With the Daylight Savings Time firmly in effect, my post-work runs are now in the dark. So, one evening when trotting the perimeter streets of Milton, I was about to pass a woman running alone. Before I canter any further, I feel it’s important to mention the area was deserted, the streetlights were on, and houses only a short distance away. I was about to pass her, and in keeping with standard runner protocol, I harked “to your left”. To my complete surprise she turned her body away and crouched, muttered an ‘oh no’ and tensed her body. It took me a stride to realize she thought she was about to be attacked. In the most gentle and empathetic voice I could muster, I reassured her, “please don’t worry”, and carried on. I wanted to stay or say or do more, but I hesitated, thinking she may actually see me as a threat. In that moment I felt simply horrible. I was given a small glimpse into the fears and dangers women constantly live with.
Men vs women runner worries
When I head out for a run, all I worry about is hitting my paces, not getting injured and having enough water. Women have a whole different set of worries. Chief of which is staying alive. See, I understand the irony here. I’m a man writing about women’s safety. It’s something I’ve never experienced. But I understand it when women exchange knowing glances as they open up about being harassed, catcalled and followed; when they share their avoidance of certain areas; when they converse about women murdered on their runs; when they ask for company for a nighttime run; or when they discuss creepy looks from certain men.
Discussions about anti-socials on social media
Women runners on Instagram regularly post about being harassed, catcalled and honked, having to evade men following them, or carrying pepper spray along with gels and water. A woman runner on Instagram met a photographer for an NYTimes feature about women’s safety. In that half hour she was catcalled by various strangers 6 times.
2020 for female runners
Along with the regular horrors of this year, 2020 has been a terrible year for women runners. We’ve lost quite a few of them. To men. Of course, we’ve heard only about a few of them like Sarmistha Sen, Sydney Sutherland, Alexandra Nicolette Brueger, Karina Vetrano, Vanessa Marcotte. But there have been several more around the world. And countless more who’ve been ambushed or harassed while running.
How do we make women feel safe?
Harassment happens. Women know it, men should, too. Women do all in their power to be stay safe including plodding along only on well-lit, safe routes, avoiding headphones, running with company. Men should be outraged it’s as pervasive as it is. The ones doing the harassing need to understand their actions are a big deal. It’s not complimentary. Men need to start getting angry, not surprised, when others whistle or make lewd comments at women. Awareness and understanding from men will improve the reality of women runners, rather than the usual cliched safety tips that put the onus on women.
Note: At Runners of the Six, we want to acknowledge that violence is experienced by different runners of a variety of identities including gender, race and sexuality. This article speaks to the specific experiences of cis women as reported in media, statistics and research. Gender is a spectrum and there are several ways people identify. We also acknowledge that non-binary and trans individuals undoubtedly experience violence as runners.