Running out of excuses for sexism

It is patronising and regressive to tell women not to run at night

Image: Pixabay

Sitting on the steps, I tie my laces, secure my phone in the zip pocket of my jacket, shout some incoherent goodbye to my housemates and set off to pound the pavements at night. I am a woman and I am aware of the potential dangers of running alone but that will not stop me. I am tired of being told that because I am female it is simply not safe for me to run at night and that the only solution for this is to ‘run with a buddy’ or stick to the main roads.

In August 2016 three joggers were killed within nine days in the USA, all female and all in the dark. Not surprisingly the story went viral, social media went berserk with warnings for women to stay safe, what to wear, when to run and who with. Part of the joy of running is the freedom it gives you; space in your own head away from the bustle of reality. These restrictions strip what can be one of the most enriching experiences to nothing more than a calorie burning chore.

When covering these deaths the media chose to focus on their looks, how they were ‘young’, ‘fit’ and ‘beautiful’, implying that in some twisted way it was their own fault for being out at night. This backwards logic persists across the board: instead of preventing catcalling and sexual harassment women are taught to avoid putting themselves in a situation where it could occur.

Even the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign which aims to empower women (and of which I am a huge supporter), suggested that to stay safe a woman should ‘run with a friend’. I am not naive; I have experienced harassment multiple times from wolf whistles to groping. I know how terrifying it is, how it leaves you empty, numb and scared to go out again, but this will not stop me. This does not mean taking unnecessary risks – I always wear high-vis, carry my phone and stick to lit roads. But the idea that because of the potential dangers women should avoid certain aspects of life is patronising.

Ringing like a phrase from a hundred years ago, it implies that women are ‘weak’ and need protecting. This reinforces gender stereotypes that have taken centuries to wear down, placing us nicely back into the private sphere. Ella Whelan, an editor at Spiked recently gave a talk on feminism where she put forward the same argument – that by seeking state intervention women present themselves as ‘damsels in distress’ and thereby become passive victims. If we cannot turn to the state for assistance, what can be done? Ella Whelan suggested that women should be more ‘bolshy’ that when cat-called you should ‘tell the prick to fuck off.’ I don’t believe there would be many women brave enough to retaliate to a heckler down a dark road alone but this doesn’t mean we can’t fight back.

The act of running alone is a statement in itself, it shows that women will not be intimidated or live their lives in fear. Yes, there are dangers, but risks can be minimised. Ideally, we would live in a society where women could run without fear of harassment but until we do, it is important that women still run. There is a peace of mind that comes from running alone at night, and I for one will not stop.

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