The Public Masturbator, The Ogler And Other Creeps I Deal With When I Go For A Run
Street harassers don’t take a break, folks. If you’re a woman with a body but without a car, you’re going to hear from them at least once a day. And sadly, you are likely to hear from them most when you’re exercising.
I love to run. I really do. And I never thought I would say that. Just a few years ago, the idea of running for leisurely exercise and peace of mind sounded like torture. But after watching my father run nine miles every day and wondering what all the positive fuss was about, I gave it a shot. Now I’m a runner. I’m training for my first marathon (I’m aiming for 10 miles — pray for me), and when I hit the street to prep, I feel great. After thinking I couldn’t do something, I’ve actually made it happen.
But aside from feeling great internally, I feel like a f–king exhibit in a museum when I run. Despite a number of people jogging up and down the parkway I run on during the evenings, when I come around, it’s as though folks have never seen a Black woman running for the hell of it. And I know what you’re thinking: “Focus on yourself!” Well, I try. Trust me, I really do. My earbuds are pushed deep into my eardrum and my eyes are either forward or down. However, I’ve been gawked at, followed, and flat-out harassed by men more during my running attempts than I have moving about regularly.
Call me naive, but I really hoped the sign of a person on the move who is occupied with their breathing and sprinting would give one the impression that such an individual can’t be bothered. To the contrary, I’ve dealt with the “Catch me if you can folks.” The ones who will literally pretend to jog alongside me while they make comments I can’t hear as I turn my volume up. The ones who will tap me while I’m running and say, “Can I tell you something?” The ones who will completely turn as I’m running past to say, “Have a good evening” in a way that damn sure wasn’t meant to be neighborly. The faux cheerleaders who sit on benches and yell, “Keep going!” as they laugh. And the ones who, while catching me near a crosswalk, will slow down in their cars to try and get my attention. Don’t even get me started on the honkers and the booty oglers.
Just two weeks ago I even passed a man, hand in his pants, who was literally jacking off on the corner, out in the open, as I got ready to cross the street. I’m pretty sure he was doing this before I popped up, but still, that wasn’t something I wanted to see while trying to find that peace of mind I was talking about. And it’s bullsh-t like that, which turns people, specifically women, off from running altogether.
“I want to make a shirt that says on the front, ‘Don’t say sh-t to me,” and “I’m running” on the back,” I told my girlfriend. And while she laughed at my genius apparel idea, I was serious in my angst. Sure, I can ignore a person, but there’s just something exhausting about not feeling as though you can get a reprieve from the hassle. It’s not flattering. Whether I’m walking to work, walking to the laundromat looking like “Who shot John?” or I’m trying to look cute for myself while out and about, somebody always has something to say — even when you’re literally sprinting away from them.
But we have to keep running. I have to keep running. As much effort and time as it took for me to go from running on a treadmill in the gym to feeling comfortable enough to run in public and enjoy the beauty of nature, I have to keep going. I can’t let people with their comments, their stares and their aggressive attempts to gain my attention hold me back. That peace of mind? Those moments of jumping over puddles, racing past people as the wind blows in my face, jogging to the beat of the Nigerian highlife playing in my ears? It’s too special to give up on over a creep.
The best thing that I can do, that we can do, is protect ourselves (I wear a fanny pack with all sorts of things ready for a fool…) and keep moving. Ignore the attempts to knock us off of our game and make us want to stay in the house, eating chips on the couch.
By proudly displaying my physicality, I might make a misogynistic jerk feel uncomfortable. By running by myself, wearing what I want, doing what I want, ignoring the very presence of someone who believes that my place is not out, confidently pounding the pavement, but rather, as an object for them to leer at as they see fit, I’m sending a message that they just can’t take. Yes, I’m running. Yes, I’m comfortable enough in my skin to do it without feeling like I need to do so completely covered up. And yes, I’m a Black woman who runs and will keep running — now move out of my way.