Friends might think I complain way too often about sexual harassment. As a runner, and someone who can be considered conventionally attractive (blonde hair, thin, long legs), I often face unwanted comments. Way too often. Most women probably face the same, but my “friendly face” (as my mother calls it) seems to invite more unwanted interactions than I’d like.
Most runners dress for comfort, wearing as little clothes as the weather allows. I hear you – “Oh, of course you get sexually harassed when wearing a sports bra and short shorts.” Well, yeah, I do. But I’ve been sexually harassed when covered in much, much more; I will never forget the day when I had a car honking and yelling a, “Hey baby,” out the window at me when it was in the single digits. I was running in two pairs of pants, layers and layers of running tops, huge mittens, and I was wearing a face mask. I looked like I was about to rob a freaking bank and here some idiot was, hanging out the window, probably seeing his breath as he screamed at me.
Seriously. This is my reality.
For all the men who claim it doesn’t happen that much, it does. I get yelled at, leered at, whistled at, almost every day. Perhaps it “helps” that I generally run at least one hour a day outside, so I have increased visibility time to these perpetrators.
For all those who tell me I’m going to miss it when it stops happening (AKA when I get old and ugly), I won’t. The brief times that I don’t experience it, life is blissfully peaceful.
For all those who tell me it’s a compliment, no, it’s not. A compliment is when a coworker I like and know tells me they like my new dress, or when my friend tells me I look good, or when my partner notices the extra care I’ve taken that day and responds with a comment about how beautiful I look, or when my parents tell me how gorgeous I’ve grown up to be. Those are all compliments. “Hey baby,” and “Nice ass,” and “You look like you do a lot of running with that amazing body, mmmmm mmmm,” are not compliments.
For all those who have told me, “It’s friendly,” no, it’s not. If it was friendly, then why don’t they say the same thing to men that pass by them?
But one thing I’ve noticed, as I resent this unwanted attention, is the pretty privilege.
“This happens to you because you’re pretty. You should take it as a compliment,” I was told before. While I don’t take it as a compliment, I notice that these same jerks who yell out the window at me, will brake their vehicles abruptly to let me pass in front on my bike, or not honk when I dart in front of their car while running, or will let me cut the line as I balance a variety of bags in my arm during my errands, or will offer me their seat on the subway. Why? Because I’m “pretty.”
I remember the time after my grandfather’s death when I broke into tears and sat on the curb, bawling, when a strange man stopped to ask, “Are you okay?”
Did he ask me because he was being kind – or because I was pretty? I choose to think the random stranger, asking to see if I was okay, was being nice.
“Enjoy it while you can,” a mentor told me years ago. “You’ll get away with a lot now. You’ll get a lot of help, attention. Once you get older, no one even looks at you. No one bothers to help you with your bags. Nothing. You are nothing.”
Nothing. It sounds so peaceful, it sounds so nice at times, especially when my stomach is in a knot when I pass this one particular construction site every single day, or when I look at the sidewalk instead of ahead of me as I walk around the Financial District on my lunch break.
Why can’t more people just be nice – to everyone, not just the pretty women? Sure, there’s a privilege, like when I snuck in an extra bottle of sunscreen at an airport in Peru, or getting help, but really, everyone should have the same help, the same options. It just makes me feel kind of dirty, like I took an unfair shortcut. And of course, my mother taught me to be nice and friendly and helpful, and it would be much, much nicer if the entire world was like that.