On Running While Female

19 Dec

I wrote this post for my running blog, chafingisreal.com, but thought it was a good crossover. And no one reads that blog, anyway. (But you should! I mean, if you feel like it.)

This morning I was met with the following post made in a running group I am a member of on Facebook (I shortened it slightly, italicized it and added the bolding for emphasis):

I’ve always been told to be careful while running alone but I never thought that anyone would actually want to target me as long as I remained in motion running. It sounds naïve… I credit growing up in the city with being street-smart and experienced in dealing with strangers. Yesterday however, was different. I found myself flagging down a police car outside PP and crying about an incident that happened on my run. I had started my run at dusk around ~4:45 and planned on running my usual route… I was about 200 meters from my turn-around point… when I spotted a group of about 6-7 guys “jogging” together on the road in the opposite direction. I thought they must be from nearby HS track team… I continued running. WE continued running, running in opposite directions. A few seconds later I heard rustling in the leaves behind me and I quickly turned around to find two of the guys sneaking up behind me…the two guys had made it about 15ft from me when I realized they were there and the rest were about 10 meters behind those guys, spread out in an envelope-like fashion as if they were about to encircle me. I took my headphones off and locked eyes with the guy in front of me carefully backing out toward the road slowly and he goes “Miss do you have the time?” pointing to his wrist. I nodded side-to-side not sure what I was trying to indicate but I was just too terrified at the time to speak…I proceeded to back away towards the road when the guy replied “No, you don’t have the time?” This time he pointed to the phone on my armband and the group proceeded to narrow in. That is when I started to run… a few hundred meters had never felt so far and I’d never felt so threatened and hopeless. I wondered what would have happened if I was farther from an entrance or if I was listening to music rather than a podcast with pauses in it…I’m terrified of running in the park now.

And now I sit here at my computer, a little heart broken and a little afraid. But more than either of those things, as I sit here in the safety of my own home, I am extremely fucking angry. So permit me a rant, will you?

Listen, I get it. I am a woman. I have friends who are concerned about me running alone in the dark. To appease them, I tend to choose a crappy run on city streets, donning my reflective running gear so that the hundreds of cars that will accompany me on my journey know I am there. I breath in the exhaust fumes rather than the clean(er) air of the park; listen to the honks of cars, trucks and buses rather than the night sounds of the lake. But I shouldn’t have to. None of us should. That it feels like a safer bet to run in traffic than to run in a park is absurd. We are less afraid of being hit by a car than we are of being physically, emotionally, or sexually assaulted by a man, or a group of men. These fears aren’t just mere relics of our high school sex ed classes where we as women were taught to fear strangers rather than men that we know, to always travel in groups, to take precautions to protect ourselves from attack. These fears are real because there is actually a group of young men marauding around the park in the evenings, preying on solo female women, changing them forever.

Because believe me, this sort of scare changes you.

The fear creeps in and it never really goes away. Flashbacks seemingly come out of nowhere. You find yourself second guessing things you say, things you do, places you go. You find yourself looking over your shoulder. You find yourself changing what you think people are capable of, what they are capable of doing to you, how far they will go.

And you know what? I am fucking sick of victims always having to be responsible for our own safety. I am pissed off at the fact that many people, reading about her experience, will immediately ask themselves why she was wearing headphones at night, why she was running alone, why she didn’t take better care when the real question should be why didn’t those men simply not try to attack her? I am pissed off that we live in a society in which 6 or 7 young men thought it was a reasonable idea to scare someone half to death, and for what? A cell phone? So now she walks around the world being afraid and they just go ahead and try to do it again to someone else, like it’s nothing. Because we are so weak, so vulnerable, and no matter how many precautions we take we still don’t take enough. Because we have it coming. Because we owe something to men. Because it is our job to protect ourselves, to take self-defense classes, to run with pepper spray, to make sure we have buddies to walk us home or cab drivers who wait outside to make sure we get into the house okay. It is our job to stay sober at parties and guard our drinks, or to protect our friends who don’t do either. It is our job to ask men, over and over again, to put on a goddamn condom. And when we don’t do these things, people wonder what we were thinking.

We were simply thinking that we are human beings in a world full of human beings. Dreaming that we are on equal footing.

So, yea, clearly the reality is that running alone at night is not safe. But it is just so god damn fucked up that it isn’t. And honestly, I am sick of taking precautions on top of precautions. I am sick of it all being on us. And I am sick of that still not being enough. I am sick of that split second of doubt after something happens to me because I am female where I run through everything I did and wonder what I did wrong. What I did to deserve being spit on, being yelled at, being assaulted. I am sick of feeling that what makes life so dangerous and difficult for me and all other women is something we had no say in.

But it is.

And it shouldn’t be.

But I guess I will go back to running on the streets, to not wearing headphones, to not making eye contact after dusk, to not smiling at strangers, to traveling in groups, to not getting drunk, to always being alert, to being careful about what I wear, what I say, where I go and when. Sounds fun, right? I guess we all ought to just continue to be afraid so that men, and of course this does not apply to all of them, can continue taking what they believe they are entitled to, be it our bodies or our belongings or the safety of our fucking exercise regimes. And then, after they do that, we can combine the fear and anger that we feel upon being threatened or assaulted and combine that with the blame hoisted upon us for our own experience. Because having the experience, living through and with the experience, isn’t enough. We also are expected to apologize for it.

And to the woman who had this experience, I am so, so sorry you went through that and that you will continue to go through it for some time. I am so glad that you managed to escape without physical harm. And I hope that one day soon you feel safe running again.

Happy, and safe, miles, friends.

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