Sunday morning run ramblings: who said anything about asking for it?

I’ve been taking a little blog hiatus since my work (which is usually pretty low maintenance as it’s only one weekend a month) recently became a lot more time-consuming.  I was feeling guilty about working too much AND not spending enough time with my daughter AND about not cleaning the house AND about not blogging; then I decided that although it is almost impossible for me to NOT feel guilty about stuff I could at least convince myself to drop one thing from my “to feel guilty about” list.  So, I triaged my priorities, and decided I could manage to not feel guilty about the blog for a couple of weeks.

I did a pretty good job of not feeling guilty, too, until a few days ago when I had a brilliant idea for a blog and lost it.  I was in my car driving home from work, and I had an epiphany.  I thought, I MUST write about this when I get a chance.  Really, it was an amazing revelation.  It was new and clear and interesting and filled with potential for development.  I wish I could tell you what it was…..

The next day, I had another good thought while I was checking my work mail and I thought, surely I won’t forget this, because it’s really simple and obvious and un-intimidating to write about.  And I can’t tell you what that thought was either.

So now, having lost two amazing opportunities to change the world through my life-altering revelations, I feel obliged to write something.

It was a beautiful morning for running; I am like a vampire and hate the sun, so I was happy to see the part of the sky covered in clouds when I got up.  By the time I left the house to drive to the greenway more were rolling in, and there was thunder and lightning in the distance.  I was vaguely worried about getting caught in a legit thunderstorm, but more worried about not getting my morning run in since I missed last week’s because of work.

I stayed dry but cool up to the last mile, during which there was just enough rain to refresh me and get me moving a little more quickly but not enough to get drenched.  It was perfect.  I even made a point of doing an extra sun salutation (ironic, right?) during my stretch, nice and slow, to soak up some more rain before leaving.

What did I think about during this run?  Well, I didn’t have any groundbreaking, earth-shattering revelations today.  But I wasn’t drawing a blank either.  Interestingly, without really meaning to, I kind of circled around to the topic I was thinking of in the last post, which was women running alone with headphones.  Except this time I tied it to a new thread, one that’s been in a holding pattern in my brain for a few days, ever since I read a news item about actress Mayim Bialik and the stink her op-ed on Harvey Weinstein has caused.  If you haven’t read it, you can read it here:

Basically, she says that she grew up being awkward and geeky, not the traditional definition of beauty by Hollywood standards, which she indicates is probably why she did not experience the sexual predation that is all too common in the entertainment industry which is largely dominated by powerful male figures.   She goes on to say something about how she likes to dress modestly and not be flirty.  She also says women should be able to act/wear/do whatever they want without fear of unwanted sexual attention, but she insinuates that this world is not perfect and certain behavior may be more likely to instigate trouble.

And now she is being attacked vehemently by feminists who accuse her of talking smack about pretty girls and telling women that they bring unwanted sexual attention on themselves.

To which my response is “Whoa, there….. knee-jerk much?”

Why is that my response?  Well, personal experience, I guess.  As a recovering alcoholic who also worked for years in a male-dominated environment, I know all about unwanted sexual advances.  There’s unwanted advances that are thrust upon you when you’re too wasted to protest, there’s the ones that you can’t remember how you responded to in a blackout but know for sure you don’t want when you come to, and then there’s the ones that happen when you are sober as a judge but don’t want to say anything about because you are afraid you might get yourself or someone else in real trouble.

I have been privy to all of these types of advances and more.  Do I think these were my fault?  Absolutely not.  Do I think I could have avoided most of them?  Abso-frigging-lutely.

But I was young, eager to please, eager to have a good time, eager to prove things to everyone, and I did not understand nor respect my own worth nearly as much as I should have.  I got black-out drunk regularly.  I went out alone.  I flirted with everyone.  I accepted whatever happened afterwards as a normal part of life, or at least a normal part of the life I had chosen.

Looking back, I am sad for the young woman I was.  I wish she had stuck up for herself more, drank less, been more angry about injustices.   But I don’t really dwell on it either.  I’m different now.

I don’t drink anymore, I don’t flirt with people at work, and I don’t go out alone (unless I’m running on Sunday morning).  And I haven’t gotten any unwanted sexual advances recently either.

So what am I saying?

I am saying that no one should ever be sexually harassed or assaulted.  Ever.

I am also saying that sexual harassment and assaults do happen, with alarming frequency.

And I am also saying that there are risk factors that make you more vulnerable to these kinds of abuses.

Getting black-out drunk is not an invitation for a sexual assault, but it could very well be taken as one by an ill-intentioned individual.

Flirting with someone in the workplace is not an invitation for groping.  But aside from it being unprofessional, it can also be misread by or send confusing messages to the person being flirted with or other people observing the behavior.

I’m not suggesting that people who are assaulted “bring it on themselves”.  I am saying, though, that although you can never completely eliminate any chance of sexual harassment/assault, there are things that you can do to weigh the odds more in your favor.  Why is this so polemic?  It’s the truth, isn’t it?

I get that women are pissed that this an issue at all, but being pissed about something doesn’t make it go away.

I’m pissed that women get assaulted while running alone with headphones in.

I’m also unwilling to stop doing something that puts me more at risk of an assault, which is to run alone with headphones in.  I am aware that I am accepting this increased risk, and I try to mitigate it by carrying mace (yes, I have some now; my husband bought it for me for my birthday, and I sincerely hope I never inadvertently blind myself with it), running on high-traffic trails, and only running alone during daylight hours.

If I ever get assaulted while I am out running alone, I will be very pissed.  Will I say, “Well, I totally deserved that”.  Um, NO!!!!  But would I re-assess?  Probably.  I would say to myself “I didn’t think it would happen to me, but it did” or “I thought the risk was still pretty low, but I guess it wasn’t low enough”.  I would probably stop running alone.  Maybe I would even speak out, try to encourage women not to run alone with headphones in.  Maybe I would save another woman from the same fate.  I’d say, “Hey, it’s not worth the risk, I gambled and failed, you can learn from me.”

And if I chose to stop running alone with headphones in, I’m sure most would agree that was a wise choice for my safety.   Do you think anyone would say, “I’m offended because you are saying women who run alone with headphones are asking for it!”?

What would you think if I said, “I am running alone with headphones because I do NOT accept sexual assault on women running alone with headphones and I should be able to do whatever I want!”?  You’d think I had a screw loose, right?

I think this is what Mayim Bialik was trying to say.  She was not condoning sexual assault.  She was not slamming pretty people.  She wasn’t saying that being attractive is “asking for it”.  She was talking about risk factors, probabilities, the realities of the industry that she works in.

We should not accept the norm of misogyny and sexual predation in the entertainment industry, nor in any other industry, nor in society in general.  But just going around saying “women should be able to do whatever they want” is not helpful; in fact, I think it could even be harmful.

Because really, no one should be able “to do whatever they want”.  That is the burden of living in a society.  We all have responsibilities to one another; we should be free to pursue our own version of happiness to the extent that we are not harming others, but we should also be cognizant of how our own actions affect others AND how they affect our own lives.

What many people seem to be asking for is to live consequence-free, and that’s just never going to happen; consequences will always be there, and saying they shouldn’t be there does not make them any less real.  If anything, it makes people less resilient to them.

So what should we be doing?  Empowering women to speak up when these offenses occur, holding the ones responsible accountable for their actions, and (here’s the part people aren’t going to like) STOP OBJECTIFYING PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY WOMEN.  Stop making everything about beauty and sexuality and power.

We are the creators of the society we live in.  We are the ones that have the power to foster an environment of equality and accountability and integrity and stewardship or one of inequality and dishonesty and bullying and marginalization.

If we want to blame someone for condoning a “rape culture”, maybe we should swing the mirror around on ourselves rather than attacking anyone who dares to speak about the issue with candor and frankness.  If we want to be real feminists, maybe we should start considering why the only faces we are interested in seeing are the pretty ones.

You don’t have to apologize to me for speaking your mind Mayim Bialik.  I’ve got your back.