert to people approaching us. We alter our routes, choosing the "safe," boring course through our neighborhood instead of the beautiful, exciting trail through the woods. We wear our hair in styles that make it harder to grab. We run with keys held Wolverine-style in our hands or pepper spray clutched in our fist. And, worst of all, we can't even stand up for ourselves. We have no choice but to ignore comments because flipping the bird or addressing them in a polite way will likely provoke more comments or even risk bodily harm. (Read up on what to know ahead of time to prevent an attack—and what you can do in the moment to save your life.)

This makes me unbelievably angry.

I deserve to be able to pursue my passion and get a little healthy exercise without fear of being attacked, without having to hear sexual comments, and without coming home crying (which I've done at least twice). I recently became a mom to beautiful twin girls, Blaire and Ivy, and this has furthered my resolve to fight. I dream of a place where someday they could head out for a run without worrying about anything, feeling confident, happy, and blissfully free of harassment. I'm not naive; that's not the world we live in—yet. But I believe that working together as woman we can turn things around. 

There are small ways we can all make a difference. If you're a man, don't catcall and don't let your buddies get away with doing it in front of you. If you're a parent, teach your kids to be confident and to respect others. If you're a woman and you see a friend, kid, coworker, or significant other make a lewd gesture or comment toward a woman, don't let it slide. Educate them that women run because we like feeling healthy, to relieve stress, to boost our energy, to train for a race, to achieve a goal, or just to have fun. Doesn't that sound like factors for just about every runner—man or woman? We're not out there for anyone's pleasure but our own. And the more people who know this and live this, the more women who will get out there run—and that's the most beautiful thing of all.

For more about Maiah Miller check out her blog Running Girl Health & Fitness.

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