Physical activity has been a large part of my life since I was young and began playing sports, such as soccer and swim team. I grew up surrounded by other girls who found comfort in exercise. My teams supported and built one another up without question. I would never trade away the experience of woman camaraderie throughout my childhood. Transitioning to college, physical activity remained important to me but altered in form. The gym and running evolved to be my new outlets. Neither offered the same sense of security I had in sports teams. University gyms are over run by fraternity men who monopolize use of the weights and “can’t help” commenting on women’s workout. Running outdoors provides its own set of dangers and stomach dropping moments. From catcalls to stalking to assault, running, an act meant to empower and benefit the runner in a multifaceted manner, has been perverted to become a potential danger for women.
“Don’t take the same route every day.”
“Don’t run when it’s dark.”
“Don’t have your music playing too loud.”
“Run only in well lit, public areas.”
“Carry something so you can defend yourself.”
I quickly learned running in a city has its own set of precautions whispered only between active women trying to keep one another safe from the reality of danger while exercising. Rarely do they apply to male counterparts, as they actively restrict the times and places women can move their bodies.
With the recent news of Mollie Tibbetts’ death, I am reminded yet again of how fear of gender-based violence or harassment can prevent women from pursuing physical activity in their lives. When another young woman is murdered simply for going on a daily run, women at large are reminded there are public spaces we are not allowed to exist in without threat. The cat calls received from men driving by in cars caution women to be on alert even in a moment when the mind should be calm. Space, that in its nature should be publicly accessible to all without fear of repercussions, becomes violently gendered when women are murdered for existing there at any point in the day. As a result, running cannot longer effectively fulfill its role as a total stress reliever for women. Women must be aware of their safety in relation to their surroundings. This same sense of insecurity is not felt to the same degree by men.
“Women at large are reminded there are public spaces we are not allowed to exist in without threat.”
While Mollie Tibbetts’ death is tragic in all senses of the word, it is also abundantly clear that her story would not be amplified to the same level if she were a Black or Brown woman. Women of color go missing at a tremendously higher rate than white women, yet media coverage continuously turns its head towards the faces of young, attractive white women. For example, since the beginning of 2018 three Black trans women have been murdered in Jacksonville, Florida without any national media attention. In no way does this instance diminish the emotion surrounding Mollie’s death. Rather, it demonstrates how terrifying the experiences of women of color can be when it comes to safety and exercise.
Women must have spaces that feel safe and comfortable to move their bodies in. Physical activity becomes even more important in a world in which women face constant stresses throughout their days and need some sort of endorphin release to calm their mind. It is clear public space has been distorted to reflect the violent nature society often treats women with. It is not until our culture changes its perception on women’s bodies and the violent attitudes often accompanied by these notions that women can fully feel safe exercising outdoors. All persons should have the privilege of moving their bodies when and where they want. Women don’t deserve any less.