Thoughts About Run­ning

Keep Call­ing It Out

Canadian Running - - CONTENTS - By Madeleine Cum­mings

I was run­ning quickly on a res­i­den­tial street in my neigh­bour­hood when the striped lrt gates swung down, forc­ing me to stop. A car pulled up be­side me and a smil­ing man stuck his head out the pas­sen­ger-side win­dow. “Do you know how to get to North­gate?” he shouted. Re­mov­ing an ear­bud, I told him the shop­ping mall was far from where we were and in the op­po­site di­rec­tion from where his car was head­ing. He feigned con­fu­sion. “Can you show us?” he asked, wear­ing a dopey ex­pres­sion that in­di­cated he knew the mall’s lo­ca­tion. “Come on, are you busy now?” For the next few min­utes, I prayed for the lrt train to pass as the man com­pli­mented my smile, told me he wanted to get to know me and tried to per­suade me to get in the car. Fi­nally, the gates rose and I ran away. This kind of in­ter­ac­tion is atyp­i­cal. Usu­ally, men whis­tle or honk as they drive by, or they fire off a few words about their body part of choice. “Nice shoul­ders.” “Nice ass.” “Nice legs.” “Nice tits.” (Whether or not breasts are large or ac­tu­ally vis­i­ble is ir­rel­e­vant, I should note. One could be wear­ing a com­pres­sion sports bra, thick sweat­shirt and rain-jacket, and men would still as­sume large breasts are un­der­neath.)

The more so­phis­ti­cated cat-caller uses full sen­tences: “You don’t have to run away from me, girl!” “Why are you run­ning? You don’t need to lose weight.”

The line I won’t for­get came from a man on a side­walk in New York City.

“You’re fried chicken with pud­ding on the side!” he ex­claimed.

Headphones can block out ha­rass­ment, but not al­ways suc­cess­fully – once I was

cat-called while lis­ten­ing to a song about cat-call­ing – and wear­ing them can be dan­ger­ous in heavy traf­fic ar­eas.

In­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism and the mo­men­tous Me Too move­ment brought main­stream at­ten­tion to the amount of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault women face at work, at school and in sport. It seems that aware­ness, at least among men, is in­creas­ing as more women speak up. What has yet to change is the cul­ture that al­lows ha­rass­ment to hap­pen.

For many women, run­ning is one of the purest forms of free­dom. The run­ner de­cides her route and her pace. For a short time, she es­capes work and other obli­ga­tions of mod­ern life. It’s al­ways an­gered me that a man can roll down his win­dow and spoil that with one com­ment. When it hap­pens, I’m re­minded that men can ob­jec­tify women in this way and get away with it ev­ery time. We don’t run these streets, after all – we’re re­duced to our body parts, on dis­play for oth­ers. And for those with skin that isn’t white or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion that isn’t straight, I’m sure it’s much worse. I can only imag­ine.

The prob­lem is wide­spread. In 2016, an on­line Run­ner’s World sur­vey of more than 4,000 run­ners re­vealed 43 per cent of women at least some­times ex­pe­ri­enced ha­rass­ment dur­ing their runs. Com­pare that with just four per cent of men.

Elite run­ners aren’t im­mune. Kara Goucher has said that cat­calls and whis­tles were com­mon­place dur­ing her train­ing. After be­ing fol­lowed for the first time, dur­ing an evening run in Lake Ta­hoe, the cel­e­brated Amer­i­can dis­tance run­ner sprinted back to her ho­tel room. She had night­mares that night.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Cana­dian data from a 1993 sur­vey on vi­o­lence against women found that street ha­rass­ment from strangers af­fected how women per­ceived their own safety. Fur­ther­more, the ma­jor­ity of the Run­ner’s World sur­vey re­spon­dents con­cerned about safety said they took mea­sures to pro­tect them­selves, such as run­ning with a phone ( 73 per cent), run­ning only dur­ing the day (60 per cent) and chang­ing run­ning routes (50 per cent).

Cat-call­ing is more than an an­noy­ance – it con­vinces women to re­strict their be­hav­iour in ways men do not. I’m sure that in time there will be more re­search on the psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal ef­fects of street ha­rass­ment. Per­haps women would be fit­ter if more hours of the day were safe for out­door ex­er­cise.

I don’t of­ten talk about street ha­rass­ment be­cause it’s a mo­men­tary an­noy­ance that’s dif­fi­cult to re­port. As far as sex­ist acts go, it’s more triv­ial than oth­ers. And I know that for the most part, Cana­dian cities are safe places for women to run alone. I may feel scared as I run at dusk, but I know there’s a much higher chance of get­ting hit by a car than as­saulted by a stranger.

That said, as the Me Too move­ment con­tin­ues, I think it’s more im­por­tant than ever to talk about ha­rass­ment – how­ever small the act – be­cause it keeps hap­pen­ing. Un­til cat-call­ers shut up, I’m go­ing to keep a line from Run­ning for Women, Kara Goucher’s 2011 train­ing man­ual, in mind: “Run tall, run strong and make eye con­tact,” she wrote. “If you do this, peo­ple will be less likely to mess with you.”

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