Running, Vulnerable

In search of the Matese Falcon #15 - African Fish Eagle, Malta Falconry Centre Yesterday was my long run for the week. I didn’t take Miss B, because it was over 10K and I worry for her paws. Also, I knew I would need most if not all of my resources to keep going, with little left over to deal with her being interested in other dogs or chasing buses or whatnot. Plus, at about 8K she sort of gets the idea that we’re not going to catch anything, so she slows waaaaay dooooooown. Which is fine, normally I’m running for endurance, not speed. Still, anything near or over 10K is not for my running partner.

It struck me, while running through a park near the Little Prince’s burned-down school, that I was feeling odd. Not breathless, it was just a steady run, not a tempo or anything. It took me about a kilometer to figure it out.

Without Miss B, I felt…vulnerable.

I don’t just run with her to take the edge off her working drive so she can rest. I run with her because she’s good protection for a lone woman. Odd Trundles is so sweet-natured he’d probably be useless in a tussle, but not so my Aussie. Besides, Odd’s a sprinter. Dangerous over short distances…if you’re a bit of kibble. Miss B is fully capable of chasing someone down, and keeping them on the ground until I can get there.

Miss B alerts me to people walking ahead on our route, or odd things in bushes. She once flushed a guy hiding in some blackberries by lunging. (To this day I don’t know what the hell he was doing in there, since there were no berries. *shrug*) When I run alone, my “space” is invaded far more frequently. Males get a lot closer. Some of that is just the social training men receive to “own” a bigger chunk of sidewalk real estate. Other female joggers instinctively give me a wide berth, as I do in return. A woman with a stroller and a small kid will try to get off the pavement when she sees me coming, before I swing off into the grass or the bike lane. A lone man will sashay down the middle of the sidewalk, taking it all up as a matter of course, ninety-five percent of the time.

In a perfect world I’d be able to run without thinking about my chances of being assaulted. Since I don’t currently live with a man I’m emotionally involved with, I realize I’m statistically safer than a lot of other women. While I run, though, there’s the yelling out car windows. The inappropriate comments when I jog by guys doing yardwork or unloading their cars or even just walking by. About the only guys that don’t make some sort of comment when I pass–usually rating my attractiveness or getting pissy with me when I don’t respond to their greeting, because of course I exist to make nice at your sallies even while I’m doing a tempo run, right?–are themselves jogging or cycling and apparently saving their breath for other things. Even when I used to run at 5am there would be, at least once a week, a car horn or a scream out a car window, usually a comment of a sexual or suggestive nature.

You’d think, at 5am, everyone would be too tired to be assholes. Apparently not.

In a perfect world I wouldn’t feel vulnerable while running (except when I’m crossing the street because some people just don’t look where they’re piloting their tons of moving metal, OMG) or have to give my daughter the “if you set your drink down and take your eyes off it, GET A FRESH ONE, get into the habit of doing this now” when she attended her first school dance. In a perfect world I’d run with Miss B because she loves it and it gives her a job to do, because she’s happiest right next to me. In a perfect world I wouldn’t have to feel that tightness all through me when I’m in my own neighborhood enjoying the sunshine and I see a male human approaching from whatever direction.

We don’t live in a perfect world. We can work like hell for a better one, but we can’t afford to overlook how the world actually is at present.

Do I feel ridiculous sometimes, because I have to make this mental calculation whenever I go anywhere alone, or even when the doorbell rings? Yes. Do I wish it wasn’t necessary? Yes. Am I going to stop making these calculations? No. I realize I am relatively privileged, that I do not live in a war zone, so on, so forth. Does it mean I feel less vulnerable while doing something so simple as jogging alone, during daylight, wearing long pants and long sleeves (and how ridiculous that I have to note what I’m wearing, really?) and not doing a blessed thing to anyone?

No. It does not.

I run anyway, but the consideration of my vulnerability, trained into me by the society we live in and bolstered by the fact that I am a survivor of abuse, does not ever go away. How much faster and further could I run if I wasn’t forced to spend energy on that? I suspect I’ll never know, and that it will only get better slowly and incrementally over my lifetime, my children’s lifetimes, their children’s. (If they choose to have any, that is. OH MY GOD, SO NOT READY FOR THAT THOUGHT.) Still, I do the work for change that I can, investing in a better and safer world for my daughter, for everyone’s daughters. Taking what steps I can to have a full life and reasonably protect myself at the same time.

But I still feel vulnerable when I run.

photo by: foxypar4
  • I hear you. That is all I can say. I don’t have any solutions, but I have certainly been there.

  • R Morris

    Unfortunately, in our society, an unescorted female must look at males as predatory, something to be wary of. I do honestly believe part of this biological, men look at women different. But I think the expression of this difference is a matter of society. Seeing the difference is one thing, being an asshole about it is another.

    I have to worry about this with a teenage daughter. Men are not to be trusted until they prove their trust. Even some of the guys you’ve known since 3rd grade. Hell of a thing to have to tell her.

  • martian moon crab

    Am I going to stop making these calculations? No

    … we never seem to be able to let down our guard no matter what. *sigh*

  • Aliyah

    I think I live in another world. I read what you are saying, but I don’t really understand. I grew up in North America (Canada) and I was taught to lock my doors even when I was in the house. There have been times when I have been out and felt scared. But I go running and walking at 5:45 and I’ve never felt like anyone is looking at me except seeing that I’m there. I don’t get stopped. No one has ever whistled at/spoken to or tried to engage me while I was running/walking. Men have usually (I think) given me space or I don’t even notice them.

    I don’t think men are predators. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be careful. And I’m not saying that you’re wrong. But my experience has been completely different. I come home from the office at 10 or 11 pm some days, take the bus home and don’t usually feel threatened. Sure, sometimes there is a group of drunk/high teenagers on the bus and I give them a wide berth but most of the time I feel perfectly safe.

    I think if my mother had told me that I should not feel safe then I wouldn’t today. Did she do me a disservice?

  • Aliyah: I definitely think you live in another world. In a way, I envy you.

  • R Morris

    I don’t think you live in another world, But maybe your perception is different. I very much hope when my daughter is older she will have the perspective that the world in general is a very good place and full of good people. But as martian moon crab said, she has to make the calculations.

    My goal as a parent is to give her enough of a frame of reference so she can make the calls on her safety later when she is older. Simply better safe than sorry.

    To put it more bluntly for her at this time, I am a male parent of a teenage girl. I see the looks boys give her and know exactly what is running through their hormone induced minds when they stare at her and nudge each other. She needs to learn that hopefully not the hard way. I hope not to install fear, just caution.

    But it still sucks I have to do this, Teenage boys were a lot easier. But our society as far as I can tell was mostly built for males with a teenage boy mentality (no matter what their real age)

  • Lili

    It’s great that you don’t understand. Your feeling of safety is how things should be. It’s not how things are for a lot of people, but I’m glad it’s so for you.

  • Boy do I hear you. I do most of my jogging on a wooded trail that is usually deserted except for the occasionally jogger or bicyclist, and safe from catcalls and such. But I grew up near DC, and was in high school/early college when a lot of women were getting raped and murdered on a popular trail near Georgetown. (Blanking on the name, but anyone from the area will probably know what I’m talking about.) So that is always in the back of my mind when I go running, even there. I used to run down Main Street when it was too dark to run on the trail, but stopped after being verbally chased by a drunk. To be fair, EVERY drunk who hangs around outside this particular bar thinks that anybody within ten feet of the bar has nothing better to do than to talk to them. But this guy kept yelling after me, to the point where I was concerned he was going to physically chase me. That was the last time I ever ran down Main Street. It’s more hassle than it’s worth.

  • Oh I meant to add: And now that I’ve got a dog — wow! Mr. Twerpings always lets me know when another jogger or a bicyclist is coming up behind us. Or another dog. Or a bird. Or a rabbit. Or a piece of trash floating on the wind. Seriously though, I wish I could take him on every run but he’s still a baby so I have to be extra careful not to overdo it with him. I think he’d be more likely to sniff and lick an attacker to death, but it’s good to know that people can’t sneak up on me anymore.