An elderly chap named Gerry told me the other day; “Saw you out running, love. I beeped at you. But you didn’t notice. Blind as a bat, you are.” I gave him a look. “Just count yourself lucky,” I replied “That you didn’t get two fingers from me. Or one. Because that’s my standard response to idiots that beep me.”
The poor bloke was astonished. Not because of my propensity to crudity (he knows me too well to think otherwise) but because of how often the honking of horns happens to females when we are out running. He was genuinely shocked when I told him about this sort of thing and said; “do fellas really do that, then? I would never have thought it…” “Yes,” I answered. “And I truly don’t understand it myself. Because when I’m out running, I’m all sweaty, no make-up and in my scruffs and I look minging.” He considered this; “Aye, you didn’t look your best lass. But even so. There’s no excuse for honking at you – even when you’re all scrubbed up. I’m shocked, I really am.”
My other half shares similar sentiments (although thankfully, he is less honest about me looking like a sweaty minger). His words are; “I’ve never, ever understood men that do that sort of thing to women. When I was younger, there was the odd time when I was in a car with a ‘friend’ who found it amusing to beep the horn at a woman. You know – the ‘lads together thing – fwooorrrr’. But it never enters my mind to do that. You see a woman you think – ‘yeah she looks nice’ but you don’t do anything about it. You wouldn’t frighten her, that’s for sure. Or think that she might find it flattering. It’s just imbecilic behaviour.”
And I won’t even repeat the words that he uses when I tell him that plenty of fellas *on their own in a vehicle* beep at you, when you’re out running. For me, those incidents are even more disturbing and sinister.
So it was interesting to hear that according to research by England Athletics, 1 in 3 of women have encountered some sort of harassment when out running. To be honest, I’m shocked that this number isn’t higher. It has become a fact of life in our household, me returning from a run with a cob-on due to some incident involving the opposite sex, a vehicle and someone who has been unable to keep their gob shut or their fingers away from the horn (oo-er, missus.)
And on the back of this report, it’s been fascinating, listening to the experiences of various runners; some women find the honking of horns to be very intimidating, some of us have had other forms of harassment and some men also report that they have encountered all sorts of abuse when out running (I myself have had peanuts lobbed at me – don’t laugh – and water squirted at me). Some guys who have encountered such incidents feel strongly that this means it isn’t a ‘gender’ issue – and I’m with them on the misery that such stupidity can result in, when all you want is a bit of fresh air and to stretch your legs. But on aggregate, we can’t really deny that it is women who are being targeted and that there is still a massive problem in society, in terms of the way that women ‘out and about’ (how dare we!) are perceived and how we are deemed to be ‘miserable bitches’ if we respond with the two-fingered salute.
On BBC Breakfast time, one of the women runners being interviewed said that she didn’t view shouts and beeps as intimidating or harassing. She felt that it was a sort of ‘encouragement’ – to egg her on in her leggy endeavours. Me? I’m usually pretty savvy at discriminating between a beep / leer and a ‘good speed gal!’ sort of remark. The former being a sign of a saddo perv and the latter being genuine camaraderie (which, no – I wouldn’t swear or snarl at.) And actually, if I’m going to have a bit of a moan about stupidity and rudeness towards us runners – and walkers – I’d like to add into the list, those nutter drivers who are crap at judging how close they are to you when there is no pavement, who won’t slow down as they pass you, who are happy to nudge you into a ditch or who don’t even realise that they have drenched you as they speed gleefully through a puddle in their enormous 4WD. In fact, the only person who ever stopped and apologised to me for spraying muddy water all over me – turned out to be a drug dealer. I saw him later down the lane in his BMW, doing a deal with some school kids. (And yes, dear reader – of course I grassed him up. Course I did.)
Some feel that the answer to female runners getting hassle is never to run alone. I have many friends who have enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to initiatives such as ‘Run Together’ and Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can.’ But I just can’t DO the running with other human beings thing. I used to run with my other half, but we had to stop. Because we spent half of the time dreaming up new business ventures – and then following through with them; time consuming and expensive. And the other half moaning about the kids. Depressing. I enjoyed being in Namibia though, because on my bush-track runs, I took a dog with me (although every time we encountered neighbouring ferocious canines, the little swine quickly abandoned me.) But I don’t have a dog. And it would be selfish just to purchase one for running purposes only. Plus, I’d have to stop in order to pick up the poo.
Running in packs is one answer to the problem, but an even more helpful response would be to educate all people to keep themselves safe when out and about (don’t get me started on how dangerous it can be, using earphones …) and raising our kids to realise that shrieking things, blaring your horn and chucking snack foods at people in the street and the like, is the behaviour of low life.
I’m not – of course – advocating that people do as I do. Making gestures at the pond-life who do the beeping and the blurting -and worse – really isn’t the wisest course of action. But by gum, it always makes me feel better.
Until I realise that it’s dear old Gerry who has beeped me. Or my daughter’s teacher. Yes – the latter has occurred too. Hopefully it won’t affect her end of year exam results too badly.