Readers Roundtable: What to Do About Harrassment

Scared woman runnerEvery day lately, there’s a new viral article about the harassment and threats women runners face when daring to run in public. It’s like suddenly publishers and social media users everywhere learned what dedicated women runners have known all along — women runners deal with annoying, intimidating, or even threatening harassment frequently. How novel!

So now the media has graduated from telling women what they should do to run without being attacked, while blithely ignoring helpful tips that would render all of those unhelpful tips unnecessary, such as telling men not to rape, murder, catcall, grope, comment, scream at, or make lewd gestures at women runners or anyone, for that matter. We’ve graduated to recognizing the problem is bigger than the few senseless murders that grab all the headlines. A step in the right direction?

If nothing else, this is a great jumping off point for further discussion. Here let’s start with a couple of questions:

  1. Have you ever felt physically threatened or been harassed while running? 
  2. Does the threat of harassment or physical harm factor into your decisions about running? If so, how? 

★ Join us at 7:00 p.m. EDT tonight (Monday) for #SaltyChat on Twitter, where we will discuss this very important topic in more depth. ★

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. I’ve been physically grabbed/groped twice by groups of men (older teens) and verbally harasssed more times than I can count.

    As a somewhat well endowed woman, I have to pay attention to which bra goes with which t shirt to try and minimize the number of comments. Shirts that fit a little tighter around the chest get the industrial strength enell.

    And literally every single run, usually more than once, there is some dude whipping it out to pee on something. They usually don’t even try to go behind a bush; apparently as long as you are peeing against something, be it the slenderest of traffic sign posts, it’s socially acceptable. I mean…Seriously?? Why is this ok?

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  2. There are only a couple of bike paths around here where I feel safe running by myself, and even then, it’s in broad daylight, when I’m relatively certain I’ll see other people out. Otherwise, I’m on the treadmill at the gym. I am lucky that I’ve never been groped (I’m not counting that dude in that marathon pace group that elbowed me in the boob – I think that was an accident), but I’ve been catcalled a couple of times while out in a sports bra and shorts and honked at numerous times.

    Looking forward to the twitter chat on this – I am just sick of this crap happening.

  3. I think a lot of women runners just accept that there are dudes constantly leering and checking them out, that occasionally they’ll get screamed at from a group of rowdy dudes in a car, that occasionally one guy will be extra creepy, but that it’s just part of being a runner. Or maybe it’s just me. I’ve experienced everything from the not-so-subtle check ass check-out to super creepy guy alone saying something completely inappropriate. I think running makes us feel particularly vulnerable because we’re pushing ourselves physically and focused on that and it’s jarring to have some dude break that flow and then to some men I’d assume seeing us push ourselves like that is novel, out of the ordinary, a turn-on (ew). There’s a difference between a man generally finding runners sexy and a man seeing a woman he does not know running as a turn-on and gawking at her or yelling out his car window in response. This isn’t a rail against men’s sexuality, in case anyone was thinking that. It’s a case for respect and appropriate handling of emotions.

    But I think this is not specifically a runner problem. I think running is a specific time that we tend to be alone and active in public – perhaps even vulnerable or more vulnerable than usual. I’ve been grabbed in the privates (should that be called Trumped?) while walking home from work one night when I lived in Queens, but never on the run. I think harassment and violence is a societal problem that extends far beyond running.

    1. I think this is what gets me- It isn’t just a running problem but sometimes the articles and way things are reported on makes it seem like it’s a bigger problem in running-because it’s easy to blame the women who choose to go out and “put themselves in harms way”. It’s easier to victim blame someone making a choice to go out and run than victim shame the woman who gets harassed going to the grocery store. When in reality it isn’t just a running problem and I don’t think it’s any bigger in running than just going out into public in general as a female. But can you imagine the headlines…”women must stop going to grocery store or post office unattended!”

  4. While I’ve never been attacked or touched while running- as many others said I would not be able to begin to count the number of times that I have been catcalled, harassed, etc etc. Some of these made me feel physically threatened and others admittedly just annoyed me but I didn’t feel unsafe. The later doesn’t make either of them right by any means but I won’t say that every time it happens I feel unsafe, more that I just feel disgusted regardless if it affects my view of my safety.

    I think that these issues do impact my running, but not to the extent of not going out and doing it at all. If I am running earlier AM or later PM, I choose different routes to run that are closer to home and well lit areas if at all possible. MOST of the time I run without headphones these days, I admit that is not 100%(probably 90% though) of the time (But if I do it certainly isn’t in the dark). I take the precautions of letting someone know I’m running, and the general vicinity I’ll be and when I should be back. So yes, I will take responsibility for myself and do what I can to be protected but at the same time- I’m SO OVER all of the articles telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I feel like as a female runner I take enough heat for running in general and my priorities, that it just seems even more ridiculous when people say “you shouldn’t run so much, but if you do I’m going to tell you when and where and how you have to run”.

    Oddly enough it pisses me off even more when those articles are written by women, more often educated, strong and successful women. I know that everyone has their opinions, beliefs and priorities. I accept that, and RESPECT that. But I feel more disrespected and disillusioned when I see victim blaming instead of problem solving. Telling women what to do and what not to do doesn’t solve the problem, it reacts to the ridiculously stupid problem that people don’t know how to be good human beings to others.

  5. Not really related to the questions you asked in the post, but I just wanted to say that I’m somewhere between glad that this is an issue finally being discussed and OMGWTF that people (men) are acting like it’s some new phenomena that no one has ever experienced, talked about or written about before.

  6. I run in the city mostly, and I’d say I get catcalled or otherwise harassed 1 of every 2 runs. I bought pepper spray about a month ago and started carrying it with me on my runs and omigosh have I suddenly gotten bold! I generally call people out anyway, but I suddenly feel so safe…I never realized the extent before to which I felt unsafe. It might be entirely an illusion since I’m not sure how much the pepper spray would help in a combat situation, but damn does it feel good to just do what I want. I’ll take the illusion though, because I’m tired of running scared (literally, haha) and avoiding pretty trails after dark.

  7. I tend to be pretty naïve, I will be the first to admit it. I grew up in the country where I went running down country roads with my headphones blasting, portable cd player in hand, and only 14 years old. I have always maintained this outlook that I don’t ever want to run scared. The Boston bombing was probably the first time I ever realized I need to be more aware of my surroundings and less naïve that there are terrible people out there who want to do bad things to innocent people. My family wants me to run with pepper spray, and my husband bought me a rape whistle, but I refuse to carry it with me. Probably stupid of me? I always want running to be joyful, fun, and free-ing, not something I should be afraid of doing. It’s something I surely struggle with. I agree with Barley in that I run in well-lit places and usually tell someone where I am running. But where do we draw the line?

  8. I have not been physically harassed on a run, but verbally harassed by a wide variety of men. Occasionally I have found myself opting for the tank top instead of the sports bra so I can eliminate *some* possibility of being cat-called. But then I get frustrated, and ask, “but why do I have do to this?” Why is it a woman’s responsibility to ensure that men won’t harass me on a run? I’ve had a family member even suggest I run with a gun (!) in case something happens… But the reality is: I won’t do that, and why should I have to? I think in general I am a smart runner: aware and mindful of the things and people around me. I agree with the above sentiments ^ where do we draw the line?

  9. Here’s a timely quote from a NY Times story entitled “Thousands of ‘Fancy Women on Bikes’ defy intimidation to claim the streets of Turkey” …

    “We should go wherever we want, dress however we like, be visible, yet not be disturbed.”

  10. I’ve been verbally harassed while running a lot. To me it is more annoying than anything… yell whatever, it just makes you look trashy/stupid. The only times I get scared are when I am out running in the mountains and men stop their cars/get out/slow way down to talk to me while I’m running. I live in a remote area where there is no one to offer assistance/see me being attacked or taken. I’m always dressed in running gear and well you know..running. So idk why they would think I need help ..but they normally say something like “are you okay”, “is there a problem” ect. I carry protection and get it out anytime any of those things occur or even when there are vehicles parked on the side of the road JIC. Sometimes they drive off as soon as they see me arming myself…which to me is extra creepy. Why can’t we just leave ppl running alone? It’s not that hard. If a girl is dressed in full on running gear headed down the road she does not need your help :/

  11. I have been verbally harassed while running. In my case it’s usually something about how I’m “too fat to run” or how I need to “run faster.” That last one would be nice, but I still don’t get why the guy had to yell it from his car. I’ve also had a few bikers yell stuff out at me while I’m running and they’re whizzing past me. This only happens when I run by myself – never when I have my kids with or run with my husband.

    It does make me nervous about running by myself. Most of the time, if I’m running on the trail I prefer to take my husband with me because then no one harasses me.

  12. I also haven’t been physically harassed – except for the other day when I was nearly run down from behind on a busy towpath by a whooping, hollering cyclist who I could’ve sworn was doing it on purpose (cheap thrill, right? – scare the runner who’s deep in her tempo run). It makes me more angry than afraid – I’m furious that there are people out there who think this behaviour is ok.

  13. I remember the last time I wore tights to run by myself. It was ages ago, but the creepy guy who followed me on his bike for a while, commenting on my ass left an impression.

    The most serious look up-downs I’ve gotten have been from guys I totally trust. Maybe random guys do it too and I just don’t even notice because it seems so universal.

    These days I mostly run with one or more guys, which seriously cuts down on harassment I get from random people, but it has also given me the opportunity to observe that we aren’t actually the only targets. Once, I was running with a guy who is smaller than me (not that unusual among fast runners), and he was wearing bright orange saucony glove-mittens. A bunch of fratboy types shouted “Nice gloves, homo!!!” Out of their SUV in a way that actually felt pretty threatening. In another case, I was running with a guy who looks better suited to be an offensive lineman, and when I went just slightly ahead of him to get around other people on the path, some moron teased him for letting a girl beat him.

    I guess my point is that even though we get a lot more harassment and we are more vulnerable, even he guys we run with can be the victims of sexist/misogynistic BS.

  14. Last summer, right around the time all those women runners were being murdered, a man moved in front of me while I was running, blocking my path, and announced that he wanted to run and/or go out with me. This was in the middle of the day and in an area that’s usually pretty well-traveled (but no one happened to be nearby at that moment), so it hadn’t even occurred to me to worry about my safety until this big man jumped in front of me. I eventually just moved around him and went on running, and he let me, but it was pretty scary.

    I don’t let it stop me from running, but I definitely do plan routes with safety in mind. Especially now that it’s dark every second when I’m not work… It’s annoying to be so limited, but being scared constantly–while trying to enjoy an activity that supposed to be a stress reliever–is worse. 🙁