Every month when my Runner's World magazine comes in the mail, I get a little more excited than normal! It's like a bunch of nerds like me got together and created this place where we can talk about our favorite pastime. It's a community. Everyone needs community - that's why I love running so much.
This month there was an article called "The Fear Factor", in which the writer, Peter Segal chatted with Katie Prout, a runner and writer from Chicago.
Peter writes "She has brown hair, an upturned smile, and a tiny gold hoop in one nostril. She is afraid. And she is furious." And at first I wasn't sure where the article was going. At first I thought it was a feminist piece. Some little girl is mad at some man, and it'll make me feel uncomfortable. The hardcore feminists make me feel weird.
"The catcalls and shouts and whistles and "compliments" came all the time, she says, from all kinds of people - black, white, Latino, old and young. She's been harassed by old men in wheelchairs and young boys she guessed were 8 or 9 years old. Once, to her astonishment, she spun at the sound of some particularly obscene language and found it coming from an obese woman sitting on a porch, grinning at her."
And I sat there wanting to say "PREACH GIRL, PREACH". I've had countless times where I've been honked at. I've been catcalled. I've overheard "niceee" and "hey baby lookin' good!" before, after and during runs.
It's uncomfortable. It's not appreciated.
But men (and women in Katie's case) think it's acceptable. Think that I want their "praise" - their feedback.
I don't. I didn't ask for it.
I brought this up to a runner friend, who shared my sentiments (about being uncomfortable, nervous, annoyed) about the subject and once said that her significant other told her "well, that just means I have what others want". But really, it's all fun and games until someone does get hurt. Mentally, physically, emotionally - and this HAS to STOP.
Peter, the writer of the piece, goes on to say "one of the reasons I run is I want to look good. And if a woman were to shout a compliment at me - not that it's ever happened - I'd be thrilled. I guess, in the end, it might be hard for that reason for some men to understand why this is so upsetting to you." And my new best friend Katie replies with such fire - she says "Men," she said evenly, "are in danger of, at worst, being laughed at by a woman. Women are in danger of being killed by men."
Again, this is met with a "PREACH GIRL, PREACH" mentality by me. They don't realize there's violence in those words. The disgust. The lust. The hate. They are taking something that is for me and ruining it. The time when I can relax, push myself, and focus on nothing by the stretch of road ahead of me - you take that from me.
And I don't like it.
Katie echoes my thoughts by saying, "when I run, I inhabit myself to the very edges, and then I spill out and inhabit space in a way I struggle to do in my daily, less Under-Armoured way. I move with power and purpose - not like I can never be hurt, but like I am truly alive and free, in sync with my own heart beat. How dare you - father with a stroller, two businessmen out to lunch, man in a group, boy alone - how dare you take my running, this thing that has put me back into my body again, and use it to try and claim my body as yours?"
Next time you see a woman runner on the road and want to "compliment" her, don't. If you feel the need, tell her she has a nice stride or she's fast. No one ever gets tired of hearing how fast others think they are. But I don't recommend any of it, unless you know the feedback will be received graciously.
No woman, man, child - no one wants to feel uncomfortable or made to feel ungracious because of an off handed compliment or gesture - so why would that be any different on a track? Or in a race? Or on a trail?
And like my friend Katie says, "don't be a douche. I'm not here for you."
Amen sister. Amen,