I jet across Sunrise Highway, one of the busiest roads in town, and hear a loud beep. I jump, thinking I’m about to get hit. But when I look to my right, the red Chevy isn’t trying to turn in front of me. No, it’s just continuing straight ahead, driving at a snail’s pace so that the driver can get a better look at me while I’m running. I see his mouth moving, yelling something vulgar at me I’m sure, but fortunately, I can’t hear his comment over the David Guetta song blaring through my headphones.
But I can feel his eyes burning into me like acid, and even though this happens to me at least once a run, it still makes my stomach drop.
Behind my big cat-eye sunglasses, I roll my eyes and mutter words of disgust under my breath. A quarter-mile later I’m crossing a side street as I pick up my pace, moving on to the tough portion of my workout. I’m pushing myself so hard that I barely notice as the window rolls down on a beat up white Ford that’s coming at me, until suddenly I hear it again: a loud honk. I look up just in time to see a strange man leering at me as we cross paths. I think about giving him the finger, but then I decide against it. I’m running slower by now; I’ve moved on to the recovery portion of my interval run, and I wonder what exactly it is that makes me a target.
For a moment I question my typical running outfit of Nike spandex running tights and a fitted top. Are my clothes making me stand out? Should I be wearing something less form-fitting? The thought has certainly crossed my mind before, but I’ve long since decided that I won’t stop wearing what I want to wear when I run, and I certainly won’t ever stop running.
If I could face my harassers I would certainly have a lot to say. I don’t wear running tights for your enjoyment. I don’t set out on a run looking for your attention. I wear running tights to be comfortable. To run faster, longer, harder. I run to feel unstoppable, strong and empowered, not degraded.
It has to end. All of it. The street harassment of females in general is a topic of conversation in and of itself, but the harassment of female runners in particular is an issue that I am no longer choosing to stay silent about.
When I talk to others about my love for running, I talk about how I started from nowhere and how I am now stronger than I ever thought I could be. I talk about how running has changed my life and made me more confident in myself than ever before. I brag about the half-marathon I’m training for.
But what I don’t do is talk about the harassment I face, even though it happens to me every single time I run. In the four years since I started running, I have been honked at, gestured at, and yelled at hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I know it isn’t only me. I’m not the only target of this disgusting and all too common, behavior. But I don’t hear other female runners talk about either. Why not?
For starters, it’s not our fault. It doesn’t matter what we look like, what we weigh, how tall we are, the color of our hair, or what we are wearing. It isn’t our fault. We are not “asking for it.” I used to feel sick when it first started happening to me. I was embarrassed, ashamed even, but as I became a better runner and started to run further, my workouts transitioned from the track to the streets, and it became more and more common. I simply got used to it. I accepted it as a fact of life.
But here’s the thing: I shouldn’t have to. None of us should have to. It has to end.