Attention Male Drivers

Dear Male Drivers Men,

It isn’t okay to slow down next to a lone woman running (or any women for that matter) and yell out the window, “Hey!  Looking good!”  Even if you think you’re simply extending a compliment.  Even if you think you’re just sharing what’s on your mind. Even if you think it’s harmless.  It’s not okay.  In case you missed the abundance of headlines and news stories recounting horrific incidents that happen to women by men, we live in a “rape culture.”  We live in a patriarchal society.  Perhaps you didn’t have the privilege of studying gender with amazing professors in college.  For this, I try to extend you the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe you truly believe that cat-calls are compliments and something a woman might appreciate.  I am here to tell you that is not the case.  I am here to tell you what happens when you do that.  First of all, it is startling. Runners in general don’t really want to be yelled at, rudely honked at, or have cars slowing down near them.  We tend to be in what’s known as a “zone” when running.  Usually we are wearing headphones and are deep in thought and/or deep in a performance of the current tune playing in our ears. Yelling, honking, sudden movement–these things make us jump. After I jump, as a female, I immediately start trying to figure out if you’re going to fuck with me any further. I refrain from giving you the finger, though it is knee-jerk, because I don’t want to encourage any further interaction.  I see your SUV ahead stopping at the intersection, so I slow down my pace so as not to encounter you again.  As you drive out of sight, I have to wonder if you’re going to turn around and head my way again.  I start scanning every car coming toward me, on alert, flight or fight, looking to make sure there are people around, and that I have an out.  I’m running, so really my heart rate is going quite fast enough, but thank you for giving it that extra boost into race day mode.  Once you were out of sight, I did manage to shave some seconds off my pace as I hurried to make a turn onto a road where you could no longer see me.  I am not sure if you intended any of this, or not.  My generous thought is that you’re just clueless.  That you just have no idea what it is like to be a woman, and that you’re not paying attention to all the red flags society has raised around these issues. My less generous thought is that this is typical male behavior in a society where making women feel uncomfortable is a kind of pass-time for many; a joke; something to ensure continued male dominance.

I am not going to change my behavior.  I am entitled to run on city streets, country roads, backwoods trails.  That is my right.  Unfortunately, this means that you don’t have the right to yell things out your car window or as you’re passing by on foot or by bike, as I engage in my activity of choice. Maybe this seems unfair to you.  In general, I don’t prefer to take rights away from people, but as you know, sometimes we have to take away the freedom to act like an asshole in order to keep society safe. I too wish we lived in a society where women felt safe.  I too wish men could extend a compliment without it seeming creepy.  But that is not the case. I just wish more men realized this.  And that, dear male reader, is why I write this.

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