I Won’t Hurt You

BT Gilligan - Ezer + Co.

BT Gilligan

A Guest Post

First, a word from April.

This article was triggering for me. When I was a little girl, my best friend’s mom was brutally raped while running. As a result, I internalized that running was unsafe. I’ve had to do a lot of work to break down that limiting belief so I can become a runner. But, it’s also systemically true that women need to protect themselves.

As I read these words from BT, I found myself wanting for more men to both understand the threats we encounter daily as women, but also the deep desire for partnership. My hope is that you’ll experience something similar.

At the beginning of May, I started running. I don’t run well. When I started running I looked a bit like an octopus on roller skates in Jell-O. However, in spite of that comical image, I persevered and kept running. Slowly at first, with lots of pain and uncertainty, but over time I improved and gained confidence. I ran my first 5k in June and have been getting much better recently. Now, I look more like a walrus instead of an octopus.

Last week, I was out for my run and there was a woman out for a walk. She was pushing a doublewide stroller with two children in it up the hill, and I was going to pass her. I was so excited to pass her! I had never passed anyone before while running. At first, I didn’t know what to do, but I had seen a recent superhero movie where the main character was out running, and so I did what he did. I said, “On your left.”

When I said this, this mother visibly jumped. I had scared her. She relaxed when I passed her with a “good morning” and a wave, but the initial fear was still palpable. That’s when it hit me: we live in a world where a strange man talking to a woman is cause for a woman to be afraid. She didn’t know intentions, my plans, or me. All she knew was that I was a stranger talking to her and that was enough to create fear.

This is a cause for concern. Perhaps this means there is something fundamentally wrong with our society. Perhaps it means that men and women are not as equal in society as we think. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I know that no one should have to live in fear when walking around his or her neighborhood. I have nothing to be afraid of when I go running; no one else should either.

What do we do then? How do we create an environment where everyone can feel safe as they enjoy the outdoors and get healthier? Do men have to yell, “I won’t hurt you!” as we run past women? That seems counter-productive, and my experience has been that those who tell us they won’t hurt us usually do. Do we all hide indoors and never go outside? That could work, and the treadmill companies would love that, but I don’t think that is a functional answer either.

I think the key is to create environments where women and men can be together, at the same level, without the fear of judgment or competition. An environment that exists so that when we go running in the same neighborhood, we have created a place where acceptance and collaboration can happen simultaneously. 

Whatever we do, we must do it together. Women and men working together, creating a better space for us all, so that everyone can enjoy the world around us without fear or judgment or competition. This kind of cooperation will change not just the way we run, but the whole world will be better.