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.




Sunday morning run ramblings; To mace or not to mace, that is the question

There is a greenway in the city that I live in.  It runs from the southeastern part of town all the way up to the northeastern part.

There are pieces of it where it is obvious that it is in the middle of the city, where roads and structures, houses and cars can be seen everywhere.  There are other parts where you could imagine you were wandering through the woods in the countryside if you didn’t know better.  Many of these trails connect to greater parks too.

I am very happy to have something like this near to me (well, within a half hour’s drive anyways).  It is nice to have a place to bike, walk, or run without having to worry about having to run in a circle or getting lost.

When I first moved here, I wanted to go for a six mile run, so I used googlemaps to map out a route.  Once I got out there, though, I had to change course several times because roads did not connect and everything was closed off.

I don’t know if it’s just in this location, or if it’s a general trend everywhere, but it seems like everything is becoming more insulated.  Most neighborhoods are gated and only have one or two entrances, everything is a loop that doesn’t connect to anything, and even uninhabited land is all fenced up, claimed, and protected, lest someone get the crazy idea to walk over it to get somewhere faster.

But I digress.

Today I want to talk about something else.

A couple of weeks ago a woman was sexually assaulted on one of these greenway trails at the back of a park while she was running.  At nine o’clock in the morning.  Without headphones.

I have mentioned that I like to run, alone, with loud music, on weekend mornings when my husband is home to watch our daughter.

Now, I have been aware for a while that bad things can happen to women who choose to run alone with headphones.   I have also been aware that bad things have happened before on the greenway trails, although usually during less heavily trafficked times and more in certain parts of town than others.

Which is why this incident spooks me.  It was in broad daylight during a time when one would normally see plenty of bikes and pedestrians out and about, as well as the occasional police bike patrol.  And it happened in what most would consider one of the nicer parts of town.  Apparently, the woman had heard something behind her, but she though it was just an animal so she didn’t turn around.

When I was at my Stroller Strides classes, the women talked about it a lot.  They said “Don’t you go running out there on the weekends?” or “I’d be afraid to go out there alone.”  It was a little awkward.  I wanted to defend my right to run alone on the greenway, but I knew that they were right to be cautious.  So why would I insist on continuing to do something potentially dangerous?

I thought about the incident a lot in the days leading up to this morning run; I was adamant about going anyways.  I thought about carrying a knife, an idea I quickly dismissed since I don’t know how to defensively use a knife and it could easily be turned against me.  Mace might be nice, but I didn’t have any and frankly I’m kind of scared of mace too, since I sprayed myself in the face with it once when I was a kid.

Ultimately, I decided to go for fingers in the eyes and the nose and just scream like hell if anyone grabbed me.  Repeating this like a mantra, I reasoned with myself that it was most likely that nothing would happen to me at all.

Really, what I did was to make a risk decision.  I weighed the likelihood of something happening against the benefits I would gain from going and decided that I would rather go.  And no, nothing happened (or I’d be writing a very different post, I’m sure).

I can almost hear the people that would disagree with my choice in my head, nagging me about safety precautions and prevention.  Or maybe that’s just my own little voice of caution.

But here’s the thing….

We all draw a different line when it comes to acceptable risk; that’s why some people bungee jump and others don’t.

Just for reference, I have seen myself at both ends of the caution spectrum.

As a former raging alcoholic, I used to put myself in risky situations all the time (although I wouldn’t say there was a lot of conscious decision-making going on there).  I can’t even tell you how many times over I could have been arrested, raped, beaten up, mugged, or killed or could have inflicted harm upon someone else.  I really didn’t give it much thought, and for whatever reason, I escaped about 15 years of perpetual drunkenness and poor decision-making largely unscathed.  I’m convinced someone was looking out for me.

When I first got sober, I went the opposite direction.  Suddenly, I was sure something horrible was going to happen, like I had used up all my “get out of jail free” cards and the next mistake would surely be the last straw.  I would leave the house in the morning and imagine I had left the stove on and the house would catch on fire and my cats would die locked inside.  I’d imagine I’d left the door unlocked and a burglar would come in and destroy the place and kill my cats.  I’d imagine I’d look down at a text on my phone and go careening off the side of the road at 70 miles an hour— and I would be dead and my cats would die alone of starvation and dehydration.  (I didn’t have a child at the time, my cats WERE my babies).

After hours of therapy, many AA sessions, and a short round of anti-anxiety medication, I mellowed out a bit and learned how to calm the desperate voice of fear lurking in my head.

Now, I try to find a happy middle road between living without fear and having a healthy amount of it.  If I feel fear, I ask myself it is useful to my situation.  If it is, I take precautions.  If it is not, I tell it to go away.  I’m far from perfect at this, but it is how I try to live now.  Sometimes, though, there is something that I have a healthy fear of, but I choose to confront it anyways.  Reckless?  Maybe, but if I have something to gain from it, I have to take a good look at it and see whether the risk is worth the reward.  I have to figure out where my line is.

How free should we be to draw our own personal line?  That’s a tough questions to answer, but I think that being too cautious is just as bad as not being cautious enough.  I think there is a trend in our society today to try to protect everyone from themselves, and it kind of freaks me out.

Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical future, a sort of “Idiocracy” meets “Demolition Man” (remember the whole “salt is illegal” thing?) kind of world where people’s ability to think critically and make their own decisions has been degraded and the government makes everything that’s bad for them against the law.  I don’t think this is fantasy, I think this is a definite possible outcome of the way we live.

Why?  Because of liability.

When I was stationed in Spain in the military, I went to lots of town carnivals.  Many of them were heavily focused around drinking but they usually had a few rides for the kids.  I remember watching kids get on this one ride that was a big circle that would spin around and simultaneously tilt from side to side—think Gravitron but without a roof and slightly slower so people aren’t smooshed up against the sides for the duration of the ride.  And no, they were not in any way strapped in.

Kids of all ages got on this thing and proceeded to stumble and fall around while the ride was going—great fun for the kiddos, I imagine, but I couldn’t help but think to myself “This is an accident and a lawsuit just waiting to happen.  This would never fly in the USA.”  And it’s true.  The ride was pretty dangerous, and I’m sure kids have been injured on it.

Now, forget about the kids for a minute (I do think children should be protected, even from their parents’ dumb decisions), and just think about the principle of the thing.  Here in the States, we are very quick to assign blame and ensure that someone is bearing the burden of liability.  Often, this ends up not being the individual but the organization.  This is why we end up with warnings on things like “Do not drive vehicle with sunshade in place.”  Somebody drove with a sunshade in place and then blamed the company who made the sunshade for not telling them not to.

So we end up with warnings on everything.  But what happens when it is decided that individuals are not capable of making smart decisions, when people don’t heed warnings?  We force them to–think seatbelt and helmet laws.  And some people still resist even that.


Well, some people just really feel like they should have the right to take risks if they want to.  I personally think it’s pretty dumb not to wear a seatbelt.  I think it’s pretty dumb not to wear a helmet on a motorcycle.   But….. I would choose not to wear a helmet on a bicycle if I could.  Sometimes I don’t when I know no one will see me.  Why?  Well, I grew up riding bikes in Germany where everyone rides bicycles all the time, not just for sport but for transportation, and you don’t see a lot of helmets.  It just seems excessive to me.

And that’s the thing.  I have my line.  You have yours.  Obviously, some standards need to be maintained so that we are not creating a burden to society through reckless behavior nor are we infringing on personal rights.  But regardless of what we think of each other’s assessment of acceptable risk, there has to be an allowable gray area where I can choose to take more or less risk than you do.  I think that this is an important thing to uphold.

Running alone with headphones is something I look forward to all week, and it does a spectacular job of recharging my battery, giving me greater patience, mindfulness, empathy, and serenity for days afterwards.

I want to run alone with headphones.  Period.  I can make small adjustments to reduce risk: make sure my running route is in the most heavily-trafficked area, make sure I wait until the sun has completely risen rather than trying to get out earlier, buy some mace (maybe).   But I am not willing to stop.

I don’t want to let a rare event frighten me away from something that gives me so much back.  For now, I accept the risk.  And for now, thankfully, that’s my decision to make.


Do you agree?  Disagree?  Where is your line?