Because I am a woman, if I am in public I will get harassed at some point. It has been happening since before puberty, as I’m sure every woman on the planet can relate. When I’m running it seems to happen more often than when I’m doing anything else, and I’m fed up.
My nonrunner friends don’t understand. They just can’t relate to the volume of cat calls I’ve had to put up with. They aren’t outdoors in shorts for 20-30 miles every week in every climate. They don’t spend hours upon hours of their lives without the shelter of a house, a car or even a group, so they don’t know what it’s like to be exposed out there, often alone…and to get yelled, hollered, or sneered at every day by every lowlife loser from his car, bike, or stoop.
This experience can be so jarring. You’re having a great run and feeling strong, when suddenly some dude comes along and says something that rips those feelings right out of the air around you. What do you do? Do you just put your head down and ignore him? As for me, I’m a pro at yelling back at harassers, and I say it’s better to let ’em have it if you can! More after the jump:
If someone harasses me when I’m alone it’s obviously a safety gamble, but if I am feeling extra brave or if I can perceive that the asshole is harmless, I don’t shy away from a retort. If I am with a friend it feels much easier, and it’s more entertaining yell back with a buddy there to cheer you on. Much to my surprise, often what comes out of my mouth will be something clever.
But there’s more than one way to school a jackass.
1. The snappy comeback
These make the best stories, so I’ll give you a few examples:
When I was a brand-new 19-year old road runner training for my first half, a pack of high school-aged boys thought they could harass me in broad daylight with no consequences as I ran past them on an out-and-back. The first time I passed these jackasses-in-training, one of them said something like, “Hey. My friend likes your tits.” I paid them no mind and pushed on as they snickered.
The second time I passed them they made a comment that I couldn’t ignore. “Hey, my friend wants to f*** you.” I stopped dead in my tracks, whipped around and said, “Oh yeah? Call me when your balls drop!” I turned right around as their mouths dropped and finished out my run.
Another time, a friend and I were finishing up a workout late on a Friday evening (my favorite kind of workout). A van load of dudes pulled over to ask us, “Hey can you ladies give us some directions?” I casually replied, “Yeah, to hell?” Muahaha it makes me laugh to this day. Some of my skeptical friends asked, “What if they were really looking for directions?”
Okay. Logic time: A van-load of dudes. Pulled their car over. To ask two young women for directions. At 11pm on a Friday night.
Finally, on the snappy comeback front, one summer evening my best friend and I were running together. Summer is when the real perverts come out to play. And by play, I mean harass. Some idiot drove by and shouted out the car window at us, “Will you sit on my face?” My best friend yelled back, “Only if I can fart!” Yep, I am still laughing at that one.
2. The bird is the only word necessary.
Sometimes the best reaction is just to flip someone the bird– the classic middle finger/poker face combo. This is especially reliable when your harasser is in a car and may not be able to hear your scathing witticisms. It works especially great when you’re running on the sidewalk and some loser shouts at you from his car, and then you catch up with him at a red light. Men harassing women is so common I can only imagine other drivers immediately understand why the girl on the street is waving her middle finger around at him in traffic.
3. Advanced warfare: An “intellectual” approach
Snappy one-liners and a good bird-flip are fairly safe ways to combat street harassment, but sometimes I get to practice an advanced level of warfare: stopping the harasser to argue with him.
One marathon weekend my cousin was in town, helping me carb up at a restaurant across the street from my apartment. In the 2 whole minutes it took for us to exit the restaurant and walk across the street, a passenger in a truck hollered at us. It was just a cat call, but in my marathon-focused mind, I was seriously not having it. I pulled the aforementioned middle finger/poker face combo, and he persisted.
They were stuck at a stop light, and being tenacious as runners are, I told him what I thought about it: he was being inappropriate, what was the need for that? After a little back and forth I finally won the last word, and they drove away.
Which brings me to the truth: that harassment is exhausting and angering, and sometimes you just don’t know how to win.
And even though I love road running, harassment is enough to make me prefer the trails. Sure, there could be danger lurking in the forest, but at least there aren’t street harassers waving whiskey flasks in your face while commenting on your ass. In some ways, that threat is much more real and much more present.
What do you do to combat harassment while running? Share your war stories in the comments!