Taylor and I were out running with her dogs—big dogs—in Tacoma, Washington.
Then: “Hey baby, you’ve got a great ass!”, yelled from a passing car.
Taylor and I have been friends since we met in 2011. As my husband’s cousin, she’s family too. Yet we don’t get to run together that often, so we were really enjoying our long run, being alone together without our husbands. Up until the catcall, we had been catching up.
After it, we were silent. I thought about how often I had been catcalled in New York, and how harassment in San Francisco—while less frequent—seems more threatening.
The car long gone, I said, “Well, we both have awesome asses, so he could have been talking about either of us.”
Taylor laughed that laugh that every woman knows. It’s the #metoo laugh, the I-hate-this-but-I-can’t-let-it-get-to-me laugh.
We got home from our run and went to brunch with our husbands. When we recounted our experience, my husband Scott made all the sympathetic gestures, but Taylor’s husband Joe got pissed.
“Why didn’t you yell back?” he asked.
Joe is the type of guy that will stand up for himself or anyone else, for better or worse. With a military background and total confidence, you don’t want to fuck around with Joe.
In that moment, I felt criticized. Taylor and I tried to explain why a response wasn’t possible, or even a good idea, but Joe wouldn’t let go of the idea that we were in the wrong because we did not stand up for ourselves. We changed the subject, but the experience lingered after we returned to San Francisco—not the catcall, but that conversation.
I was on the phone with a female client when I recounted the story. She laughed that same laugh as Taylor, and said: “Of course you didn’t react—that’s the ‘gun in the glove box’ problem.”
The “gun in the glove box” could be “a knife in the pocket”, or just a difference in strength and speed. It’s a constant threat that every female runner knows well. One female runner I know won’t run alone. Taylor has told me that, in addition to running with her big dogs, she often carries a weapon. I won’t do either of those things, largely because I suspect it would change my attitude toward everyone. I know that 99.99999999999999% of the people I pass every day—and that includes the guys who tell me I have a great ass, or look good in my shorts—don’t ever intend to hurt me.
But I do have to consider the “gun in the glove box” problem every single day. And not just on my runs: when I’m walking down the street, when I’m at work, when I’m ordering a latte, and especially when I’m anywhere at night. I’ve been jumped twice in my life, once on the streets of New York City late at night, drunk, and once on a run in the middle of the day in San Francisco near AT&T Park. Both times I fought the assailant off. Both times I got home safe, but shaken. Both times I felt incredibly proud of myself, and incredibly frightened. Not having to worry about this is a luxury that men—especially white men like Joe—enjoy.
I don’t know what the answer is. For me, I know that I can do two things. First, I can stay in shape so that I can continue to fight back and run away from those few who do want to hurt me. I feel safer knowing that I’ve made it home in the past , proud and frightened. And second, I can educate the men in my lives, especially my husband—who is also white and male—about what it’s like for me, as a woman, to walk around in the world on a daily basis.
A few months ago, Scott and I were at our weekly yoga class. The street-level studio where the class takes place has big windows. A guy was standing there, and he watched us through an entire sun salutation. This isn’t abnormal, but then he got really close to the window. I became nervous, and I could tell the other women in the room were too. As the class went on, I wondered: Is anyone going to the front desk to tell security what’s up? After twenty long minutes, the man walked away. When I left after class, I made sure to scan the area outside. If he was anywhere nearby, I told myself, I would go back inside. Since Scott had already left for work, I would ask for an escort home.
Later, I asked Scott about it. He hadn’t even seen the man. I couldn’t believe it. But a week or two later, we were walking down the street when a sketchy guy lurched toward us. Before, Scott would have just kept walking—causing us to pass close by—but without a word he turned and crossed the street.
“I saw him,” he told me, grabbing my hand.