33% of women say they’ve been harassed while out running, columnist Lucy Vine says she’s surprised the figure isn’t higher.
Full disclosure: I’ve put on a little weight over Christmas. Christmas 2015. But any day now, I’m going to get back into my exercise routine, and become super super glisteningly healthy. ANY DAY NOW. What I’m not going to do though, is get back into my running.
I used to be a person who ran. Or jogged, to be more specific. A couple of years ago I jogged everywhere; home from work, to yoga classes, up escalators. It was lovely and satisfying and also – thanks to the comments and intimidation I would get from passing strangers – often pretty humiliating and horrible.
This week, England Athletics, who spearheaded a campaign called This Girl Can Run, polled 2,000 female runners about their experiences out there. They found that more than a third of British women have been harassed while out running. In addition, over 60% said they feel anxious when running alone, and half are concerned about their personal safety. Matt Birkett, the organisation’s head of running participation, commented: ‘We are constantly examining why people choose to run or not. It was shocking to find that such a large proportion of women surveyed have had an unpleasant experience when running alone.’ Twitter took the stats and ran with it (pun intended), sharing depressingly familiar stories of harassment.
‘While running I have been shouted at & beeped at by men in vans, spat at, stone thrown at me from car by child.’
‘I stopped running because of it. Men in cars beeping horns, shouting obscenities, blocking my path. No fun.’
‘The last time I went running alone, someone in a passing car threw an egg at me.’
Others discussed how they’d joined gyms to avoid this kind of shit, or started running with dogs, or groups of other people. England Athletics announced the launch of a RunTogether initiative, encouraging women to join running clubs across the country to combat these kinds of concerns. But, much as I admire their efforts, I don’t want to run with other people. And I don’t have a dog. Plus, all I’ve ever achieved in a gym is walking in a semi-circle, trying not to make eye contact with the scary dudes in the weights’ corner. The whole point of jogging, for me, was the freedom. It reminded me of being a kid where you ran everywhere and hated the grown-ups for being so slow.
I miss it, and I am so sad I gave it up. I never had food thrown at me, but – even through my headphones – I caught most of the ‘encouraging’ comments, the jeering and leering about my body, and the general ‘hilarious’ ‘banter’, like deliberately standing in my way and laughing. The last straw for me, was when a car full of men stopped next to me to shout stuff, and then, when I ignored them, slowly drove alongside me for the next few minutes, until I was too freaked out to continue, and detoured into a nearby Tesco. That was the last proper run I went on.
I really don’t understand what it is. It’s not the clothes, surely. Aside from the Lycra hot pants of movie gyms, I’ve never seen anyone jogging in anything remotely sexy. My work-out gear is literally the PE kit I wore at school, with the occasional addition of a very alluring National Trust polo shirt I was meant to return after a summer job in 1998. It’s so old and gross, it should basically be protected by the National Trust. And, to be clear, even if I was running down the street in my bra and pants, I should be entitled to do so without judgement. I’ve certainly seen enough topless men in shorts not getting catcalled.
So what is it? It’s not funny or sexy to harass women. Surely those men didn’t think I would stop, sweat dripping into my eyes, and climb into their car for some backseat blowies? Sadly, like a lot of street harassment, I think it’s often about putting women in their place. You are outside, doing a public activity, and therefore, you are deemed public property. Running is more obnoxious than simply walking, it is more of that HERE I AM, I HAVE CONFIDENCE thing that certain people don’t like.
So, yes, I understand the impulse to offer women solutions like running clubs, and I see how that can be a wonderful option for many, but how about we also focus more on teaching cretins not to see a running woman as a running target? Until we do, I won’t be running up any more escalators.