Recently, three female runners were murdered. For this early morning runner, it was an friendly reminder that the world can be a dangerous place for women.
As I ran through my pitch black suburb this morning, my mind wandered to the three women who laced up their shoes, set out for a good workout… and never returned home. For a moment, I thought, “It’d suck if I got murdered during such a good run.”
Thinking of my impending move to Chicago, I pondered switching my run to my lunch break or early evening, simply to ensure my safety. Surely, rescheduling a run is a small sacrifice for the promise of safety, especially compared to countries where women face public beatings for everything exclusive of serving their husbands, it seems.
But it’s far from our only sacrifice. Consider the unspoken code of conduct governing our behavior, our dress, our social activity, all burdens borne solely by women. At parties, we can’t dress too provocatively or “act too friendly,” lest our very presence tempts some poor unsuspecting male into deciding to force unwanted sex.
Similarly, we can’t drink too much, because at a certain point of intoxication, women apparently transform into raging sex monsters incapable of turning down sex. And should we muster the courage to report an assault, even if we’re experiencing the amnesia accompanying a traumatic attack, we can’t mistake or forget even the slightest detail, lest we be accused of dishonesty or extortion. Hell, we can’t walk home from parties alone, let alone travel elsewhere.
Though the tide is beginning to turn, women are still constrained by an unspoken, insidious code of conduct governing our behavior, our dress, our social activity. If this seems extreme, remember that women are only a generation removed from being denied credit, divorce rights, legal abortions and job security while pregnant.
So no, it’s not just about running. Summed up, these “little things” create and sustain the power differential between sexes. It instills in us a dependency on men while, paradoxically, blaming us for their acts of violence.
But only if we let it. When we fight back against this power differential, we can challenge and undermine its legitimacy. We can display and double our strength. We can liberate ourselves from the limitations on our independence.
As it relates to running, I refuse to sacrifice my happiness and health for the sick whims of a few sicker men. I won’t rearrange my schedule or life to accommodate them. I won’t turn down a chance to travel to Colorado and hike the Flatirons for them. Patriarchy was constructed on centuries of that, of female passivity, acquiescence, and fear
Sure, the risk is real. However, every action, and inaction, carries its own slate of risk. Spending free weekends in Cork while studying abroad because “safety” remains my biggest, lingering regret from my study abroad experience. So for me, nominal, calculated, reasonable risk in pursuit of my passions is preferable to certain disappointment.
40 minutes after running into the darkness this morning, I pulled back into my driveway, reveling in the post-run endorphins and admiring the interplay of pastels splashed across the sunrise.
Imagine if I’d missed out on that this morning. Imagine if Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, hadn’t ventured alone onto the Pacific Crest Trail, sans cell phone or Internet connection. If four-time Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington hadn’t backpacked through Africa and Nepal, she’d never have discovered triathlon or begun her international development career.
Certainly, some risks aren’t worth taking and others require some compromise. But when women shy away from risk, we necessarily sacrifice something else, something that might expand and empower us in ways beyond our wildest dreams. And that’s always worth considering. To be clear, I don’t consider running through safe suburban streets pre-sunrise some huge feminist crusade or anything.
But if we hide away from the darkness, we’ll never see the sun rise.