Runner’s Guide to Rape Culture

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I’m fairly new to the sport of running, so the Runner’s Guide to Wellington (Second Edition), a book proudly brought to you by Shoe Clinic “NZ’s leading chain of sports footwear and apparel stores” seemed like a good place to learn more.

I learned a lot about local races and local running routes, many of them remote and beautiful. I also learned some safety tips. For instance, did you know that you should only increase your mileage by 10% per week? Otherwise you may get injured. You should also avoid drinking from streams as you may contract giardia. Useful.

Oh – and if you’re female, you should:

  • Not run alone
  • Run in the daytime
  • Not wear revealing clothes
  • Run in populated areas
  • Take wolf whistles as a compliment

 

These things will make us safer.

 

These things are safety tips.

 

In the Safety 101 section of a running book proudly brought to me by a major sports store chain.

 

Actually, let me use the Runner’s Guide’s own words, as I’m not sure I can do them full justice:

 

FEMALE RUNNERS

Unfortunately it’s the reality that, even in Wellington, women need to take extra care when running. Find a running club or regular running buddies (see the section on Wellington Running Clubs), wear loose fitting clothing, run in the day time in well-populated areas and interpret whistles as compliments (all the running is obviously paying off!).

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Yes, it really said that

 

I’m not sure anyone who reads anything I write needs a lesson on just how incredibly fucked up this passage is and on how this sort of message contributes to rape culture.

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Ladies running together = good Ladies wearing tight clothes = bad

 

But since I am sending this to the author (who is just one person, but whose views are sadly common) [see his response below] I think I ought to rewrite the safety tip so he can use it for the Third Edition:

 

FEMALE RUNNERS ARE PEOPLE

Unfortunately it’s the reality that, even in Wellington, women need to take extra care when running men sexually assault women. Women often feel fearful when they encounter men while running and will even avoid running routes they enjoy because of this fear so we don’t need to remind you of this sad reality. However, a good tip for men is not to sexually assault women. Find a running club or regular running buddies (see the section on Wellington Running Clubs), It’s not always convenient to run with buddies and spending time in your own company can be an enjoyable part of running. Also the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by people who know or are even friends with their victims, so maybe you shouldn’t run with friends! wear loose fitting clothing, Like every woman pictured in this book, you will probably want to wear practical clothes for running. These will generally be close-fitting and will show a fair bit of skin, as running tends to make you feel hot. Just remember sunscreen! run in the day time Like all runners, you’ll have to fit running in around other commitments, so you should run at a time that suits you. At night it can be a good idea to wear reflective clothes. in well-populated areas This book has showcased many remote and beautiful locations you may wish to run in. Enjoy them! Remember to consult a map and carry a phone. and interpret whistles as compliments Men, please remember that wolf whistles are harassment and not a compliment. In fact, they make women feel unsafe and make it harder for them to enjoy running (all the running is obviously paying off!). Even if a runner has a really nice body, remember they are just enjoying the sport, and you should treat them with respect. In the very unlikely event that a woman runner is sexually assaulted while out for a run, she will feel safer in reporting the offence if she knows no one will imply that she is in any way to blame for what an offender did to her.

 

There. Fixed it.

 

The response

I decided to send this to the author before I published it. I try (and often fail) to assume the best of people. I wanted to give him a chance to say if, for instance, he’d already heard feedback, had learned from his mistake, had revised the next edition etc.

I know I’ve said and written innumerable thoughtless or ignorant things myself – I’m just lucky my ignorance and arrogance peaked before the Internet was a thing. I’m more humble now – so my biggest mistakes only live on in my memory, providing ample fodder for my frequent, insomniac, mental self-flagellation sessions. I also know I doubtless haven’t uttered my last stupid and ignorant thing. I hope when I make mistakes that people will assume the best of me too.

Anyway! He sent a friendly, totally non-aggressive response and I very much appreciated his tone and his willingness to have a conversation. Here are his unedited words:

 

As the author of this self-published book I have to take full responsibility for everything in it (so nothing should come back to Shoe Clinic who supported me in publishing the Second Edition). This section in particular was written on advice given by a Wellington woman who, just weeks before publishing, was attacked at knife point while running. These were her suggestions and were written somewhat in the heat of the moment after this scary attack. 

I can see how the passage can be read in ways I did not intend. These safety guidelines were meant as suggestions, not rules, and certainly weren’t meant to shift any blame from the offenders to the victims of attacks on runners (I think it’s clear to most reading this passage that any shifting of blame in this way was the opposite of my intention). I believe the passage of text would have benefited from more thoughtful editing on my behalf. 

I actually agree with the sentiment of Jessica’s revised safety tips. And in future editions (if we do any—they’re labours of love that typically have a negative impact on the bank balance!) I have already made a commitment to make the safety tips non-gender specific. 

So, as such, I still believe that as runners, male or female, we should be careful about where and when we run and also in what we wear. As a male runner, I follow these guidelines myself in order to avoid unwanted attention (no, the wolf whistles aren’t just reserved for women) and to stay safe. For example, I adjust my dress code to be appropriate to the unique culture of different locations that I run in (i.e. there are different unwritten dress codes for runners on Oriental Bay as compared to Lambton Quay—the whole undies, undies, togs, togs thing), there are places I don’t run for fear of attack from dogs (and magpies and sea lions!!) as well as people, and places and times of day when I will be sure to take company. I believe these are universal guidelines all runners can follow and I apologise that the published guidelines inferred that they were only meant for women. I will avoid this inference in future editions and wish all runners safe and happy running adventures.

 

My response to his response

So – first and foremost – arohanui to the woman who was attacked. That’s truly awful and I really hope you’re ok. I’m so sad and angry that someone did that to you.

It’s quite natural that having something so dreadful happen to a friend would make the Runner’s Guide author feel really angry. He’d want to do something to prevent something like that happening to anyone else. He might have been in a distraught state and might not have been as careful as he ought to have been with his words.

That being said, I’m only partly mollified by his response. For instance, there’s a huge difference between thinking it’s not appropriate to wear togs in the CBD and worrying that people won’t believe someone raped you because your singlet was tight. I also don’t think he quite gets the difference between a strange woman wolf-whistling a man (which I never seen, but will take his word is a thing that happens) and a strange man wolf-whistling a woman. Even though both are unsolicited attention, the combined power imbalance and entire history of gender relations make the two things different.

That aside, I truly believe the author would do things differently if he had his time again. I hope he will consider pulling the current edition off the e-shelves and writing the Third, non-rape-culturey* Edition. If he does, I will gladly buy it.

 

*that’s totally a word

 

One Response

  1. Amber

    December 6, 2016 8:46 pm

    Great article. I am not really a runner, but it was an interesting perspective that can be applied to woman in society running, walking, jumping, hopping, anything! I can’t believe that ‘accept wolf whistles as the compliments they were intended’ was ever printed in this day and age, but well done on him for at least recognising some of his mistakes.

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