Run Girl, Run
Recently I began running again. I used to be a voracious runner hitting the trails as often as I could, I was never afraid to run anywhere and often would get up and jog through the park early in the morning or after dark. Unfortunately, due to a car accident, I had to cool it on my running for a little while and frankly got off track. I loved to run, but between work, my recovery and other factors it fell to the side and my shoes got dusty.
A few weekends ago, I picked it back up. I tied up my trainers and hit the streets. Then it happened. A car fun of men pulled up beside me and began cat-calling at me. At first, my reaction was to roll my eyes and carry on. From time to time this happens. Unwanted approaches occur to all women at some point or another. The catcalls, the cheesy pickup lines. This, however, was different. I carried on my route, and they caught up to me at a stop light. I decided to be the bigger person and ignore them, they continued to follow me until they reached a stop sign and one of them got out of the car and approached me to 'ask for my number.' This was a first. I've been approached at the gym before, but a simple sorry not interested has always sufficed. I can safely say that this was one of the first times as a runner I have ever felt threatened, I was on a busy street at 1 PM in the afternoon and I was terrified. The men outnumbered me, they had a car, I only had my Nikes. I not so gently told him where to go while planning my exit route, and he revered back 'why are you running outside if you aren't asking for it?' I'm sorry, what exactly am I asking for aside from a decent summer bod?
They finally drove off and I continued on my run. I was at that tricky halfway point where it was easier to continue on than to run home. but I couldn't shake the feeling of being violated. The sense that I was asking to be harassed while exercising. That I had done something wrong by running that sunny Saturday, I ended up not doing a longer run that day and headed home back into the safety of my own nest. I messaged a few fellow runners about this, and almost all of them had a similar story: cat calls, being hit on, even a gut turning story of an ass slapping.
I began thinking harder about this interaction and kept trying to breakdown what I did wrong. Was I dressed in a way that would attract attention? Did I make eyes at the men in the car while stopped at the light? Did I once meet them somewhere that would make them act this way towards me? The more I thought about it, the more I realized I did nothing wrong. THEY were in the wrong. THEY threatened me. THEY made me feel less than them, and THEY will probably do this again.
Low-level assault is a problem that we haven't talked a lot about during the year of Me Too. We talk about indiscretions in the workplace, we rapidly call out people who have bad behaviour, but we don't seem to chat about this kind of behaviour, the more anonymous smaller interactions that women have to deal with on the regular. While I wasn't physically harmed in this incident, I did feel violated. I felt unsafe; I felt like I had done something wrong. Generally, we tell these stories to our friend as a 'thing that happened the other day' and try to put it out of sight and out of mind. We try to be the bigger person and move on with our lives. I'm done moving on with my life. Actions speak louder than words, and these men's actions were loud and clear.
Since this incident, I hope my actions have also been clear. I refuse to live my life in fear and refuse to let this incident stop me from doing something I love. This incident could have ended much worse for me. They could have pulled me into the car; he could have had a weapon or just hit me. It could have been worse. When I think back on this with a clear head, I always think of what I should have done. I should have gotten his license plate number. I should have flagged someone down. I should have simply run away and reported it. And while I did feel threatened, I also think I did the right thing. I kept my distance. I didn't go in fists flying. I somewhat kept my cool.
The more I talk about this interaction, the more I hear others stories. We need to talk about these issues, so we know we are not alone. We need to discuss how to create the change and not just sit idly by. Let's support each other out there in this big world and hopefully, people will begin seeing our actions and listening to our words.