Heads up: this isn’t a blog post about puppies and daisies and fireflies and food. This is a blog post about how two of the characteristics that define me most – being a runner and being a woman – sometimes together mean that I feel extremely unsafe on my own city’s streets. If that’s too heavy for you, I recommend you click out to this link instead and spend the next 5 minutes reflecting on how bad my niece looks as a lion. Cause it’s about to get real.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time, but today just felt like the right day. I can’t be sure, but mayyyybe it has something to do with someone on deck to possibly be the most powerful person in the world saying it’s OK to grab women’s bodies without their consent. Ah, the power of the live mic.
As a runner, I spend sometimes upwards of 10 hours a week on my own in New York City’s streets, often in the early hours before sunrise or as dusk settles after a full day of work. Since I’m usually running in the dark, I stay on the sidewalks, follow the traffic patterns, leave my music at home and always look both ways – even on one-way roads. So you could say I’m a pretty safe runner.
But I don’t always feel safe. That’s because every now and then, as I’m sweating up a storm during my much coveted solo time, I get harassed.
That harassment takes any number of forms. Sometimes it’s a leering old man yelling “Nice legs!” as I make my way up the Queensboro Bridge. Sometimes it’s a “Damn, girl. Wish you’d run to me that fast” as I cruise down the East River Promenade. Once (hey, I warned you I’m not sugarcoating this), it was a “Hey you! Come sit on my face!” from the driver’s seat of a white delivery van standing between my apartment and Central Park.
And that wasn’t even the worst one. The worst was when a well-dressed man on 1st Avenue reached out and groped me just two blocks from my building. I slipped away and sprinted home, but not before his hand made contact with my lower body. I hadn’t realized wearing spandex on a marathon training run meant I had given up the right to the physical privacy of my body. I guess I should read those clothing labels better.
Now, it’s not always so extreme. Sometimes it’s honking or whistling or crude gestures or catcalls, i.e. “locker room banter” that some defenders will say are meant as complements and I should take them as such. You know, since I’m getting older and at some point, the positive feedback on my appearance is going to stop coming my way.
Well, I call bullshit. Because if these were complements, I’d run past feeling uplifted and supported. But instead, these strangers’ behavior always has the same effect: it leaves my heart racing, my skin crawling and me in an immediate fight or flight mode when all I actually wanted was to exercise in peace. And all because I had the gall to participate in my favorite pastime as a solo woman.
So if you read this and are now unsure what is and isn’t OK to yell at women running by you, let me see if I can help explain where to draw the line.
- Telling a runner heading over a bridge that there’s a big patch of black ice ahead? OK!
- Telling a runner heading over a bridge that you wish you were her sportsbra? NOT OK!
- Spectating a marathon and encouraging the entire crowd with athletic-related things like “Great pace!” OK!
- Spectating a marathon and singling out one runner with physical-related things like “Great backside!” NOT OK!
- Respectfully nodding, smiling and standing aside when a woman tries to run past you in a small space. OK!
- Taking advantage of the narrowing sidewalk as an opportunity to reach out and touch said runner. NOT OK!
I realize for certain people (cough cough, Drumpf), the distinction of what is and isn’t off-limits still isn’t clear. So all I can say is this: When it isn’t, I encourage you to always err on the side of not creeping out a stranger who’s just trying to stay fit. The women runners of the world, including this one, thank you in advance.