Running to Take Back the Night
Clearly, I spend a great deal of time thinking about running. Most of that time is spent coordinating training schedules, debating on shoe and gear choices, putting together a race schedule, and tracking my miles. I am equally happy running by myself and running with small and large groups of friends. Each experience offers something different to refresh, renew, and revive my body, mind, and spirit. Throughout these decisions and experiences, my safety is not something that crosses my mind. I am a White, able-bodied male, so safety isn’t something I’m forced to think about on a regular basis. This is the privilege I possess. I didn’t ask for it, and I certainly don’t flaunt it, but I do own it and acknowledge the role it plays in my life.
In my professional life, I am a critical, anti-racist feminist educator. Through my teaching, writing, and research, I advocate for the education of all individuals with regard to the many overt and covert manifestations of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and other forms of oppression. When I walk into a lecture hall on the first day of class and identify myself as such, I am met with strange looks. Students don’t expect their Women’s Studies instructor to look like me. I anticipate their reactions, and confront them straight away as an avenue towards expanding our stereotypically myopic societal views of what feminism is and who feminists look like. Throughout that educational process (for me and for them), I’m acutely aware of the privilege I possess when I walk into the classroom and how that impacts the message I convey, the dialogue I stimulate, and the reception I receive. Did you ever stop to consider why a majority of K-12 educators are women, but a majority of college educators are men? I can assure you that it isn’t by chance. All of this is to provide context for my most recent stream of consciousness.
April, among many other things, is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I will not assail you with statistics here, but will simply state clearly that sexual assault and intimate partner violence occurs far too frequently, and is taken far too lightly in our culture. The prevalence of rape culture in our society shocks and saddens me on a daily basis as the media glorifies and re-victimizes, while downplaying the violent crimes of those responsible. You need look no further than the ridiculously apologetic media coverage of the Steubenville rape case to bear witness to the results.
As distant as many of these instances are for some folks (although statistically, this topic sadly impacts a majority of people in some way), our culture of gendered violence manifests itself far more commonly in how we treat the subject of rape and sexual assault on a regular basis. For decades now, women have learned early how how important it is to protect themselves. They are taught to carry their keys between their fingers at night, walk with a friend, carry pepper spray in their purses or bags, cross to the other side of the street when someone is coming in the opposite direction, and generally always be on guard. Although a not insignificant number of men are also victim-survivors of these crimes, these are not the messages we receive. I am certainly not arguing that these actions are not sound advice. This is good advice for anyone to follow. However, this advice continues to miss the point. For decades, we have been teaching women to protect themselves, instead of teaching men not to rape. This is a problem, and it affects all of us.
This point brings me back to the subject of this blog, running. I log a lot of miles, and when I’m heading out for a long training run, it usually means getting up long before the sun rises and squeezing in a few hours by myself. When I leave my house at 5AM, in the dark, by myself, to head out on a run, I’m thinking about a lot of things. What route should I take? Where will I get water? What are my target pace goals? However, the one thing I’m not thinking about is my safety. I certainly don’t consider carrying any sort of protection. My water bottle and blinking light don’t really count. I don’t have to think about my safety. This is what my male privilege grants me. Sure, I live in a small and relatively safe community overall, but my decision to run when I do and where I do has nothing to do with my location.
The same is not true for many women. When the beautiful epicurean and I traveled to Trinidad, I researched Lady Chancellor Hill quite a bit before adding it to my running agenda. One of the pieces of information I discovered was an announcement from the local police. They were advising women not to run alone up the hill in the early morning and late evening hours. There had apparently been a series of attacks that were being investigated. Closer to home, I’ve had several conversations with the epicurean about her running routes, and she certainly plans accordingly when she is heading out alone. There haven’t been any recent attacks in the area, and we have no first-hand knowledge of any, but the threat is real and palpable.
When I head out on a run, I have many things on my mind (and sometimes nothing at all). I enjoy being able to let my mind wander on the road as the miles pass by, and I do this without many cares, other than the driver not paying attention as I cross the intersection. Running is a pure and innocent sport in many regards, but as recent events have taught us, that innocence can be thin. As a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Take Back the Night rallys will take place around the world this month. As we march to raise awareness and take back that ownership of freedom and flexibility, it’s important to remember that the impact of sexual assault and violence is far-reaching, and it does impact us all.