I have often held secret conversations with other male runners griping about it being too easy for most women to qualify for Boston. Mind you, this was never an attempt to undermine or downplay the accomplishment that is qualifying for Boston but I always felt there should be more science applied to qualifying times between the genders. Ladies, before you skewer me for that, I’ve changed my mind. In fact, I’m down right pissed off and angry at how hard it is for women to be able to run at all.
My running career began, as it did for many, as a way to lose weight and get in shape. I really didn’t like running at first but certainly liked the effects of running as the numbers on the scale got steadily lower. Since then, running has become an outlet from stress, a place to think, a way to find new friends, and a place to be alone when I want to. I value all of these simple privileges running provides. I value the freedom of being able to don a pair of shoes, some running clothes to suit the weather, and head out to parts unknown until I am too tired to continue. I cherish the carefree hours I can spend plodding along the asphalt, remote trail, or wherever I feel like going, solo or with friends, whenever and wherever I want. What angers me is that my female running friends cannot enjoy running the same way I do.
I always knew women occasionally have to deal with lecherous comments, looks, and actions from my male counterparts and, sadly, sometimes become victims of more heinous actions. Unfortunately this is not specific to running but, as a runner, I find this intrusion into my female running friends’ precious running time greatly offensive. I know no further explanation is required for my lady running readers and I’m sure there are some male readers saying to themselves “Oh come on. It isn’t that bad”. Don’t think so? Take a few minutes to go and listen to this recent podcast from Runner’s World:
Please take the time to listen. If you don’t want to, at least review the survey results. The telling stat is that 43% of all female runners have faced harassment while running vs. 4% of men.
I listened to this on my way to work and was so angered by the actions of the male population I could barely continue to drive. I was also extremely heartbroken listening to what the ladies on the podcast had to do to plan to run. This involved everything from planning a time to meet others to run (which didn’t by itself prevent harassment), only running when a male spouse or friend could go, and even some who chose to carry weapons such as pepper spray or even firearms. As I listened I couldn’t help but think I don’t even like to have to carry a gel or bottle of water with me let alone a phone or a gun.
An interesting topic of discussion in the podcast was that of victim blaming. The discussion began around clothing choices and women either being told to dress conservatively when they run or making conservative choices of clothing due to fear of being harassed such as if just wearing a sports bra on a hot day. But subject matter expert Holli Kearl from the National Street Harassment hotline cited several reasons why clothing choices have little to do with reducing harassment. Let’s be clear: Men have NO RIGHT . . .NADA . . . NONE . . . to take lewd and inappropriate actions toward women based on what they are wearing. Lycra running shorts and a sports bra are not a sexual invitation. It is the uniform of a kick-ass runner.
I don’t want to repeat all of the valuable (and somewhat saddening) stories from the podcast but I thought I’d give an example to really highlight the differences between a man and woman going for a solo run on a hot summer day. For our purposes we’ll call them Dave and Daphne.
Conditions: 5:00a.m. Dark, hot, humid.
Dave: “It’s a beautiful morning. I think I’ll head out for a few miles along the rail trail through the woods”.
Daphne: “It’s a beautiful morning. I’d love to go for a run on the rail trail through the woods, but my running partner is away on vacation and I probably shouldn’t go out there alone”.
Dave: (writing a note) “ Honey, I’m heading out on the rail trail. Be back by 7:00.
Daphne: (drinking coffee). “Honey, as soon as it’s light I’m going to go run a few loops around the neighborhood. I’ll come by the house every 15 minutes or so.”
Dave: “It’s hot. I’m not wearing a shirt”.
Daphne: “It’s hot. I wish I could just wear a sports bra. But the last time those guys at the construction site made all sorts of stupid comments about my boobs. I guess I just won’t run by there. I’ll have to loop the block a couple more times instead. But still, I’ll wear a singlet even though it will be warm.”
Dave: “Better take some water”.
Daphne: “Water. Phone. Pepper spray. Some music would be nice. But last time I wore headphones I didn’t hear that guy coming up behind me. I don’t think he meant to scare me but he did.”
. . . . . . . .
A few miles later. . .
Dave: “7:30 pace so far”.
Daphne: “What’s my pace now? I was doing well until that guy in the car honked at me and yelled something. Now I lost my concentration.”
Dave: “Eureka! I know how to solve that support issue at work”.
Daphne: “Is that the same car!? Is he following me!?”
Dave: “This is awesome. I’m going a couple extra miles”.
Daphne: “I’d better cut it short and head home. Just in case.”
Sadly, this is probably not much of an exaggeration. I think female runners (and bikers, and walkers, and workers, and mothers, and women doing anything else in life) should be able to go about their business without unnecessary and uninvited comments, stares, whistles, or propositions and certainly without worrying about being touched, raped, or worse.
So what can we do about it? Certainly violent gender-specific crime has happened since the beginning of humanity and is obviously not specific to running. Fortunately, statistically speaking, truly dangerous actions against our female counterparts is very rare. But as men we can, at least, police ourselves. I don’t have too many male acquaintances whom I suspect would engage in this sort of stupidity toward women (none, in fact). I would suggest the same advice Holli Kearl provides in the podcast. If you hear or see lewd behavior from your male friends don’t let them believe they are being cool or manly. Tell them you don’t want to hear it. Ask them if they want someone talking to their wife or daughter like that. Unlike the men in the podcast, I was not shocked to hear the regularity with which this harassment occurs but I know in the future I won’t be afraid to say something to any jackass I hear or see exhibiting such stupid behavior. You can also learn more on the Stop Street Harassment website. Admittedly, I could only read a few of the shared stories of harassment. I am not a violent person but they made my blood boil. Had I been in earshot on any of those instances I’m sure I wouldn’t have been a silent or calm bystander. You can also make a donation to help stop gender-based street harassment.
As far as I am now concerned women qualifying for Boston or running at all are doing so under the hardest of circumstances. It saddens me to think how many ladies may have given up running due to being creeped out by an unwelcome encounter. Rather than apologize for my fellow humans of the Y chromosome club, I simply tip my hat to the ladies and hope that you never give up.