What with the past few weeks unseasonal summer like weather, I think, safe to say, we’ve all bee relishing in wearing a little lighter and less when we’re running.
And we bloody deserve it!
It’s hot and sweat so shorts are comfortable!
Unfortunately, as you’ll read in the following interview with Liv (@livforrunning), this has lead to a lot of us noticing a peak in cat-calls and street harassment.
It seems that, as much as we hate to admit it, people still think it’s ok to body shame and sexualise women based on their outfit.
Liv goes into this with me in the latest in the #quitthecatcall interview.
Hey Liv, thanks so much for speaking with me. Can I ask how you first started running?
My mam inspired me to start running, she was a super hero that wore foil capes and ran the Great North Run. I remember her giving me her first Great North Run medal to hold and to me it felt as special as an Olympic gold. I started around age 14, completed my first half at 18.
Wow, superhero mum – how awesome to have her as a running inspiration! Let’s talk about your earliest experiences of street harassment. Do you remember them?
I don’t think I remember a time when I haven’t been beeped at, regardless of whether I’m running or not. I have distinct memories of feeling uncomfortable due to this from around 13/14. I remember my Dad saying to me as a child, if you feel uncomfortable start walking against the traffic and it’s something I’ve had to use. As a teenager I was harassed, whether it be hand gestures in a car window, wolf whistles walking back and very uncomfortable staring. I’ve been followed slowly in a car more times than I can count. Sometimes the comments are vulgar, and sometimes they are just commenting negatively about what I’m wearing or the worst, my body. As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, those incidences were the worst for me. I was once moved to tears trying to reverse off a drive that was difficult after I’d just passed my test because a group of workers shouted ‘Of course there’s no way you’d be able to reverse your car, with legs like those’ – which happen to be my biggest insecurity.
Harassment is bad enough in itself, without it highlighting our insecurities. I’m so sorry you experienced that. That sounds especially intimating, considering the circumstances. Have there been many other instances of you feeling unsafe when running?
I think generally as a woman, if I’m running alone, I feel unsafe on a run. It has probably been caused by the countless bad experiences I have had. If in doubt, I get at least 1 beep on a run. At 15, a cyclist passed me as I was running once, at the traffic lights near my house, and hit me across my bum. I was too young to know what to do and he was gone. I didn’t tell my family. Another time I had a van follow me on a road on the way to my university, he slowed down to my running pace and just drove at that pace just behind me. I was on the pavement, there was no need for him to slow down and when I turned, he was mouthing things and laughing and taking photos. I turned and ran in the opposite direction. Another distinct memory is a Dad, roll down his window and say vulgar things at me, in-front of his son, probably under 10. This was at 5pm.
How could anyone possibly expect me to feel safe running alone when here are only three of the many, many, many incidences?
Wow,, Liv, that’s definitely intense. It’s heartbreaking that you’re able to pinpoint such horrific incidents as being just a few of many. Because of this, do you take any precautions when preparing to run?
If I’m at university, I tell my housemates how long I would expect to be out, give or take twenty minutes or so in case I feel the need to run more miles (very unlikely that this happens). If I’m at home, my parents know all of my routes and I tell them where I’m going. My mam roughly knows how long I should be. I always always carry my phone even if I’m not listening to music. My phone has a tracking app on it which my parents can track.
If I feel unsafe for some reason, for example, someone behind me or someone has just beeped at me near my home, I will keep running as I don’t want them to see where I live. I lived alone for a year and never left my house at the same time, as I was worried about someone working it out and following me home.
The fact that you have to worry about your home privacy is a very sad, but also very real, fact of life these days. I would also recommend to anyone using Strava to consider adding a “privacy zone” to any locations you want to keep safe – it hides any activity start/ end location so people cannot track your home or work environments, for example.
Is there a certain time of day or any type of environment you avoid running in?
Prior to lockdown I would have avoided running in countryside or woods alone and would have stuck to housing areas or parks that have a lot of people in them. However, due to lockdown I’ve been running country roads due to the government insisting we don’t drive somewhere too run (totally fair, I’m happy they are dealing with this situation sensibly). I’ve felt ok because the roads have been quiet, but I’ve still had some harassment.
In the village by my university campus I avoid running at 5-6pm because we live close to the M1 and around this time commuters pass through. Street harassment was always the worst at this time, and if I happened to want to run around then I would go with a friend or just have my music really loud so I couldn’t hear them.
That sounds like a pretty common occurrence, unfortunately. Perhaps the business and anonymity of rush hour leads to people being more abusive and reckless due to the fact they can hide in a crowd of traffic. How have you found street harassment have affected how you behave in and out of running?
Previous to the past couple of weeks I don’t wear shorts running, a combination of insecurities but also extreme worries people will comment on my legs again (and they have previously in shorts…). I hate the culture that surrounds women, where if we are wearing less than what is perceived as a societal norm then we are ‘asking for it’ however I do seem to get more comments etc if I am running in a sports bra/shorts. I’m a girl who’s been running for years – I am very efficient at sweating and sometimes it would be great to just go out in a pair of shorts. I’ve been trying to build up my confidence regarding this throughout lockdown as there’s less people around.
I guess that’s one positive to come out of lockdown, at least! I’m with you on the c,othing issue though – I’ve noticed a lot more ‘attention’ in the warmer weather now I’m wearing shorts. We should absolutely have the freedom to wear the clothes that we can feel comfortable in, without fear of abuse. Have you noticed any any negative feedback from those close to you regarding this, and outdoor exercise?
Direct quotes – ‘That’s just running, you just have to get used to it’, ‘If you get angry you’re just as bad as them, just ignore it’, ‘You’re lucky, I don’t get that anymore because I’m too old’, ‘That’s just the risk you take running’.
So, I’ve noticed harassment get worse in fairer weather, is there any other environment you’ve noticed and influx of harassment in?
I often find it’s worse when there’s a sports event and the pubs are more full than usual. I have found that I didn’t expect it to happen as often during lockdown as it is, which sucks if people still feel the need to do this when the country is literally in a pandemic.
Agreed. What change would you like to see around this? Is there anything you’d like people to know?
I would like it to be known how unsafe women feel in general. I think sometimes, in general, and I hate generalising, men don’t realise how often women feel unsafe and in simple daily scenarios that they wouldn’t feel unsafe, we do.
I would like it to be illegal, ideally, to harass people when they are running
I would like it to be known that it’s not just men that harass women, men harass men, women harass men and men harass women too.
I would like there to be an easier way of reporting harassment, I think it’s difficult to report if you don’t know the name of the person or you don’t catch the number plate.
I would like the community to be supportive online regarding this situation.
But mostly I would like it to never happen and for people to stop doing this, but this is the ideal scenario and I don’t know if it would ever happen.
I would like to feel safe running.
Yes, to all of that! Thanks so much, Liv. This has been really insightful. Any last words of wisdom or support for us?
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies) is an amazing book and podcast which I’ve used as one of the platforms to teach myself about misogyny and the patriarchy. It strives for equality for all genders. Give it a listen. Also Jameela Jamil is amazing and anything she writes is incredible, her podcast, i-weigh, is really great too. I find engrossing myself in feminist literature and podcasts really helps me to channel my anger towards something positive when this happens.
I agree, feminism is about empowerment and equality for all – feminist literature certainly puts my jumbled thoughts into order when things all get a bit too much. Thanks again Liv, keep running!
Go check out Liv’s blog Liv For Running to read about her racing and travels!