Exercising In Public And Being Harrassed

‘OI OI BABES!’
‘Come on!’
‘Yeeeeahhhhhhhhh!’
‘Go girls!’
lots of pointless horn-beeping
unintelligible shouting

The above is just a small sample of street harassment I’ve experienced since I started exercising outside last year when I joined a local running club and outdoor boot camp. It doesn’t look that bad, does it? I mean, they haven’t called me a bitch or a fat slag or offered an opinion on whether they’d fuck me. At least not yet anyway.

It’s just this bizarre, pointless shouting and horn-beeping. A lot of people would consider it harmless. At last night’s boot camp, I counted around 10 separate incidents of total strangers deciding to let us know they’d spotted us exercising – there may have been more but I was concentrating on not dropping a kettlebell on my foot. A lot of the time they weren’t even shouting any actual words, it was just this kind of unintelligible roar – ‘aaaarrrghhhh, look at me noticing you’.

Because let’s face it, women exercising in public is pretty weird, isn’t it? In fact, it’s SO weird that you need to make a big point of noticing it, then let us know you’ve noticed it. So what should we do? Should we all restrict ourselves to exercising at home, alone in front of a celeb workout DVD so we don’t have to tolerate your ridiculous howling out of your car window as you test your horn? Do we have to find a patch of grass that’s well away from any potential passers-by in case you decide to detour from the footpath with your hoodie mate specifically to jeer at us? I mean, you are all grown men, yet you think nothing of bellowing like some deranged sex pest at a load of women you don’t even know just because they’re exercising outside.

Sarah Ditum has written previously here¬†and here on street harassment while out running, especially at night. Conversely, I found I got less harassment while running at night and when the evenings got lighter I felt strangely exposed and nervous, even when I tried to pick routes away from traffic. Kassondra Granata wrote a letter to men who harass women as they’re working out. Bridget Coulter wrote in Vagenda about the harassment women face while exercising outside. In all honesty, I had no idea it would happen this much. As Ditum writes, it’s not complimentary or a tribute to our goddess-like attractiveness, it’s judgmental, belittling and threatening.

Of course, I can ignore them and I do, but I hate the way it makes me feel – slightly vulnerable, irritated, self-conscious – and when someone does something which makes a person experience those negative feelings, it’s not harmless. I don’t want you to stare at me. I don’t want you to beep at me. I don’t want you to bellow out of your car window at me. I’m just exercising, for fuck’s sake, let me get on with it.

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