How To Respond To Street Harassment While Exercising


I feel like 2013 has been a banner year for raising awareness about street harassment. With the work of Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment, plus that of regular women and allies (like the photographer who captured the faces of men just after they catcalled her), that uncomfortable, cringe-worthy aspect that used to be considered an unchangeable part of being a woman or LGBTQ person is slowly changing. One thing that’s still set in stone? Running or exercising in public, as a woman, is almost sure to garner street harassment.

Writing in The Guardian, Anna Hart discusses her complicated feelings about being a runner who is often subjected to street harassment. She loves running, she writes, but she hates the way it makes her feel when men make comments to her about her appearance. Does her husband have the same problem when he runs in public? No.

Meanwhile, my husband enjoys blissfully silent, commentary-free, meditative jogs on the same circuit on the same park – a depressing indication of how men and women still experience the world differently. Talk to any male runner about it – sure, they get the occasional dumb comment from a group of teenagers or a drunk, but nothing like what women get every time we go outside, especially in running shorts.

I don’t run often, but when I do, I’m achingly aware of every man I pass. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been beeped at, whistled at, or otherwise had my body commented on when I’m running. I usually ignore street harassment, look straight ahead and keep going, although I have on more than a few occasions given someone the finger once their back was turned (Never where they could see it, because who knows how they might react? It’s risky to react in a negative way, so I’m always scared if I shoot a dirty look or flash the bird).  Hart suggests that perhaps we’re past the point of ignoring street harassment, especially while exercising:

But is ignoring these remarks really the best strategy? I’ve been a runner for 10 years now, and I don’t think the heckling is getting any milder. If anything, it’s more explicitly sleazy in nature. And I’m getting close to feeling that I can’t rely on running to improve my mood, because I might come back furious at the injustice of everyday sexism.

So, Hart decides to use one of the laps of her run to talk to other joggers and see how they respond to harassment. One woman listens to an iPod so she doesn’t even hear the comments at all. One runs in a mixed-gender running group so perpetrators won’t feel comfortable singling her out of a group that includes men.

Hart herself writes that she’s joined a running group and now runs with music. But she also recounts a recent story, where she actually talks back to a man who made a sexual comment to her on her run.  There doesn’t seem to be one method for either preventing or responding to street harassment while you’re exercising; Music will work for some people, ignoring will work for some people, exercising in a group or with a partner might also be a good option. You should always run with a phone, so you can easily call 911 or a friend or family member if you feel unsafe in any situation. You can also use a phone to report a harasser right there on the spot.

If you’d like more ideas for ways to respond to street harassment, either while you are exercising or just going about your daily life, I recommend the “Assertive Responses” and “Creative Responses” sections of the StopStreetHarassment website.

How do you respond to street harassment, catcalls, unwanted comments etc while you’re running or exercising?

Photo: Flickr user MikeBaird

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    • HoneyB

      The advice of ‘listen to music to loud you can’t hear them’ is sort of risky. Sure it will help tune them out, but do you really want to block out all noise? That’s hazardous for traffic and for potential human/animal threats.

      • Terri

        It’s sad that we have to choose, isn’t it? Hubby and male friends can go out without a second thought. They don’t have to choose.

    • tashe

      I joined a mixed running group to see if it would help.. No luck, still happens. I don’t want to listen to music as it makes me feel more vulnerable, I do usually ignore but on the occasion I have reacted to the cat calls. I hate it when my run is ruined and I dont get my endorphin fix because someones felt the need to call me names.

    • Allie

      Once, while running in a neighborhood where I always got catcalls at least once every run, the driver of a passing car honked at me and I raised my middle finger without breaking stride or even looking over. As it turned out, it was a friend of my husband’s, with his wife and young children in tow, all of whom recognized me… “there’s Auntie L running”. When he mentioned it to us, I apologized profusely, but he assured me they weren’t offended. The kids thought it was hilarious.

    • deadharbor

      Easy. I just don’t get affected by them.

    • Brittany

      I honestly wish the world was different and not so sexist, it’s just painfully curious to me as to why grown men do this at all of us? Sure were attractive and you’re bored. Or you think you’re cute by yelling names at us… but it just gets so OLD!! What’s even worse is ever since I was 11 I’ve had grown men look at me everywhere I go because of my big tatas and me being skinny. How many women have big boobs and skinny waists in America? TONSS!! To make it even worse I can remember my mom telling men off for staring at me while in grocery stores and shopping outlets, because they were breaking their necks at me, me being under 14. I felt disgusted, being undressed by men’s eyes everywhere you go. It’s fucked up. I don’t wear skanky clothes, I don’t even EVER show cleavage! EVER! Just so I don’t get stared at by perverted men. I can’t even count how many times married men WITH their wives and kids in a store would be checking me out, right in front of them! Just so fucked up how sexist this country is. I hope one day men get paid back for making me and so many other women out there feel uncomfortable. Might as well wear a giant pumpkin suit with a bag over my head so they will fuck off. Sorry for the language, felt the need to let my frustration out!