On Becoming a Target
Running is one of my passions. It keeps me active and sane. And I use it both as a means of sport and meditation. Whenever I have a chance to go out to run I do. Sometimes I think I simply sign up for marathons just so I have an excuse to run more often.
My big goal for 2016 was to join a running group. And then to run a marathon.
I joined a feminist group instead.
Recently, I noticed that my runs no longer required just a time check “Do I have time to run, are the kids ok, will I still be able to support the evening meeting or make dinner?” and if the answer was yes I would be off and away.
While I was still living in the US often a check whether it was too snowy and icy would come in handy — I just did not want to break my feet when it was too slippery out. And sometimes if it was too dark, I could not justify to run either for the fear of stepping on a rock or tree branch and rolling my ankle as it happened 8 years ago. Where I lived there was no street lighting. I have just become careful and put safety over running carelessly. I bought a treadmill instead, so I could enjoy the occasional run even when outside did not look run-worthy.
I hate running on the treadmill. It is a little like canned soup and just a mere means to stay fit, but little enjoyment. This is why I left the treadmill in the US.
Lately, my checks have become a little different. I am checking the dress code: Am I covering my butt, am I modestly dressed, and do I have my phone with me. What time of the day is it, how long will I be away, where will I be running, and … I really should buy that pepper spray.
Since I moved to Germany there is hardly a run where no man makes a stupid comment. I have heard it all: comments on my butt, comments on my boobs, whistling, suggestive gestures, stupid comments on me being too slow or too fast, or the one or other guy trying to run next to me to amuse his friends… Once I had two men blocking the road and urging me to stop. I did not.
I learned that Friday afternoon and night is a “no go” for running. Too many early drunks or people in party mood. I learned to stay away from groups of twenty-somethings. I learned to leave the side walk when a group of men is not making any intent to let me pass even though they have obviously seen me. Or I have pretended to be partners with another male runner who happened to run close by until I passed a perceived danger zone.
I hurts to say it, but Germany in the Rhine region is not a safe place for a woman to be alone. And it does not even matter if it is dark or not, it really only matters who you run into. In the beginning I felt like I was developing a paranoid trait. I was worried I would start adapting racist traits or am becoming conservative at my ripe age. I have pondered every time after each small incident what I could have done better and how I could avoid any potential harmful situation… and I always wonder what happened in the last 15 years that this city that I did not feel unsafe in is now a place where I feel uncomfortable and unprotected when by myself.
I have not found any solution to avoid danger that does not impact my personal freedom negatively. Of course I could buy another treadmill. Of course I can buy pepper spray. Of course I can only run in groups. Of course I can continue to overdress…, but how sustainable is this in the long run?
I joined a feminist group, because it is now time to stand up. It is important to be open and honest about what is going on. It is time to actually state that it is not ok to touch when you are not invited to touch, that it is not ok to comment on my body, that I do not dress in tights to make you drool over my body, that I am absolutely not your toy when I go out by myself… And there is nothing that makes it ok to take my right away. Not your religion, not your education, not your upbringing, not your negative experience with another girlfriend, not the third or fourth bottle of beer that you just had… absolutely nothing!
And I do not want to be belittled by others with the arrogant looks “There is so much going on in this world, and you only think about your own issues? Feminism has come so far, let’s give it a rest.” I also do not want my experiences and feeling negated by male colleagues or friends “I do not think it is that bad, you must be imagining things, I never see women being attacked, you must misunderstand their actions and behavior”.
Yes, it is that bad. And denying that our efforts to emancipate and become more equal are going backwards, is not helping. It is time to look up, stand up, and fight for equal rights.
And maybe I will join this running group as a second goal in 2016. After all it can only make me safer if I actually run with other people.
And maybe a pepper spray is not such a bad idea either…
Picture 1 — I run where I am not alone; luckily there are lots of runners and walkers out.
Picture 2 — My running route is in danger of flooding.