Running While Female: The Brutally Honest Truth
“Run Forest, Run!”, “Hey girl, slow down!”, and “Hey girl, I’ll give you a workout!” are some phrases, along with obnoxious wolf whistles, hollers and glaring stares, that have been barked at me ever since I started running. In general, these degrading actions fly past me and I ignore them. While I have been fortunate enough not to experience physical assault during a run, I have friends that have gone through it and it infuriates me to the core. Running is supposed to be a relaxed outlet to relieve stress and advocate health and body positivity, not as a means to shame and criticize people to invoke fear and insecurity. No longer will I stay silent about the passerby that decides to make a runner paranoid with their words or the car that sits a little too long at a stop sign to check a runner out.
The double standard sadly exists within running, as accounts of sexual harassment are more prominent among women than men. For example, while running under the scorching sun, men do not have to think twice about running without a shirt, while women have to think about running with just a sports bra. “It’s too hot to run with a shirt, but I don’t want to get stared or hollered at today” is a sadly common dilemma that women face. Even if we choose to keep our shirts on (God, forbid we show our belly buttons on our run), that still doesn’t ensure that the harassing comments won’t come our way. One time, I went on a four mile run by myself and I was feeling pretty good. My pace was great and my calves weren’t sore. However, this pleasant feeling of accomplishment was rudely interrupted by a driver that yelled, “Hey, nice tits!” as he drove past. I was indeed wearing a shirt so that comment was unwarranted as it was unnecessary. I responded by keeping my eyes forward and ignoring him. Believe me, I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but I value my safety more than getting the satisfaction of telling him off and potentially getting harmed in the process.
The first time I truly felt uncomfortable during a run, it was during cross country practice during high school. I was running with my varsity team and we were coming back to campus from an intense 800m repeat workout. It was around 105℉ that day and sometime around the end of the fourth 800m, my teammates and I slide off our sweaty shirts and finished the workout running in our sports bras. As we were on our way back, we stopped in front of a random house in the residential area. My teammates and I stood and stretched in a circle. A few minutes later, my teammate yelled “Hey, what the f*ck are you doing?!” causing my teammates and I to turn around, only to see a man sitting in his parked car with his phone pointed towards us. We had no idea how long he was there sleazily recording or taking pictures of us. Even after he heard my teammate, he continued to do what he was doing. We proceeded to sprint back to the school and no one ever spoke about the incident again.
"So why don't I respond back and stand up for myself?" Because I also need to think about the social implications that come with standing up for myself and explicitly rejecting unwanted advances. In layman's terms, I don't want to get physically harmed for defending myself. Don't get me wrong, I would love to exert my my authority by speaking my mind, but current societal norms have taught me otherwise. In a society where me and millions of girls in the country have been conditioned to "not cause any more trouble" in situations where harm (either physical or emotional) is inflicted upon us, have boys been taught to not holler at other girls and women? No, at least not directly because society defines masculinity as being "dominant, powerful, and aggressive". In a society where women are shamed for speaking her mind, men are rewarded for exerting their "power" by any means necessary. Whether men honk and holler at runners to exercise authority or explicitly announce their presence, it is unjustified and it is still sexual harassment. Please stop.
Like my fellow female runners in the running community, I do take certain precautions to be safe while I am running alone, such as changing my running routes and clenching my house key between my fingers like a pocket knife. Even then, I can never fully prepare to avoid the snide comments and unsettling stares, because these are just inevitable. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. In a world where sexual harassment is often overlooked, we need to end this perpetuating cycle and lead by example. We must teach not just our children, but people around us to treat each other with respect. We must also stop justifying men's behavior by using the excuse "boys will be boys" and "some guys are just jerks". We must stop shaming women (whether consciously or unconsciously) for their decisions in what they wear. Women do have control over control our bodies, but the way other people react to our appearance is beyond our control. It is honestly not hard at all to remain silent while passing by a runner. To the people guilty of hollering at runners, instead of perpetuating harassment, use running as motivation to exercise that anger out because Lord knows that you’ll need it.