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Running in a Small Town
by on Sunday, April 21, 2013  (6 comments)

This is an uncomfortable post for me to write. But sometimes uncomfortable things should be talked about.

I live in a small town where very people run. I am known by strangers as, "The girl who runs." I am used to people asking me in the grocery store how far I run each day and that is something that I am sure you all encounter.

A few things though the last few months have started to trouble me. I have always felt safe running. My only worries for my own personal safety have only been about traffic or falling. Like I stated before people often use my running as a way to start a conversation or introduce them self to me. Usually those conversations are quite normal. But lately some of these conversations have been strange. Like people say things that they really should not. Like things that make me think that they might have a somewhat unhealthy interest in my running. I am not a person that is easily offended and as a long time regular of the dive bars in this town I have heard about everything and am quite used to the more suggestive comments that people sometimes make. Most of those comments are actually pretty normal considering the people that they come from. I have some friends in low places. Those type of comments or cat calls no matter how crude are not what I am writing about here.

People sometimes slip up and say more than they mean too. Sometimes this is just a small slip like instead of saying that they see me run they tell me that they watch me run. But then there was the lady in the van that stopped me one day and told me how worried she was about me as she she had been monitoring my weight and my running for years. She repeatedly asked me to get in the van with her. Perhaps she wanted to abduct me and fatten me up -JK. She was an odd one but harmless but the incident did cue me in to the fact that people that I did not know were taking more of a notice of my hobby than I was comfortable with. I think every runner struggles with feeling a little bit self conscious at times but as the years go by we would like to think that we just blend in.

I do a lot of my speed work at the HS track as there are very few safe places to run fast around here. Sometimes there are people there as the infield is used for various practices that do not involve the track. I go ahead and do my workout and just make sure that I stay out of the way and do not run down any small children. One night at a social function a man asked me if I run at the track to show off my body to the dads and the boys. This was the most offensive thing that anyone had ever said to me in my entire life. One other man recently asked me if I think about him when he drives by me. But he stated it in a way that indicated that he thought I ran to attract his attention. Both of these men are from the Dad practice group at the track and are of a profile (married, mid forties, ex jock, and giving off a certain vibe) that way back when I got boobs I decided should be avoided.

Obviously, I sense a lack of respect for female athletes behind these comments. I know that many people perceive women who train to be competitive with all having eating disorders but the whole running to attract male attention really threw me for a loop. That to me is an unhinged rationalization that reminds me of those stories of juries acquitting rapists because the victim was wearing a mini skirt. These comments also lead me to believe that perhaps I am watched more than I ever thought. Part of this is that commentary in general on my running has been increasing in frequency to the point that my friends notice and tell me how weird it is that so many people bring it up. I still feel safe in my little town but I got to admit this totally creeps me out.

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6 comments
ksrunner:

Charlene,

This is a very disturbing post and the comments of those men are totally out of line. Even the slip of using "watch you running" instead of "see you running" is disturbing.

I think that sometimes men don't understand what it would be like to be objectified like that. Many years ago while in the national guard, one of the officers came to do a talk about sexual harrassment. She asked for a volunteer. Several hands shot up and a healthy looking guy 20's was selected and he swaggered forward. He was directed to stand in front of the group. She then proceeded to talk. She talked about how she joined the military because she liked men. And she enjoyed seeing handsome young men in uniform. As she talked, she walked about the room. Gradually drawing closer to the volunteer. And as she she got closer, she began to talk specifically about the volunteer. As the talk went on, the guy up front seemed to wilt. She never touched the man and never said anything really degrading, but there was no one in the room that did not feel uncomfortable to be there -- especially the-once-cocky guy standing up front. He was especially uncomfortable as she walked behind him. I've sat through many talks and videos on sexual harrassment and discrimination, but simply put, this was the only one that I think might have made a difference. Every person in the room left knowing somewhat how it might feel to be harrassed. Interestingly, because her presentation might itself be deemed harrassment, she had to present it to the higher ranking members of our state national guard before she was granted permission to present it to each unit.

As far as the woman who wanted to kidnap and feed you, I think that many Americans have no idea what a healthy weight really looks like. Between being a nation of obesity and the photoshopped images of models presented in the media, it is difficult for anyone to know what healthy looks like -- especially for women. Several years ago, I had a woman at work confront me about my weight. The same woman complained that she had to stop worrying about interrupting me at my desk while I was eating because I was "always" eating and she skipped lunch in order to maintain her weight.

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Andrew A.:

You should find this creepy as any normal, healthy person would. This seems to be largely about protecting and projecting power from people desperate to cling to whatever scant status they might have ever had among peers from high school glory days - plus the women who cling to their status via enabling these clods. Nobodies protecting their little piles of dirt. It is a sad stereotype of small town people having small minds and small lives, yet attitudes in places with little or slow change can also be very slow to change. Look at what happened in Steubenville, OH for an example of archaic local culture and negative consequences. Perhaps the best response is to act bored with this type of interest, kind of a "yeah, whatever, get a life" (in an upbeat, non-crabby kinda way) attitude. Maybe that is not you and perhaps that would not fly in your world, though.

I live in a running-happy city and it has both perks and drawbacks, like anywhere. I have seen individuals (chiefly women) who are super-neurotic about the people they choose to run with or want to turn group runs into a game of let's-see-who-we-can-drop, generally quite catty to each other. There are megalomaniacs (chiefly coaches) who are territorial, domineering, and self-serving. There are also plenty of fine, regular folks who pay little mind to any of that. I get asked about my running on occasion, and I will answer gladly yet tersely. While I enjoy running quite a bit, I do not feel any duty to sell the rest of the world on the joys of running. I do like that the running buddies I get together with the most typically want to talk about anything other than running: film, books, history, sports, women, current events, whatever.

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Charlene:

Thank you for all the kind comments.

KS runner; your example is an excellent one of how some men objectify women. I do believe though that there are more men out there that do not do this than ones that do. Women do like compliments. They just don't like creepy compliments with creepy intentions.

Andrew I am not a shy one and I am proud to say that I told the first man just how offensive I found his question to be. The other man was kind of scaring me so when he turned away for a second I ran out the door. I think he got the message. I have meet many of the running people that you described at races. I find I bond with some runners right away for life but others have some issues. Neurotic people make me nervous as I worry they are going to snap. The old fast guys are the best.

A blog I was reading today made me realize that the reason these certain comments bother me so much because back in HS I was really teased a lot as I was very suddenly large chested compared to the other girls. The first thing horrible about this was that I was no longer a fast runner and this crushed my self esteem. The even more horrible thing was how the boys, grown men, and even some women treated me. There were some very cruel people at my HS and it was an environment where bullying and harassment thrived. The football coach even eventually went to prison for his interactions with teenage girls (NOT ME to be clear). For 2 decades before then the rumors about him were considered a joke by the entire community. My class used to have a Homecoming skit parodying it. Hmmm....that may explain a lot about those men I mentioned in my post. Look who was their coach.

It was very liberating after I had children and become a more serious runner when my figure become more streamlined. I really am so much happier this way and people treat me so much better than when I was large breasted. I think this is why I was bothered so much that my running was objectified in a sexual manner. I admit that I don't wear very much in the summer but that is about comfort and of course there are the campy costumes I have raced in. But I am not going to change who I am, how I dress, or my workouts at the track because of this. A lot of people do not understand competitive runners and there is nothing I can do about that.

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Lighty:

Those are very disturbing comments. The one that especially bothers me is the one made by the father asking if you run at the track to show off your body to the boys. That is really twisted. I agree with you though, I think more men are respectable than ones that are not. Unfortunately the creepers are out there though. I also agree with the comment from ksrunner, most Americans don't recognize a healthy weight anymore which is a sign of our times. That woman is strange for sure, but like you said most likely harmless.

I can relate to being teased and objectified. Now that I'm almost 49 any comments I get from men are usually just about running. But when I was in my 20s and 30s, and especially before I had kids and started running, I was also fairly large chested and curvy. I never felt I was taken seriously at work and I can completely relate to how that man sitting on the stage felt at the sexual harassment presentation. Sadly, I had to accept that as part of life and I became kind of immune to the degradation. Now that I'm "old" the type of men who degrade women in this manner have their eye on younger women. Now I worry about my teenage daughters. I wish I could spare them, but I'm not sure how except to tell them not to let it get to them. Ignore the comments, the cat calls, the degrading stares and keep on going.

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Ryan:

Some of those stories sound familiar, going back to my small town days. I think my mother still gets comments about my weight and people thinking I have some kind of disorder. As already mentioned, I think this has a lot to do with a warped sense of what is healthy.

As for those downright disturbing comments, well, all I can say has already been said. I don't have to repeat a lot of it.

What I would say is I've lived in small town Wisconsin, in the city, in the near suburbs and in what some would probably describe as the exurbs. I noticed that these commenters exist everywhere. The difference is that these incidents tend to be a little more unnerving in a small town because, in a larger city, you can tell yourself you'll probably never see that person again. In the small town setting, you're going to see those guys again and again. I can only imagine the shiver you might get every time you see some of these guys.

I know it may sound cliche but I think it's true that most of these people saying these things are probably trying to demean you due to some jealousy, even if it's all happening on a subconscious level. I wish I could say the best way to handle this is to do X or Y but, as you know, there is no best way to handle it. Just know that there are people out there, I'm sure in your town and I know beyond, who have your back. And don't change who you are.

By the way, I love that sexual harassment presentation. What a powerful demonstration of what it would be like to have the roles reversed.

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Diane:

Charlene,

I'm so sorry to hear about the creep factor you've encountered! Yikes. Sounds like you did the best thing by immediately calling the guy out on how offensive/inappropriate his comment was, etc. It's not always easy to do that. Sometimes you're just stunned. Glad you have moxie to handle it! Sounds like you already take care to not run in remote places so that's great. Have you ever considered carrying mace or pepper spray? I recently found mace @ Kmart in the auto section. (Who thinks of putting it there?). We have a serial butt fondler on the loose! I know it sounds funny but it wasn't funny when he grabbed my friend's daughter while she was walking home fr/ the bus stop--and it happened right outside my door! Shesh.

Stay safe!
Diane

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