I went for a 7 mile run yesterday, per my marathon training plan. Did I think about safety? I always do. I can’t afford not to. I’m a woman. I also thought about the abduction and death of a female runner as I ran. And I ran alone. On a college campus. And I couldn’t escape the irony of my accidental path on which I ran. Eliza Fletcher was abducted and killed while out on an early morning run near the University of Memphis campus in Tennessee last week.
Comments on news stories relating to the horrific crime are, well, less than kind to her. These ranged from questioning why she dared to run alone, to run when it was dark, and to run in just a sports bra. But why are we blaming her? Why aren’t we asking the bigger question, which is why do some men feel like they have the right to a woman’s body?
As a female runner, I totally get the mentality and drive to get up early, before the sun has the opportunity to drive temperatures up to even more uncomfortable levels, before work, and before the rest of your family awakens, just to make sure you can tick off that box in your training manual for that next race. I am this woman.
But to question this mentality? Clearly some of her biggest critics are not runners. And the simple solution from most was to buy a treadmill. Some of us, and by us, I mean women who are runners, don’t have the means to purchase a treadmill for personal use. Some of us don’t have a gym membership. And some of us simply prefer to run outdoors. And when it’s hella hot? We will wear whatever we damn well please to beat the heat.
Why our culture is partly to blame
But let’s go back to this larger question. We should never blame the victim. Eliza was running. That’s it. We have a culture in America that is patriarchal in nature. This absolutely stems from teaching purity culture, one aspect of which is to tell girls that if they expose skin, it tempts boys and men and their lustful nature. That girls are responsible for the behavior of boys. That boys and men simply cannot control their desires, nor are they expected to do so. Even in my county’s sex ed curriculum in the public school system, with regard to consent, they highlight a teaching objective that places the responsibility of saying no on the girl, not the boy. And being raised this way promotes the idea that girls and women are always responsible for what happens to them. This is wrong. Yet it’s a foundation of American culture.
Stripping women of their bodily autonomy further perpetuates this patriarchal culture. The law in many states has deemed us incapable of making decisions about what happens to our bodies. For some men, this affirms what they already believe: that women are theirs for the taking. Just take a look at some quotes about rape and abortion from some of our male lawmakers.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may recall a post I wrote right after the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, and that weekend, the female runners on my marathon training team experienced a huge uptick in incidents of harassment. It didn’t seem coincidental. And these were women running in a very large group, among male teammates, and doing everything right.
Running alone and taking measures to stay safe
I love running alone. I enjoy running with a group, too. But my time alone is like meditating. And sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow for meeting up with others for a safer group run. So, yes, I take that risk of going on a solo run so I can fit in my training. Running alone isn’t “asking” for it. Running in just my sports bra isn’t to tempt men; it just means I’m hot. I have to alter my route when men are working on something in my intended path. I carry pepper spray. I let people know where I’m going and when to expect me back. I take my phone with me. I don’t run with earbuds. I have to be hypervigilant. How many (white) men have to think of these things when they go for a run? They don’t. Because they don’t have to.
Sitting on the fence
We live in a society that wants women to be all kinds of things, just not too much of any of them. Be pretty, but not too pretty. Be nice, but not too nice. Be smart, but not smart enough to embarrass a man. Be assertive, but not bossy. Be sexy, but not too sexy. Work to help your household, but not so much that you can’t be a good mother. We’ve been asked to sit on a fence for our entire lives, with which side of that fence we lean toward up to debate by someone else, and we are supposed to listen to the judgment of others and accommodate accordingly. But I’m done with sitting on fences.
Stop blaming the victim
This should not be our world, but it is. It’s 2022, and our society still blames the victim. As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, I take victim blaming personally. This needs to end. We need to change our culture. Women are tired of feeling like targets. We are sick of taking every precaution advised, and still being harassed. We are exhausted from teaching our daughters these same principles, then being worried sick when we send them out into the world. We are all Eliza. And we are not OK.
I realize that the media prioritizes telling the stories of white victims of crime over tragedies involving people of color. And I also realize that Black men do not have the same freedom to run for exercise as white men. These facts are not lost on me.
And those of you who think reversing Roe vs. Wade has limited impact on women, especially those outside of childbearing age or who follow societal guidelines on saving themselves for marriage, you are wrong. And I’m just scratching the surface here. But those who don’t follow these “rules” are no less deserving of safety.
Just last month, a woman was murdered and dumped on the side of the road not too far from my home. The man who murdered her was her boyfriend. He was an officer in the Navy. Just the day before, he had taken her to get an abortion, and she couldn’t follow through with the procedure. Clearly, he didn’t want a child, so he killed her instead. I frequently drive past the cross marking the place where her body was found. Watch for murders like these to happen more often, especially in parts of our country where abortion is illegal. The leading cause of death among pregnant women in the US is actually homicide.
The foundation of sex education in this country is teaching purity culture in evangelical churches and abstinence based curriculum in most public school programs. These teachings spill into our every day discussions about the morality of women. Shaming women and girls becomes a part of our culture. And taking away the basic human right to bodily autonomy is another signal to the world that the bodies of women are not their own. I fear that this will only increase the instances of violent acts against women.
Women deserve to live their lives without fear.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.