I run. I may not be fast, and I will never be first, but I run. I prefer to run solo, reveling in those moments where I can clear my head and have inane conversations with myself about whatever random thoughts enter my mind. There are few things in my life that fill me with the kind of confidence and freedom that running does.
A few months ago, I was out for my usual Sunday morning run. I was running in my neighborhood, a couple of miles into an 8-miler, just a few blocks from my apartment in Oakland. As I turned down a side street, I passed a group of men — perhaps 5-6 of them — who were sitting in a front yard across the street from me. As I ran by them, in my peripheral vision I caught sight of one of them running towards me, as if in slow motion. My immediate thought was, “Oh shit-fuck-hell; I’m about to get attacked,” but then the man turned in the street to run parallel with me, silently staring the whole time. Seconds flashed. I was uncertain what he was doing, or why he was there, but over our shoulders I could hear the rest of the men laughing and jeering.
I was terrified. This man said nothing; he just kept running and staring at me as his friends hollered behind us. I eyed the houses we passed. Nobody else was out on the street and most of the houses seemed asleep, but I wondered if I should run up to someone’s front door and bang on it. I wondered if I should say something to the man, tell him to stop; or would saying something, would defending myself make things worse?
After a few more seconds, I decided the man wasn’t going to harm me; he was simply making fun of me. So I sped up and left him behind, the men’s laughter and ridicule trailing me.
I must admit: I cried the next mile. But I kept running.
Last year, Runner’s World posted an article entitled, “Running While Female.” The article details the varied experiences with harassment that women of all ages have while running. Nothing in the article was particularly revolutionary to me; like the testimonies of the women in the article, and the numerous comments following the article, I regularly get cat-called while running. For the most part, the harassment isn’t explicitly physically threatening; but it still makes women feel vulnerable, verbally attacked, and afraid. It can take away the very freedom that running gives us in the first place, causing us to change where we run, when we run, and how we run.
The results of the Runner’s World survey make it clear that harassment isn’t an issue that male runners, in general, face. But this is something that most female runners experience and are regularly aware of.
in her book, Flâneuse, Lauren Elkin talks about the history of women in public spaces. She talks about the notion of seeing the world versus being seen. One of the things that the flâneur revels in is his ability to move invisibly through his environment. Elkin quotes Luc Sante who claims, “It is crucial for the flâneur to be functionally invisible.” However, this invisibility isn’t something that women have. Women cannot roam without constantly being seen; ultimately, in public, filtered through the male gaze, women are often a source of mockery. Yet women’s visibility is not their own doing. Elkin writes that, “We’re not the ones who make ourselves visible.” It seems obvious to me that the female runner, like la flâneuse, is not asking for harassment; she just wants to run and run freely.
I don’t know the intentions of the men in my neighborhood. I doubt they were consciously trying to threaten or scare me. The fact is, it is so second nature for some men to tease or mock women in public that I would imagine many of them do it without even realizing its potential to cause harm. But the intentions of these men are irrelevant. It is never acceptable to proposition a woman from the driver’s seat of your car; it is never acceptable to catcall her as you pass her on the street; and it is never acceptable to chase a woman in jest down a public street while your friends hoot and holler in the background.
I was not placed on this planet for your amusement.
Many friends have asked me why I don’t run with mace. And while I would never question a woman’s decision to do so, or to do anything else to make her feel safe when running, I choose not to. For me, that would eliminate my freedom before I’ve set one foot out the door.
Nevertheless, they control me. Since that Sunday morning, I haven’t run down that street. And I doubt I ever will again.
But still, I run. I run the marina in Emeryville. I run the streets of Oakland. I run Monterey. I run Albuquerque, and I run Oregon. I run Hawaii. I run Nevada, and I run Alberta. I run New York. Michigan. Nevada. Washington. I run Puerto Vallarta. I run Switzerland. I run Ireland. I run Paris. I run still. I run.