God sent me one of the most supportive and empathetic husbands out there who constantly tries to see things from my point of view. The same can be said of my father. I know how lucky I am, because many women of the world do not have men like these two in their lives. And while I am very fortunate to have these two, not every man I have ever encountered is like them. I would love to live in a world where they were.
I have been doing a 5k training plan consistently for about three weeks now, and I ran sporadically before I started this plan. I truly believe that one can learn a lot about what it means to be a woman in a world of gender violence by running. I understand that it may seem farfetched, but bear with me.
I would rather run outside than inside. I can take advantage of the scenery, I feel less claustrophobic, and I can actually see my progress manifest. I suppose this preference is lucky considering there isn’t a gym close to me, but I digress. For the million advantages running outside has over running inside, the one disadvantage could be a deal breaker for some. While running outside, I have come across some of the most disrespectful men ever.
I do not live in a large city like Atlanta or Chicago where one might expect to feel unsafe if in the wrong neighborhood. On the contrary, the town I hale from has a whopping population of just over 1,700 (according to the demographics I found online). It is the quintessential southern small town in which most people know each other and it is impolite not to wave at someone while driving down the street. Our crime rate may be significantly lower than most metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean I always feel 100% safe in my tiny town. In fact, I’ve felt completely unsafe a few times when I have been running.
I used to run at a community half mile track, which is gorgeous and conveniently located. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that many shady individuals pass time there gawking at people just training to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It has happened to be multiple times. Occasionally, it is just a teenage boy or two, which isn’t usually of concern to me (sorry not sorry, squirts— you aren’t that intimidating, and you need to learn some manners), but when a man as large as my father or husband sits in his vehicle and watches my every move, I feel a bit more uncomfortable. When a burly dude arrives on foot and deliberately makes sure he crosses my path, I go from uncomfortable to frightened. When the same man shows up five days in a row even though I chose to run at different times, it gets even worse. When I noticed said man carried a rather large knife, it was the last straw. I haven’t run there since unless A) My sister aka personal trainer has run with me B) My mom has walked around the track while I ran or C) My grandfather or husband have walked dog while I ran.
Since I started running through my town and not at this isolated track, I’ve felt a lot better. While Main Street (which has a grand total of three stoplights) is far from crowded, there are always people out and about and less of a chance that someone would try to harm me. The biggest thing I have to worry about are guys slowing down as they pass by me to whistle or do double take. Just for the record, I hope all of you get cricks in your neck.
While these two actions may seem minute and harmless, they only perpetuate a culture that the United States and the rest of the world needs to move past. This culture tells women:
- That their bodies are no more than real-life pinups for men to ogle at.
- That they should take rude advances from men as compliments.
- That they are asking for sexual harassment if they dress a certain way (by the way, when I run, I wear baggy hoodies and sweats that probably have cat hair on them—tell me how attractive that is!).
- That they should “be smart,” and not do things like run alone, be out too late, be in the “bad” part of town, etc.
- That they should carry weapons to protect themselves when alone (public service announcement, many times these weapons are taken by attackers and used against victims).
- That it is okay for them to be mistreated even though it is 2015 and our society claims to have moved past a lot of the gender issues that once plagued our world. Newsflash: Discrimination and violence against women are still very prevalent, even if we choose to sweep them under the rug.
I can vividly remember a conversation I had with my father shortly after Colby and I got engaged. We were discussing how lucky I was to have found a man like Colby. My dad remarked that Colby would always protect me. I became infuriated. “Protect me?!” Seriously? I thought my parents had been really progressive and raised my sister and me to be strong women. If that was the case, why did I need to be protected? Am I not the fearless girl who spent a large chunk of a summer 4,000 miles away from home? Who has dismantled several crisis situations at her previous job? Who up and flew to a country where she spoke none of the language?
After pondering what my dad said, I realized that he meant absolutely no harm by what he said. He knows that I am his fearless little brawler that can almost always take care of herself. I know he and my mom believe that my sister and I can do anything that our male counterparts can. They have made that evident to us our entire lives. But, they are also very aware of the world that we live in—a world in which 78 American women are raped per hour. It is a harsh reality that, at some point in my life, I may need Colby or another male to protect me despite how strong my parents raised me to be.
Gentlemen out there, I beseech you. As difficult as it may be, do not fall into the trap of this culture that has somehow become widely accepted. Do not drive down the road and yell “Hey girl, [Insert profane mark]” at a lady walking down the street. I do not care if she is wearing swanky heels and a cocktail dress or frumpy workout clothes like me. You may think what you are doing has no consequences, and it may not directly, but for the 78 American women who are sexually assaulted each hour, every disgusting, profane word you utter to a woman on the street could be the start of another trauma that no one ever deserves to endure.
I don’t want to live in a world in which women are told to dress a certain way so they don’t tempt men. I want to live in a world in which men are taught to respect women no matter what their attire.
I don’t want to live in a world in which it seems more important to teach women to defend themselves than it does to teach men to interact courteously (and safely) with women.
I want to live in a world in which I can run wherever I want and only have to worry about the distance in front of me instead of the truck behind me.
This post on my Instagram a couple of weeks ago says it all.