#MeToo – Women Runners’ Experiences of Sexual Violence, Assault and Harassment

The #MeToo hashtag has dominated our social media feeds lately, and rightly so. Created to bring awareness to the significant and consistent sexual violence, harassment and rape that women have been — and are — victims of on a daily basis, the #MeToo movement has given women a platform to share their stories, even including four United States senators.

Our mission at Salty Running is to create a safe space where we can share our stories and build a community that empowers us as runners and as women. We share our #MeToo stories today not to scare you or as proof that running is just too dangerous for women. We’ve moved past perceptions that women can’t run because they are not physically able or because it is not safe for women to be alone. Indeed, the prevalence of #MeToo stories across social media indicates that it is often simply dangerous and precarious to be a woman, and running does not increase our risk of harassment or attack. We’re just as likely to be harassed at work, the gym, in the subway or online.

We’ve written before about the prevalence of harassment women runners experience on the run, from honking and catcalling to physical assault. We share our #MeToo stories today because we view it as critically important to continue to raise awareness that daily, persistent abuse, harassment and even assault continues to affect all women, not just women runners. Rape, assault, and harassment are about power, not how we look or what we wear. By continuing to run, we demonstrate that we will not be silenced. We run because we can.

We run because we must.

Shalane Flanagan, in the introduction to First Ladies of Running, describes her mother’s marginalizing experiences as a runner in the 1970s: “It wasn’t unusual for her to be pelted by cans or bottles from passing motorists.” Women’s running has come a long way since then, and certainly since men banned us from running long distances to protect our uteri. Just as our early women running pioneers paved the way for us to run, we continue to run because we know that running not only increases our self-confidence physically but increases our self-efficacy in every aspect of our lives. By continuing to run, we fight not only for ourselves but for our future.

We will not be silent. We will persist.

As a group of women runners writing primarily for other women runners, we know that we are not telling you something you didn’t already know. Harassment and fear have become burdens that we accept and carry with us as we run. Bergamot shared her story of assault on the run earlier this year. Meanwhile, I, Cilantro, have yet to have a run outside in my new home without a least a honk; more often than not this is accompanied by catcalling. For a few runs last year, I was followed by a large white van. My story, these stories, are not unique.

This is not okay.

While the #MeToo movement is not a solution in itself to the problem of violence against women, it is important that we recognize and acknowledge how common these experiences are. Sexual harassment, rape, and assault are never our fault, no matter what we are wearing, where we are running, or who we are running with. Too long, women have been silenced or ignored. But now, as the #MeToo movement helps us tell our stories to a broader audience, ignorance is no longer an excuse — not that it ever was a valid one.

The burden for change is not on women runners. We do not need to change what we wear, where we run, who we run with or what we carry. Instead, men must stop assaulting and harassing women. All of us must stop accepting and normalizing violence and silencing the voices of the victims. We will not be silent.

Nevertheless, we run.

Nevertheless, we persist.

The following stories detail just a few of the harrowing experiences Salties have had on the run and may be triggering for those who have experienced sexual assault or harassment.

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Ultrarunner, yoga teacher, academic, and feminist. I write about ultrarunning, feminism, and the intersection of running and life.

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6 comments

  1. I hate that you have to write this, but I am glad you did. The attitude that allows for this is so ingrained in our society, that it is difficult for most people to even see… “that’s just how it is”. If we don’t point it out, it’ll never be noticed or changed. That being said, once you do start calling guys out on their behavior you quickly go from being “nice” to “bitchy”.

    This happens more at work than when I am running. I work in a male dominated field that often requires working in remote locations. By 1 year into my career I had to report two guys for harassment who just wouldn’t leave me alone no matter how I asked. There were numerous others who were a little less persistent. About this time, a co-worker (guy) told me “you know, you were this really nice girl when you started, now you’re kind of a bitch”. At the time, that bummed me out and it felt like I couldn’t win. Now I am proud of the label, I hope it makes them think “don’t f**king mess with her”.

    1. Good for you for reporting them! Sorry you have to deal with them, though. I’m with you — I’d rather the bitch you don’t mess with than the girl taking their shit.

  2. Every day, I hear another story. Yesterday it was Kevin Spacey. This morning it’s the NPR New Chief. If every man who has ever sexually harassed someone got a news story for it, the news would be even more full of jerk guys than it already is, and I’m not sure how that’s possible. It’s never-ending. But maybe, just maybe, we can build up enough momentum that some men will think twice. Maybe we can plant our feet, take a stand, and push back. Push back against institutional sexism, push back against harassment being something we almost expect when we try to advance our careers, push back against men who think we’re out there running for their personal gratification (both by ogling us, or by us being in shape to look more attractive to them). Maybe.

    All we can do is try.

    1. I am so disappointed everyday as we learn about more prominent men who have abused, harassed, and raped others (not just women). It demonstrates a systemic problem and, more clearly than before, illustrates that this is about power. Every day, every time we call it out, every time we run, every time we refuse to be silent, we chip away and someday, hopefully soon, we’ll break through.