Breathing heavy, arms pumping, sweat flying off every part of my body: I was on mile eighteen of a nineteen-mile run, and I was killing it. All summer I had been preparing for a full marathon I’m running in the fall, and this was one of my final long runs. Many of my runs this summer were rough and ended with me barely finishing, but this one was different. I was feeling strong, confident, and owning my run, speeding up as I neared the last mile of my course. I was feeling on top of the world, when suddenly my heart dropped and I frowned as I heard a horn honk and a man yell out his window 'looking good, sexy!'
My mind instantly recalled what to do: do not respond, hide your fear, keep running, do not look back, make sure to stay on a busy street in case he turns around, feel that my phone is still accessible in my pocket, be aware of my surroundings. As my mind went through these necessary steps, it also inevitably flashed to Mollie Tibbetts.
It’s the name everyone has seen in the news – a 20-year-old girl who went missing after leaving for her evening run and was found weeks later, murdered by a man who called out to her while running. There have been many debates in the media about whether she was murdered because an immigrant was on U.S. land illegally, or because of toxic masculinity, but that debate wasn’t on my mind when the man yelled at me. What came to my mind was that this man who just sexually harassed me during my run probably posted something on Facebook about how Mollie’s death was a tragedy.
What occurred to me as I finished my last mile, unlaced my shoes, and began to stretch was that this very same man who made me feel afraid, hurt, and ashamed of my body during my run that day probably had a conversation in line at a coffee shop this week with a stranger about how sad it is that Mollie is gone forever. He probably called one of his nieces and told her how much Mollie reminds him of her and that he loves her. He probably thinks he has nothing to do with her death. He would never kill an innocent woman, so he hasn’t contributed to the problem at all, right?
Each time you commit a small act of sexism or misogyny, you contribute to society’s disrespectful attitude towards women. People do not commit violent acts against someone they respect and value as their equal, which is why the rates of violence against those who are gay, transgender, and people of colour are insanely high. Every time you treat women as if they are less than you, you set an example for everyone around you. These small daily acts add up to one big message: women are objects, and they should do what men want them to do. When women do not act accordingly men are allowed to get violent, because they were not behaving the way they were 'supposed to,' so they 'deserve it.'
Every time you tell your teenage daughter she needs to take her phone while running but you don’t teach your teenage son to not catcall women on the streets, you are promoting a culture that blames women for their own rape, murder, and other violent acts committed against them. When you tell your female identifying friends to not run alone at night but you don’t tell someone to stop when they make a rape joke at the bar, you are furthering society’s culture that says women need to protect themselves, and men get to laugh about their fear and insecurity.
The man who ruined my run probably thinks him catcalling me has nothing to do with violent crimes against women. He probably thinks he respects women because he is reasonably kind to the women he cares about. He shudders to think of any of any woman in his life being murdered by a man who she told to leave her alone. He 'sad reacts' on Facebook when someone makes a remembrance post for Mollie. And yet, he will continue to yell out his car window at women who are running because he feels he has the right to, because he wants to assert his dominance and control on a random pedestrian, and most of all, because he knows he can.
Until we change our behaviour – telling our friends why their rape jokes aren’t funny, being the one to explain to others in the car why it isn’t okay to honk or yell at runners, and until we place the blame on the perpetrator of the violent act rather than on the victim, these tragedies will still occur. Until we stop contributing to our society’s sexist attitude towards women I will have to run with my phone, a partner, and bated breath whenever I hear footsteps anywhere near me. Until we make a change, there will always be yet another Mollie Tibbetts.