Hannah’s Story #quitthecatcall

street harassment

I know, for me, that running can sometimes feel like a completely separate part of life to colleagues and other non-running (muggle) friends. I have spent hours trying to get my housemates, drinking buddies and peers to share my enthusiasm for the sport but, often, they just don’t get my obsession.

However, more often than not, the dangers that come with running, specifically street harassment, often leak much easier into our home and working lives.

In this post I speak to Hannah about how her running, and unfortunately the consequences of street harassment on her professional life.

Hannah is an awesome woman who refuses to let this get the better of her which, I think we can all agree, is easier said than done. It isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t the only way of dealing with it. Some of us get angry, some of us write blogs, and some of us are Hannah.

Her story is an example of how harassment in running can be a gateway to the mistreatment of women in their home, or even working life.

Harassment doesn’t stop on the street.


Hey Hannah, so as with all my guests I like to ask them how they first got into running – tell us your story!

I first tried running in my teens but it was more of a punishment then because I thought I needed to lose weight so very quickly fell out of love with it. I did a few Race for Lifes, mainly 5kms but also two Half Marathons, yet still didn’t enjoy running, then I moved to Austria just before my 24th birthday where I met Eric Keeler (@run.the.usa) and quickly became best friends.

We would go on long hikes together and play board games on the nights we didn’t fancy partying with the rest of the town. One of my favourite days we spent together was a few months before he left to run across America, we took all the kit he had been gifted up the mountain to get some good photos of them for his social media. One of the things was “Bugster”, the pushchair he carried all his gear in during his crossing, and we got a lot of funny looks as we pushed it around, seemingly having left our child somewhere. When he crossed the finish line and his brother was running alongside him streaming it all live on facebook I was sat at home crying with pride (lets not say that too loudly though, he’ll get big headed haha). Since we have both moved back to the UK, Eric and I hardly get to see each other as we are now have a five hour drive separating us and not the seven minute walk we had gotten used to, and I miss him, so persuaded him to let me come as his date to the Running Awards last year (2019-I was 26) where, after a couple of glasses of prosecco and having a front row seat at the bloggers forum, I then saw the video clip of Loch Ness Marathon and found myself declaring that I was going to run it… not “I want to do that” but a very clear “I’m going to do that” and by the end of the week I had actually signed up. I didn’t expect to but, just as everyone had told me I would, finished race day buzzing, unable to walk but buzzing. I also never expected to fall in love with running but I have and over the first few months of 2020 it has saved my life.

Running is such a good way to make friends for life, it’s amazing you had someone inspire you that way, as I’m sure you did him too! So, outside of running for a second, have there been many incidents of street harassment you can recall?

I remember builders whistling and shouting all the time, in fact I don’t remember ever walking past a builder on scaffolding who has kept quiet. I couldn’t say when the earliest memory is but that in itself says it was too early. When it’s guys that far up on a building site I always feel uncomfortable but am able to calmly keep walking past, the few shouts I’ve had some someone at street level have led me to keeping one hand in a pocket with my keys between my knuckles just in case.

It’s such a shame that we feel the need to arm ourselves sometimes. I know I’ve held my keys in fear before too, I think most women have. In terms of running, then, have there been any instances where you’ve felt unsafe?

I live in a very rural little area so most of my runs are on country roads with very few others around. I have had a lorry honk at me once which took me by surprise and I jumped out the way, I didn’t look up at the driver as they passed so don’t know if their honk was actually intended to ask me to move but looking at the road they had plenty of space to get around me.

During the peak of marathon training there were a couple of days I ran the 13 km from home to town, then either got a lift back or looped around and turned it into an even longer run. Even though I had never experienced street harassment while running before, the first time I got into the town I was filled with a sense of dread and didn’t have my huge bunch of keys to keep between my fingers so felt even more at risk. I don’t recall being catcalled, maybe I was just too focused on getting out of the town again to notice, but the next day at work when I had 3 men in one day come up to me and comment on my legs, one even asked if I use any cream to stop my clothes rubbing, saying he would be willing to help me apply it. I simply told them they were being inappropriate and walked away. The team respected it but did make joking comments about me running around in shorts and a bra was asking for it.

Working in hospitality I am used to a certain type of banter amongst the team and we expect comments from some of our regulars, particularly a certain few older male regulars. Generally, if the harassment is just verbal we are likely to ignore it, but minimise our conversational time with them, if they begin to invade our personal space and/or touch us then that is the point a verbal warning is issued.

That’s not something I’ve talked about so much but definitely another of the darker sides of running – the sudden need for people you know to comment on your body too. Often innocently but it all adds to the normalisation of the sexualisation of women. Is there anything you think about regarding safety before running, any preventative measures?

If I am running into town I am a lot more conscious of the time of day I go and just keep my head down and focus for the few minutes it takes me to do the loop in and out again as well as keeping my cap pulled down quite low so if I do spot a customer, they hopefully won’t recognise me – yelling at me in the street is one thing but making me feel uncomfortable in the work place is a whole new level. I am looking at better route planning for this coming summer to give me other options to try through the town for if I want to go straight after work, or avoiding the town altogether when on my longer runs. I have invested in a hydration vest that has an emergency whistle on it too to get attention if I even feel unsafe.

Gosh, I can’t even imagine having to see the person who has cat called you in the street at work. How scary! Has any of this affected you you behave on a run?

Hell no! My behaviours do not need changing, it is those who think harassment is okay who need to change theirs!

I wear what is physically most comfortable to run in, I love my body, it gets me through a hell of a lot of sh*t, I’m not going to make it sweaty and uncomfortable just in case there are d*ckheads out there! I do, as mentioned before, sometimes think about the probability of coming across such charming individuals when route planning.

Love your confidence! I agree whole heartedly, we shouldn’t feel like we have to dress differently to avoid unwanted comments. Unfortunately, I know a lot of women experience negative feedback and victim blaming when it comes to the harassment they encounter, have you experienced any of this?

I have had jokes from those I am closest to in my team at work but only because our friendship is so solid and they know I would have sarcastically said the same things myself in an attempt to laugh off any unease I have felt.

Two of my ex boyfriends (one was already an ex, the other I was with at the time) have commented on it, both have had an education and lost the privilege of my attention…I learnt I need to refine my taste in men haha!

Do you notice an influx in it at any particular time? I’ve noticed a lot of it during lockdown, for example.

Not really, although I am very aware of people becoming more concerned about WHERE runners are than how we are dressed during lockdown, but again, living somewhere so rural I am not likely to see others on the road when I am running, they are all on the footpaths which go through the fields.

Finally, what changes would you like to see to avoid this happening to you and other women in the future?

I want to see more education on consent, unsolicited behaviour, and make it all equal. Yes we, women of the world, are more likely to be the victims and not seen as the threats our male counterparts are but if we act like we can get away with unsolicited behaviour then how are we ever going to teach men where to draw the line. E.g. a female customer found my colleague on facebook, sent him a friend request and became his number 1 fan and asked him out, this was seen as cute but when male customers do the same to us it is seen as creepy.  

Hannah, thank you so much. It’s easy to get hung up of the running side of street harassment sometimes. We mustn’t forget the other implications and how its impact can follow us through to other areas of life. I’m sure a lot of us don’t have to worry about seeing our harassers often but, of course, it is life and a real issue for some women. Education on consent and respect really is the first stepping stone in treating each other like human beings and ironing out harassment once and for all!


Jess’ Story #quitthecatcall

street harassment

Street Harassment Awareness Week

STOP Street Harassment is an international campaign aiming to raise awareness against Street Harassment – every year they head an awareness week and, it just so happens, my campaign has conveniently cat-call collided head first into it.

I wanted to take this opportunity to begin to share some of the experiences from some amazing women who have bravely said they’d stand beside us in this fight.

These are their accounts, verbatim. They are personal and raw. They matter. They are all too relatable.

I am collating and posting these stories in the hope that, if we shout loud enough, we will quash the victim blaming and stigma associated with it.

This anecdotal evidence is a huge step toward getting out voices heard.

Some will be anonymous, some will not. All are important and are real.

I have asked these wonderful women the same questions to highlight the face that our experiences with street harassment are, unfortunately, all too similar, common and consistent and yet still vastly personal.


In this post I spoke to the wonderful Jess (@kennyyyyy_)

Jess is a wonderful light in the running community. She recently ran her first marathon and proved that training hard, turning up and trusting yourself really can pay off . She’s a wonderfully strong character who I relate to a lot and reminds me that, some times, it’s ok to be silly among the serious.

Hi Jess, you’re part of the Instagram running community, but what inspired you to run in the first place? And when did you start?

I first started running as a teenager, largely due to the classic societal pressures to be skinny (a sadly common reality). I dipped in and out of it throughout my teenage years and university, generally building myself up to 10k, but I was never able to really push myself further or find any proper joy in it as it often went alongside very restrictive diets which obviously aren’t great running fuel! About 2 and a half years ago I threw out my scales, gave the middle finger to diet culture, and started running because I love myself rather than because I hate myself – and this MARATHONER hasn’t stopped since!

I relate a lot to that – to be honest, I started running for the exact same reason. We seem to have had the same experience of running through university too, I think I prioritised cider too much! So we’ve both not always been runners. Does that mean there’s been incidents of street harassment in your life outside of running? What is your earliest memory of this?

There have been plenty! My walk to work is 10 minutes, and I would say at least half of those walks I get some sort of harassment – from a leer out the window to a beep and shout. I couldn’t say my earliest memory exactly, but I do remember being catcalled whilst in school uniform, and even as a fairly attention-seeking teenager I knew how gross that was. I think it felt like an inevitability though, and so we would brush it off as definitely creepy, but expected.

-Have there been many instances of you feeling unsafe on a run? What caused it and what actions did you take in the moment, if so?

One that springs to mind was when I’d forgotten my headphones (which makes me nervous anyway as I can’t take my mind off people around me) and I ended up getting chased through a park by a group of 4/5 lads who’d yelled something at me and I’d told them to fuck off. I’ve also had cars slow down and crawl along next to me, with blokes leaning out the window asking for my number etc. I generally speed up and/or change direction. Sometimes I’ll cut my run short or change my route. To be honest, at this point any male presence on my runs makes me feel unsafe!

That’s horrific. I don’t know about you but I always think of a million witty things to say in response to these situations after but, in the moment, my mind goes completely blank and “fuck off” is usually all I can muster. People always tell me to be carful when responding too – but it’s hard to not want to stick up for yourself! Do you take preventative measures when running – is thinking about your safety normal to you?

I have my mum tracking me on runs, and my partner when I’m staying at his. I also have a whistle on me for most runs. I generally try to stick with very rural routes, I’m lucky that I live somewhere I can run routes avoiding a lot of people!

So is there a certain time of day or any environments you avoid running in?

If it’s dark (evening or morning) I’ll only run in well-lit residential areas, which is a pain in the winter months! I won’t usually run through town centre during busier hours.

And has that affected your behaviours in and out of running?

I tried running in just a sports bra and shorts a couple of times last summer when it was really hot, and I just felt I started to victim-blame myself every time I was catcalled in those outfits (which I would never do to another woman). I just felt so exposed and I’m very wary of doing it anymore so I’ll always wear a t-shirt.

I feel you on that – I have blamed myself before for the actions of harassers but would never even think of doing so to another women! On the subject of victim blaming, have you experienced any negative feedback from people close to you regarding outdoor exercise and harassment?

I’d say the main response from older generations is that I should be flattered/take it as a compliment. The alternative seems to be ambivalence and not seeing it as a big deal. When I was younger there was definitely more of the victim blaming – wearing “slutty” clothing etc meant you obviously wanted that attention. I don’t think anyone would dare say that to me now!

Hopefully attitudes like that are changing. Do you notice an influx in it after certain events? I notice a lot more during sports event, and even lockdown seems to have brought more out of the woodwork!

The worst it’s been for me was when I used to live in Bristol behind the Bristol Rovers home stadium. I remember once I went out for a run without realising there was a home game, ended up getting cornered and followed up my road by a load of rowdy Rovers fans. Never made that mistake again. The pack mentality along with booze just seems to make things a million times worse. Where I live now is so rural that during lock-down I’ve actually experienced it less because there’s just so few cars around, so I count myself lucky for that.

I think, weirdly, being on trafficless roads makes most of us feel safer in that aspect – which is everything our parents probably warned us against. What other measures do you feel would make you feel safe? What would you like to see change?

France criminalised street harassment and started handing out fines and it works! I don’t think it would eliminate the problem, but knowing we have that backing and we have the law on our side would be reassuring at the very least. I’d love to see attitudes to it change, I’d love to see more men calling out their friends rather than laughing off their behaviour and enabling it to continue (that one is a big ask).

You heard it from Jess, we need allies in this fight. It’s important for us to call out harassment when we see it and if we are safe to do so. It’s especially important to hold our friends accountable if we see this. Education is key.


Thank you so much, Jess, for speaking out on this. Your honest account will show others that they’re not alone and it’s ok to speak out.


My Story #quitthecatcall

Uncategorized

Cat Calling.

Let’s talk about it.

When I started writing this post, at the beginning of the Corona-induced lockdown I had my thoughts organised.

I felt calm and concise in what I wanted to say.

But now

Now a fire has been lit within me.

Now it’s time for change.

Recently, I have been sharing my experiences more and more on Instagram, regarding street harassment. I have been overwhelmed with messages of support and solidarity, of well wishes and advice. But what causes a knot of rage in my stomach and has distressed me the most is the accounts of every other female runner on the platform.

I know I’m not alone in this, in the feeling of dread and uncertainty every time I pull my laces tight and cross the threshold of my front door. I knew that before and to have that crushingly confirmed has been the spark that has led me to wanting to take action.

I guess my story is as good a place to start as any.

I’ve spoken to many non-runners in the past about the street harassment of our kind. It often results in the same, age-old, tiresome “but you’re called Cat, wheeey” comment, which I’ve now come to expect so much so that I’ll usually get there first. Saves my eyes rolling, that way.

I’m more than happy to laugh about the serious stuff in life – humour is the buoyant, British way of dealing with most adversity. However, it’s time to lose the smiles, change our grins to war paint and stare this street-born affliction in the face.

The harassment of runners leads to a dangerous precedent for women in most other aspects of life.

I can only speak from my perspective. As a woman who has been pounding the pavements for four years now and, before that, a barely-pubescent teen ambling to the village shop for a Creme Egg, I’ve seen my fair share of heckles, white van whistles and “Smile, love”s.

I’ve been shouted at, sworn at, followed, touched. I’ve chased motorcycles down streets in a blinded fit of rage and I’ve crumbled to my knees after in exasperation. Damning my legs for not being able to keep up with them and my eyes for not being keener.

“Get the registration number, we’ll have a word”

Have a word. That’s what the police officers told me, as I begged them in the street, breathless and bitter for something, anything I could do to stop this.

To not feel safe, to know the law couldn’t protect me, was shattering. In that moment, my confidence in our leaders waned.

Not that my ire is with the police – it’s not. The law doesn’t make their job easy in this matter and, quite frankly, they can do as much as I can with the little information I can maintain in that circumstance.

It always happens so fast. I’m barely able to muster an instinctive “fuck you” before my head is able to spur my body into action. By that point they’re usually just a small, misogynistic dot on an a-road horizon.

There’s a lot to be said for the inclusion of street harassment under the legal umbrella of sexual harassment. In September 2018, France took the steps toward making cat-calling and gender based harassment illegal after a video of a man assaulting a woman went viral, after she confronted his vulgarity towards her.

You’ve probably seen it.

It briefly shook the internet.

Before we all forgot.

Because this aggravating act is so ordinary, such a persistent, accepted element of our existence that we can’t help but sweep it under the rug as soon as it becomes inconvenient.

It did, however, confirm what we’ve been trying to divulge to society our entire lives.

This footage was prime evidence that verbal harassment is a gateway toward other more violent assaults down the line. If you asked any woman this, they could have told you that in an instant.

There is solidarity in the female experience. Not that I don’t have the support from my male peers. But there is a certain amount of nescience in the community. Whenever I’ve posted on social media about the reality of harassment there is always an influx of shock from my male friends and nods of acknowledgement from women.

But how do we expect our male peers to know about these every-day occurrences if there is still a stigma around talking about it. I’m guilty myself of just shrugging these experiences off as “it’s hot out, I’m wearing less, I made eye contact…”. And, whilst I’d never in a million years victim blame another woman with these thoughts, the accountability for my own ‘choices’ does seem to shame me into silence more often than I’d like.

I’m reluctant to say I’ve been fairly ‘lucky’ with street harassment in my running life.

I’ve never been violently attacked.

I’ve never had persistent, unwanted advances for more than a few minutes.

I’ve never had an encounter that’s lead to further repercussions for me.

Is that lucky?

I know plenty of women will be under the impression that, in the same circumstances, they’d feel lucky too.

Because, the horror stories you hear as a little girl seem worse. The terror you read in the media. The influx of warnings to protect yourself, don’t dress like that, carry pepper spray, don’t get too drunk, don’t flirt – he’ll think you’re asking for it, don’t go out after dark, text me when you’re home. The need to carry a wolverine like grip as you walk home from a night out, keys in fist. The stories from friends, from women we love. Who have experienced worse. The feeling that, on any run or night out, that worse, well, that could be me next.

I’m just lucky it hasn’t happened yet.

What a society we live in, to assume that the responsibility of safety relies on our own actions to divert attacks, rather than to prevent attackers being made. That if we only feel slightly threatened that we can count that as a win. That living in a constant state of mild fear is the norm.

So, I want to start talking about it.

I want to quash the stigma of street harassment.

I want us to speak up and the people in power to start noticing.

It’s scary, it’s ambitious and it’s provocative.

Women who have spoken out for their rights in the past have been subject to media abuse, cyber attacks, keyboard warriors criticism. They’ve been threatened with rape and death.

Which is all the more reason to speak out.

Until women are taken seriously, until our experiences are treated with respect this bigotry will thrive.

It’s time to make a change… watch this space.