For the last eight months, I was blessed with the opportunity to work on a biological research station in Florida. Part of the charm of my job was that I lived in the middle of nowhere. Literally. When I wanted to exercise after work, I would go for long runs on 8,000 acres of privately owned nature preserve. The only living things I came across were raccoons and scrub jays. It was, in a word, fantastic.
So you can imagine the shock it was when I came back to Washington DC and tried to run in the central business district in the middle of the day. After fourteen unwelcome comments and nine additional uncomfortable stares (yes I was counting, what else was I supposed to do since I had forgotten my iPod?) I started composing a letter in my head of everything I’d like to say to the large number of people who apparently think women enjoy being shouted at by strangers.
Dear Gentlemen of DC,
I know there is plenty of material that has gone around the internet about street harassment already. There are hundreds of blog entries about it, several YouTube videos about how not cool it is, a website where you can submit your own letter to harassers, and whole organizations dedicated to calling out the practice. I know there is as little of a chance that you’ll read my letter as there was of you reading what has come before. Because if you had read any of what has been written about street harassment, if you had tried to understand, then I’d have no occasion to write this. But if we keep calling the practice out, maybe the message will reach more people, maybe this letter will find it’s way to the most unlikely candidates. So here are my thoughts.
When I go for a run, it is not for your own edification, or viewing pleasure. I’m not trying to get attention. It is not to give you a show, to give you someone to tell to smile, or to give you an occasion to practice your whistling. My run is None of Your Damn Business.
I’m wearing shorts because it’s comfortable, not so I can show you what my legs look like. And no, guy wearing the obnoxiously bright sneakers, this is not my audition for Baywatch. Surely you could have surmised that from my lack of a bikini. I’m not your sweetie, I’m not your baby, and my name isn’t Shorty. You’re not being cute, I am not charmed. So keep your “damns” to yourself. I don’t need to hear “all right, okay” as I pass. I already know I’m alright, thanks.
When I lose my temper at the end of my run and shoot back a “just shut up and let me run” when you corner me at a stoplight to tell me I’m “lookin’ good,” don’t get all offended and tell me how I can’t take a compliment.
Because that’s the thing. It’s not a compliment. It’s harassment. I don’t care that you think it’s funny and you want to show off to your friends that look at me, I can yell things in the direction of women! At best it is obnoxious, and reminds me that I’m just an object to you, just another vagina running around on a pair of legs (except the guy who yelled to my back as I passed “Hey beautiful, how was your day??” How sweet of you to care).
At worst it makes me feel self-conscious and unsafe. Because all too often words are the words shouted at me when it’s dark out and I’m walking by myself. All too often your words are the same thing men call out to me on the rare but memorable occasions of being followed at night. You don’t seem to understand this, but even if you’re just trying to be friendly or show off for your buddies, when you cat-call me I perceive it as a possible threat. Even if it’s in broad daylight.
If that’s surprising to you then you have either been a) living under a rock or b) have roughly the same amount of empathy as said rock. If you have been paying attention at all, then you might have seen some of the well-publicized coverage of the Steubenville rape case. If you have a social media account, you may have seen least one of the many info graphics floating about rape statistics. There are at least 208,000 victims of sexual assault each year in the U.S, and possibly twice that amount when you take into account the low reporting rate of the crime. Violence against women is an epidemic. Is it any wonder that I take unwelcome sexual comments from strangers as a threat? I don’t know you, I don’t know what your intentions are. Even though 73% of rapes happen from non-strangers, we are taught from a young age never make eye contact with scary men, and don’t walk by yourself after dark.
Ever Mainard says you should NEVER WALK ALONE AT NIGHT.
By cat calling, hollering, whistling, whatever, you are creating an unsafe atmosphere for women. You are creating anger, exasperation, maybe even fear. So if you’re someone who calls out at women because you’re lonely and want female companionship, stop. If you are someone thinks who a woman’s day is improved because some dude shouted to them from across the street about how sexy they are, stop. If you someone who asserts his manliness to his friends by showing how brave he is by talking to women, just fucking stop.
My run is for my personal health, wellbeing, and enjoyment. It has nothing to do with you and your life. So do me a favor, do us all favor, and mind your Own Damn Business.