Runners are often offered advice – how to train, how to eat, how to run.
However, some advice is gender specific: don’t run in the dark. Never run with headphones. Don’t run alone. Always bring your phone. Don’t always take the same route. Take a self defence class.
Different running advice for men and women
When offered the advice ‘run with a buddy’, runners may consider this in relation to keeping motivated. But female runners are much more likely than male runners to also consider a running buddy for the added safety measure, and for the added backup if harassed mid-run.
Why does it matter?
A major study from the World Health Organisation has shown that women lead substantially less active lives than men in terms of exercise. Orla Muldoon, UL Professor, has argued in an article published by The Irish Times that harassment toward females is a factor in this statistic, stating that ‘…harassment is an issue for, and an important deterrent to, women who want to exercise.’
Muldoon describes her experiences throughout her training for the upcoming Dublin Marathon, and how she and the two female runners accompanying her were harassed three times during one run.
The reaction to the article has been mixed. Women have started sharing their stories of harassment, using the hashtag #RunningWhileFemale.
— Orla Muldoon (@orlamuldoon) September 17, 2018
But some consider Muldoon’s appeal for a conversation about harassment of women while running an overreaction, with some comments under the Irish Times article stating that women are just ‘too sensitive’ with an ‘irrational fear’.
Offended by absolutely everything.
— Robbie Maguire 🇮🇪 🇾🇪 (@MaguireRobbie) September 17, 2018
One comment suggested that ‘society right now in Ireland is the best it has ever been for women. Hands down. That doesn’t mean we should just accept the remaining things that need improvement’. If a woman does not feel safe exercising in public, Muldoon argues, it is a public health issue. The line between harmless fun and harassment is a thin one – what some may find funny, others may find uncomfortable or even frightening.
While the chances of being assaulted mid run are slim, the fear is still there. Most harassment experienced by women while running is not life-threatening, however, it can be upsetting, unsettling and all too common.
It is difficult to find a quick solution – a woman may run a more secluded route to avoid heckling, but then may feel more vulnerable to an actual attack. Women are advised that busy routes are safer, yet they still do not feel safe.
Some opt for exercising in the gym as a solution. Heckling and harassment is less likely in the gym, it seems, perhaps because, here, people are more accountable. If you are reported for harassment in the gym there are consequences. If you are found to have made other members uncomfortable due to antisocial behaviour, you could be asked to leave or have your membership revoked. However, out in public there are no consequences.
Muldoon argues that a conversation needs to start for things to change.
Not everyone can go to a gym to exercise, and they shouldn’t feel like the gym is their only option. Women are tired of feeling like they need to run that little bit faster when they are catcalled or jeered at in the street.
The University of Limerick, where Muldoon’s experience took place, has made an commendable announcement in response to the incident. They make clear that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and the incident is under investigation: “We would like to take this opportunity to reinforce that this kind of sexual harassment and violence against women will not be tolerated in UL. Jeering, catcalling and intimidation are all forms of sexual harassment that exist on a spectrum that paves the way for assaults and rape to happen.”
— Seamus Ryan (@meanderingtripe) September 12, 2018
‘It is important to highlight that these incidents are all too commonplace for female staff and students. They stem from a toxic masculine environment that perpetuates “lad” and rape culture and mob mentality. UL is seen as the sporting and exercise campus of Ireland and these types of incidences will discourage both women and men from exercising on our campus as they will not feel safe.’
Women sharing their #RunningWhileFemale Experiences
This is why Orla Muldoon has appealed for the conversation to start – for women to share their stories so the magnitude of this problem is taken seriously.
The Irish Times have appealed for women to come forward with their experiences, with one woman claiming to have been ‘spat on by men through their car windows’, and another claiming that she was advised by a Garda to run on a treadmill because ‘you’re asking for trouble if you run in the city’.
By starting a conversation, there is a solution in the making. The harassment female runners experience in Ireland is something women are sick of struggling to outrun.