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Out There: Cat Calls Are Not OK

Susan Lacke writes about an unfortunate—and uncomfortable—incident during a recent run.

Susan Lacke writes about an unfortunate—and uncomfortable—incident during a recent run.

I was six miles into my 15-miler when three orange words glowed in front of me: DO NOT WALK. As I stood on the corner, checking my watch, calculating minutes per mile, and wondering how many pancakes I’d have for breakfast, a car horn blared. Startled, I looked up at the source.

It was two men, stopped at the same intersection in an old, beat-up truck. One was doubled over in the driver’s seat, wheezing with laughter.

The other was hanging out the window, making obscene gestures while yelling about having his way with me.

Seriously, guys? Let me take a moment to ask one quick question: Has this seduction strategy actually worked for anyone? Has a stranger ever stopped mid-stride at a catcall, taken her clothes off in a fit of lust, and said, “YES! Take me now, you big sexy beast!”

I’m assuming not. Maybe I’m missing something, but when a stranger hollers, “sweet ass, baby!” what I’m really hearing is “I like to be maced.”

Almost every female runner I know has been the recipient of catcalls and inappropriate gestures during a training session. It doesn’t matter if she’s young, old, tall, short, in tights or her husband’s too-big t-shirt, on the road or in a gym—it’s likely she’s crossed paths with a creep. Most encounters are brief—a drive-by “nice rack!” or a leer at a stoplight—but I know of several women who not only have been accosted while running, they’ve been groped or even followed. I’ve heard multiple stories from women who change their routes entirely, simply for peace and safety.

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I can’t believe I actually have to type the following words, but here goes: NO. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR. Not the groping. Not the following. Not the catcalls. Not even the leer. Not OK.

You probably think I’m making a big deal about nothing. You’re not alone. Most people think this kind of behavior is harmless; some even find it funny. When I relayed my mid-run encounter with The Brothers Crass to a friend, the first response was “Aww, you should be flattered.” The second thing? “Perhaps if you ran in a shirt, they’d have left you alone.”

And that brings me to the second set of words I can’t believe I actually have to type: Implying a person deserved harassment is not acceptable behavior, either.

Wearing a sports bra while running in 100-degree weather is not a solicitation of any sort. What those men did was not cute. It wasn’t funny. I was not flattered by the attention. I was scared. Two strangers found it perfectly OK, even humorous, to treat me in a completely vulgar fashion. During the activity that is supposed to make me feel strong and happy, they made me feel powerless and anxious.

The majority of people on the street are not gross creepers—they’re nice people. I’m going to take some liberty here and assume that you, dear reader, are one of those nice people. Nice people don’t harass others. But there are plenty of nice people who roll their eyes and laugh it off when they hear about street harassment. There are plenty of nice people who say, “perhaps if you ran in a shirt …”

When nice people say that, what they’re really saying is that there isn’t anything wrong with making another person feel violated for the sake of a laugh. That’s almost as bad as the harassment itself.

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Don’t believe me? Close your eyes and imagine yourself on the street corner next to me—only this time, place your son in the passenger seat of the truck, crudely mimicking a sex act at a woman running on the sidewalk.

Since you’re a nice person, I’m assuming you’d leap across traffic and drag your son out by the ear faster than you can say “sweet ass, baby!” Why? Because—and I’m pretty sure you’d say this to your son, too —this is not acceptable behavior.

And that’s where things need to change. Telling women to wear shirts while they run is not going to fix the problem. Playing down the issue by pretending catcalls are compliments won’t fix the problem, either.

But what will work is simple: speak up. Make it clear that you believe harassing others, in any circumstance—male, female, young, old, shirtless, or fully clothed—is not OK. Make it clear that a person in a sports bra is just that—a person in a sports bra. She isn’t asking for you to call her bare midriff sexy. She doesn’t want you to wolf whistle. And she certainly doesn’t want to see a reenactment of a bad porn movie when she’s stopped at an intersection.

All she wants to do is hit her mile splits and get home to her pancakes.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke