“Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft (via bajo-el-mar)
I really need to read this, Jesus.
A Mile in Her Shoes: What Not to Say to Women Jogging
There’s a river by my house that winds in between the hills and is the boundary between this city and the other. There is a sort of park that follows along the river, a collection of basketball and tennis courts along a small, paved road. On weekends, the road is covered with cyclists and joggers and pedestrians and dogs.
I like to jog along this road, sometimes in the evenings after work, sometimes on weekend mornings before the sun reaches the zenith. It’s removed from the normal roads, so I don’t breathe in motor fumes, nor do I need to bother with traffic lights. There are markers along the road, 7.0km… 7.5km…8.0km… so I know exactly how far I’ve run. It’s about a 3km run from where I live to where my boyfriend lives.
I walk down the ramp that connects the main road with the river-road. The ramp is conveniently next to the 7.0km marker. A bell dings behind me, and I see an old man (maybe 70 years old) cycling up to me on a worn bicycle. I assume the bell was to warn me of his approach and pause accordingly to let him pass. He says, “Good morning”, and I repeat the greeting.
The old man stops in the shade under a bridge, and I keep running.
About 800 meters on (judging from the convenient distance markers), a bell rings behind me. I ignore it, as I am running on the side of the road and therefore not obstructing any cyclists.
"Wow, you ran very far in a very short time!" It’s the same old man as before.
I am slightly winded from running and intent on regulating my breathing. I have never been someone who can chat while jogging, a reason I refuse to go running with other people. I do not answer.
"Huh?" He prompts when he does not receive an answer, keeping pace next to me on his bicycle.
Obviously he feels entitled to an answer, ignoring that my face is red from exercise or that I am in the middle of exercising. Besides, what am I supposed to say? “Yes, indeed I’m a very fast runner, as you can tell! You are quite the observer!” or “Shucks, you’re just being nice!” or “But you bike faster!”
Instead, I pull my lips back in a sort of grimacing smile and give him a small wave. Apparently that’s all it takes to appease this strange old man, an acknowledgement that I am not deaf and have heard him. He cycles up ahead and disappears around the bend. I give an inward sigh of relief.
Was I supposed to be flattered that he gave me his attention? Judging from his prompting me when I didn’t reply at first, yes. I was supposed to acknowledged that he had noticed me and later recognized me. He hadn’t ignored me, and so I was not allowed to ignore him.
I had men tell me “Good job!” while I was stretching post-run, presumably they had seen me run past them earlier. I had not noticed them. Confused, I thanked them while wondering why he’d spoken to me, if he was a neighbor I didn’t recognize. Later, I could only assume that he felt fatherly warmth towards my physical efforts, despite not being my father or any mentoring figure in my life.
One other time, another man (presumably in his 40s) rode past me and looked hard at me while I paused for breath. Apparently he didn’t get a good enough look, because he looked back again. Annoyed at his blatant ogling, I mouthed “Fuck off”, then worried that he wouldn’t recognized lips moving in English, added a finger. Somehow this must have really amused him or conveyed interest or attraction in a way not understandable to any other human but him, he continued to look back at me while cycling, and then just past the bend, where he assumed I couldn’t see, he stopped. I could see his legs and his bike through the trees in between us, which would have otherwise obscured him once he’d passed the bend. He continued to look back, his body language expectant.
I felt annoyance and uneasy.
I felt that he was waiting for me, perhaps to start a conversation, to verbally harass me or just follow me. Unfortunately, that was the direction I was going, having doubled back and was running home. But I didn’t want to find out if my suspicions were true. I stayed where I was until I saw his feet pedaling his bicycle away.
All three situations were resolved as well as these situations can be. There was no difficult confrontation or assault. The men went on their merry way, and I went on my less-merry way. Excepting the last, these were not situations of intentional malice. Old men wanted to be friendly with me, a young, female jogger.
But therein lies the problem. These men wanted to be friendly with me and ignored any thoughts I might have on the matter. They ignored that I was in the middle of an activity, one that made conversation difficult and painful and unwelcome. They ignored that as a jogger, I would be carrying close to nothing on my person, wearing closer-fitting clothes than usual, and therefore feeling more vulnerable than usual.
My mother would surely blame my incredibly short running shorts and therefore me for choosing to wear them. Avoid sartorial choices that make you stand out or draw the male gaze. But in my experience, I will receive unnecessary male attention no matter what clothes I’ve worn while running.
It is not my clothing that draws attention, but my body, operating in a public space. It is treated almost as public property, free to be remarked upon by anyone. The men in my story felt entitled to passing judgment on me, simply because I am a woman. I have never seen the glistening, muscular men jogging alongside me receive the same kind of attention.
It is easy to brush off these almost-situations because nothing happened. “Just ignore him!” is the most common advice we’re given. Attention is encouragement. “Ignore him, and he’ll go away.” But my experience has also taught me, these men refuse to be ignored. Not by a woman. There is the old man who verbally prompted me until I non-verbally acknowledged him. There is the cyclist who waited for me out of my (presumed) sight, presumably only because he realized doubling back would have invited the suspicions of the other people on the road. How long until someone becomes angry with my minimal attention and demands more than I’m willing to give? Until they start following me on my jog and then home?
Even though I do trust in the crowd to help me in case of an altercation, there will not always be enough people on the road. They will not always be close enough to prevent a stranger from demanding my attention with his hands instead of his words. What then?