running while female

I posted the original version of this on Facebook at the end of the summer, but in light of Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation to the US Supreme Court, it feels appropriate to share an updated version.

What the hell does running have to do with Kavanaugh? While I’m sure he’d be wonderful at a beer mile, it’s more about the fact that those in power in this country just affirmed rape culture and the normalization of violence against women. And if you want to see how that plays out (sober) every day, just ask any female runner if she’s ever been harassed while on a run. I bet you she says yes.

I want to exist in a world where it isn’t a hazard to go for a run just because you’re a woman. I don’t want to live in fear of becoming a statistic. In order for that to happen though, I’m either going to have to quit running or men are going to have to step up, and I just don’t think either of those things are likely to happen.

Every few months I have the same conversation with friends and family because when a woman gets attacked while running, people feel the need to check in. Nearly every conversation I have goes something like this:

Person: have you heard about (name here)? How do you feel? Do you feel safe when you run?

Me: WELL, I try not to run too late at night or too early in the morning. Someone usually knows what route I'm running/how long it should take me. I have several routes that I switch up the direction of, frequency of, timing of, so no one can figure out my pattern. If something happens or creeps me out, I won’t repeat that route for a few days, or a week, or a month. Just in case.

If I do run late at night, I'll try to recruit a friend to come with me, preferably a dude. If I can't do that, I'll wear a light-up vest and only stick to routes I know well, and ones with escape routes. The benefit of a light-up vest is that cars will see me and hopefully won’t hit me! But the drawback of a light-up vest is that anyone can see me coming. So usually I stick close to home. Just in case.

I know which houses around here have motion-sensor lights that will turn on, whose dogs in the yards will bark as I go by, public establishments I can duck into if I feel like I'm being followed (this last part also applies to daytime running). Just in case.

I've taken a self-defense class. Actually, I’ve taken a few. I never want to be so tired I can't try to run away. I don't go into public bathrooms alone and port-o-potties are literally last resort, not just because they're gross but because who knows who watched me get into one? Just in case.

If I'm going to be gone for more than a few miles, I turn my phone tracker on and tell people exactly how long I should be gone for. I'll try to meet people at the end of runs so someone knows I might be missing. Just in case.

If I'm out for 16+ miles I'll text someone at the turnaround, because that usually means I'm more than an hour away from home. If I have to stop I also tell someone I'm adding a few minutes onto my run. Just in case.

If it's a million degrees out, I try not to dress ~provocatively~ which means I'm probably going to sweat to death, but at least it doesn't bring any more attention to me (because clearly what I wear means I'm asking for it). Just in case.

In winter, if it's really cold and I have to wear a headband or a hat, I won't wear headphones so I can hear people coming and I'll tuck my ponytail in so no one can grab it. Just in case.

I have a list of license plates saved on my phone because I've gotten creeped out. I've thought about carrying pepper spray. I’ve carried pepper spray. I've clenched my keys in my fist for multiple miles. I’ve sprinted the last mile just so I could get home faster. I've overshot my house in case someone was trying to figure out where I lived. Just in case.

I’ve turned around early or outright shortened runs because I didn’t want a group of men at my back. They might not do anything, but I also know that if they did, it wouldn’t be their fault, obviously it’d be my fault. (That is - if anyone believed me.) So I’d rather end my run early just to get home safe, rather than risk anything. Just in case.

I avoid underpasses, I don’t wear headphones if I’m in cutting through the woods. I always try to guess where someone might be lurking in the shadows, and I avoid those areas at all costs. I have added miles to my run to not come back to the same place. Just in case.

Every man out there is a threat - it’s not about race or ethnicity, it’s not about being in this country legally or illegally, its not about being Democrat or Republican. It’s the fact that violence against women has been so normalized that I know, deep down, if anything ever happened to me, someone out there would go, “Well, she should have known better.”

The sad thing is that yes, I really should have known better, because deep down inside I know my luck will run out one day. I know all of these moments seared into my brain are not even considered by the men who have cat-called me, the men who have sworn at me for ignoring their cat-calls, the men who have screeched their cars to a stop beside me, the men who have chased me down the street, the men who have actively put their bodies in front of my body while I’m running and laughed at my anger and fear and my scrambling to get out of arm’s reach, the men who have followed me with their eyes or their vehicles or themselves.

Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court is an affirmation of male privilege and cements rape culture as the norm in our society. It’s an affirmation that all of these checks I go through just to get in a few miles are not as irrational as I wish them to be - they are real, they are valid, and at the end of the day, they just don’t matter when men can do what they want and suffer no consequences.

I might not have faith in men stepping up, in realizing their privilege to just go for a run without worrying or to exist in this world without worrying about becoming a statistic, but I will keep running. I might not feel safe, but I will keep running for those who can’t, and because being able to run away might very well be the only thing that saves me.