Something I have learned, and think others should as well, is, impact weighs more heavily than intentions. While we like to think our actions are not meant to hurt anyone, sometimes they can be damaging in ways we don’t understand. As a female runner, I’ve experienced actions from people around me that have startled, disturbed, angered, and humiliated me. I’ve been harassed by, yelled to, whistled at, and followed by people — exclusively men — whether a fellow runner, a pedestrian, or a driver. It happens so often to me and my female runner friends, we can’t help but wonder why. Do these men want to hurt us, or do they simply not understand that the impact of their actions does not line up with their innocent intentions?
Most men do not understand what it’s like to be a female runner, just as I and most other women don’t understand what it’s like to be a man. As an optimist, I believe most people don’t mean to do harm, so I’ve compiled a list of things men have said and done to me while running, why these actions are disrespectful toward me and other women, and what to do instead in the future. We cannot change our behavior if we don’t learn why it’s harmful; taking the time to do so is the ultimate sign of respect.
Being whistled at, catcalled, and yelled at. This is one of the most common forms of harassment toward female runners, something I and basically every other woman have experienced regularly. We qualify this behavior as harassment because it’s unwanted — annoying at best and threatening at worst. Maybe the men who engage in this behavior simply think it’s funny or believe women find it flattering, but I am here to say it is absolutely not amusing or flattering in the slightest.
Women run to achieve goals, whether it be getting faster, losing weight, exploring new places, or getting an endorphin rush. We don’t run in hopes of meeting a man, and we don’t appreciate men trying to distract us from our workout. If you are looking to meet a woman, check out a dating app, or ask a friend to set you up; whistling and catcalling aren’t your answer. It makes us feel objectified and embarrasses us. Being yelled at from a car is just as bad because it can startle us, and having a heart rate spike when we’re already breathing heavily isn’t fun. In the future, if you feel the need to get a female runner’s attention for any reason other than an emergency, as a rule of thumb, keep it to yourself.
Being followed. I have heard of and experienced several instances of being followed by a man in a car, on foot, or on a bike, and it is terrifying. As women, we hear so many stories about female runners who are stalked and wind up assaulted or murdered, and so many of us are wary of men who seem to be making all the same turns we are. Even if you think a woman running is attractive, please do not follow her for any amount of time. This is one of our biggest fears when we hit the roads and trails. You may think your intentions are benevolent, but being followed comes across as creepy and even endangering. In the nicest way possible, please leave us alone.
Being sarcastically coached. If I had a dollar for every time a man (usually a non-runner) yelled to me, “pick up the pace” or “nice form” with layers of sarcasm, I could afford to hire a real coach. I am sure you meant well. I am sure you thought it was funny and we’d both get a good laugh out of it, but these sorts of comments are hurtful, not just because of the content of what was said, but the tone in which they were expressed. It already feels like women’s athletics are treated as a joke due to lack of coverage and frequent sexist remarks in the media and beyond. When a man makes a sarcastic comment to a female runner, even with well-meaning humor, it reminds us that the world doesn’t take us as seriously as men.
If you are genuinely looking to compliment a female runner, there are ways you can do so. Work on your tone, and find a more thoughtful comment, such as, “nice job; looking fast; keep it up.” Keep it quick and quiet. If you are a male runner passing by a female runner, it can even be a good idea to let us know you are approaching and friendly by saying something kind and encouraging. Ultimately, though, our GPS watches can let us know how fast we’re running, so we don’t really need any input.
The best way to respect female runners is to leave us alone. It goes against human instincts, but giving us our space, acknowledging us with as little words as possible, and letting us carry on without any interaction is truly what we prefer. No matter your intentions, it’s imperative that you listen to our experiences, and if you feel your actions may have a negative impact despite meaning well, refrain from engaging in that sort of behavior. We are not looking for any sort of special treatment; we just want to be respected on the trails, track, and roads.
Author: Jordan S.