As confident and badass as someone appears to be, more often than not, their experiences with harassment affect them. It’s not always visible, but it’s there.
Our actions and decisions are based on our experiences and, when it comes to harassment, we often base our actions off a fear for our safety.
Badass triathlete, business women, actor and very busy Pippa Moss kindly took the time to speak to me about this.
Pippa was also part of a photography campaign challenging stereotypes about Essex girls which I encourage you to check out!
Hi Pippa, so nice to catch up with you – sorry it’s not under better circumstances! Would you mind speaking a little bit about your running? When did you start?
Started running at secondary school – I wasn’t great but what I lacked in skill I made up for in enthusiasm and so became the reserve for both sprinting and long distance. I was in every sport team going so was pretty fit anyway. I was a pretty small teenager so I was quite nippy at basketball and hockey and all that.
After my Dad died (and during the many bereavements I’ve gone through) it became my way to ‘escape’ – if things were tough at home, I’d get changed and put my trainers on and just run. It became therapy whilst I learnt to figure out how to articulate my thoughts and feelings.
I’ve since run a half marathon and did my first Olympic distance triathlon last year. The first of many I hope! I want to get better at endurance running and do the London Marathon.
London Marathon is probably one of my dream races too. Your triathlons are impressive! I imagine that means you’re out on the streets a lot training. Have there been incidents of street harassment in your life outside of training? What is your earliest memory if so?
Earliest memory is having my arse slapped when I was walking down Southend highstreet in Essex with my Mum. After that when I was on my first night out with my boyfriend I was pussy grabbed by a stranger. We got him kicked out but I didn’t drink or enjoy going out for a long time after that. I didn’t understand it. I also find it funny how I always feel the need to say I was with my boyfriend at the time. Regardless of being in a male presence, I don’t know how guys think this sort of behaviour is okay.
Wow, I’m so sorry to hear that Pippa, it just goes to show that the normalisation of street harassment leads people to violent and physical altercations too. So, I imagine there have been many instances of you feeling unsafe on a run, then? What was the cause of these and what actions did you take in the moment, if so?
A lot of instances! There’s the usual, drive-by hooting and yelling at you – if it’s busy you feel safer but if there’s no one around it’s scary. I used to give them the finger or shout something back – but since I start self-defence (yes, I started learning self-defence) I learnt that you have to do everything in your power to avoid a confrontation. Now I just ignore it. I have plenty of other instances of being harrassed, however, where, if I felt safe enough, I would go up to the person committing the harassment and introduce myself and let them know, perfectly calmly, who I am and that I don’t appreciate it. I ask them for their name and tell them mine, offer my hand to shake and just get to know them a little. I feel like this makes them see I’m not just something you can shout a ‘compliment’ to. Fuck knows if it actually acheives anything.
Are then preventative measures you take to try and avoid feeling unsafe, then? I know I’ll often think twice about wearing shorts if the weather is nice (although it doesn’t often stop me).
Depending on the time of day I alter my route. Even though I prefer running in shorts I rarely do. I should wear what I want but I feel my past experience makes me conscious about it.
I know I also base my clothing choice on how busy it’ll be out, like rush hour, for example, I’ll avoid tight clothing. Is there a certain time of day or environments you avoid running in?
I prefer running in mornings and evenings – I used to run in the dark with lights because I felt more comfortable doing so, but as I’ve got older and experienced more crazy behaviour I tend not to do this so much.
I ask people whether or not their experiences with harassment affects their behaviour and habits running and, as you’ve mentioned, it makes you reconsider what you will wear, as opposed to what you want to wear. It seems that this has really impacted your freedom when running?
As mentioned in another question, yes. Sadly, the idea that what you’re wearing can be held against you should anything happen seems to be prevalent. I was a street performer for a while and being an actress I can hold my own, if I’m just living my days I tend to wear what I want. But I find in the gym community/running you sometimes get some ‘lads’ who feel like they have a right to ‘oggle’ at you. I’m just running/gymming to get to work. Not for attention.
Have you experienced any negative feedback from people close to your training and street harassment? A lot of women I’ve spoken to experience inadvertent victim blaming.
In a way. My Mum always says “be careful”. Like I’m just going to be completely reckless and irresponsible. It really pisses me off because women shouldn’t have to “be careful”. We should all, as a race, be respectful. Little girls shouldn’t have to “keep their wits about them” (another favourite catchphrase my family use), we should teach everyone on the planet to respect others from a young age, then we might not have this issue. It’s this subtle phrasing that reinforces the idea that women need to protect themselves, when in fact, we need to teach the perpetrators, not to attack in the first place. We need to nip the root cause in the bud.
Ahh, completely agree! Often these warnings come with the best intentions but it really does put the emphasis on us having to mind our safety, rather than just being able to exist safely. Is there any particular event in which you find there’s an influx of harassment? Lockdown has been particularly bad for me.
To be honest, not particularly. It’s pretty consistent regardless of the social climate.
I can’t really work out if the consistency is a good or bad thing! Sorry you have to deal with it so often though. What would you like to see being done about this? What kind of actions do you think need to be taken?
If that when we reported this sort of behaviour something was actually done about it. I would like us to acknowledge talking to and shouting at and sometimes touching women you don’t know/hardly know in public and privately is a massive problem. #MeToo has helped this in not just the creative workplace, but all. Still I feel a lot of harassment reports are swept under the rug for not being a serious offence. Just a few months ago before lockdown I had a group of lads inform me one of them was a rapist and start vocally harassing women on the tube. I reported it and absolutely nothing was done about it.
Thanks Pippa, that last encounter you mentioned is absolutely out of order.
it’s evident that there’s a data gap in the UK regarding street harassment. Even though it isn’t currently a criminal offence if you see or experience and incident please report the time, date, location and something to identify the perpetrator by (like a number plate). The more we report the more evidence we have to stand on when we take this fight to MPs.