Men behaving badly
Earlier this fall, I was in a loud Italian restaurant, struggling to take part in the conversation at my end of a long table as food literally rained down around us, platters and trays filling almost every square inch of table, and still more food on the way.
It was in the epoch that could be known as pre-Ghomeshi - Jian Ghomeshi had not yet been fired from the CBC, the allegations about his treatment of women not yet revealed publicly, the public discussion not yet begun.
At the table, the conversation was as varied as the food: there was a dispute about federal fisheries science, about dealing with the incredible volume of noise in a restaurant comprised completely of hard surfaces, about whether one more spoonful of risotto could actually cause a person to explode. Then, at my end of the table, the talk turned to running.
At first, I thought I might have something to add, because I ran for a long time, and I thought I could trot out my story of running after dark on a narrow St. John’s street and being clipped by a pickup truck mirror - a truck that didn’t even slow down, let alone stop.
But the more I listened, the more I realized I was a true outsider in the conversation.
The runners, all women -a writer, a publicist, a publisher and a singer - were talking about safe routes for running: the places they’d learned they could run with the least fear, the fewest catcalls, the lowest ratio of creeps to kilometres.
In St. John’s, all I really worried about was finding the route with the fewest hills - a difficult task, but not a scary one. The discussion was a bit of an eye-opener, but not that unex- pected. After all, it’s the same kind of discussion you hear from women when they talk about walking in cities: knowing your surroundings, having to be alert.
But then, the discussion took a turn for the bizarre.
One of the women said offhandly that “then, there are the men exposing themselves.”
The quartet of female runners nodded among themselves. “That doesn’t really happen,” I said. Well, yes, apparently it does. Regularly. Every single one of the four runners had experienced exactly that. Every single female runner at my end of the table had experienced seeing a man pull his penis out of his trousers and wave it at them. Outside. In public.Without a care in the world.
And not just once. One outlined how she’d experienced that particularly charming and threatening come-on three different times in her time running.
Since then, every time I’ve told that story, I’ve been told another chapter in a growing creepshow: women runners who have been followed for blocks by slow-moving men on bicycles, by vehicles, by male runners creeping up far to close behind them. (Try riding a bike slowly enough to follow a runner. You’re not doing it accidentally.) Lewd offers and comments -occasional violent threats.
What’s the whole message? There are far different kinds of experiences, depending on your gender. And perhaps we should all stop and take a turn in someone else’s running shoes. Right now, it just makes me feel part of a particularly icky gender.