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16th March 2022

Reclaim the Night: A run-down of catcalling

Addressing the importance of calling out catcalling and discussing what can be done to make women feel safer.
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Reclaim the Night: A run-down of catcalling
Call out Catcalling @ Lucy Pummell

Ahead of the ‘Reclaim the Night’ run held by The Mancunion in collaboration with the University of Manchester’s (UoM) ‘This Girl Can Run’. I sat down with Eleanor Taylor, Run Wild’s Inclusions and Women’s Officer, and organiser of the ‘Women’s runs’. We chatted about whether she feels safe when she’s out running, and what should change so that women fear and experience less sexual harassment whilst exercising outside. 

Getting into running 

I started by asking Eleanor what made her get into running. She admitted, much like many of the UK’s population, that she began running in lockdown because there was nothing else to do.  This was in her home town of Newbury, which she describes as a “small, safe feeling town”. Once students returned to their university institutions, she joined UoM’s running club ‘Run Wild’, at a time when usually 10+ person groups were limited to 6 due to Covid regulations.

She reasons that perhaps she had less cat-calling at this time was because “town was less busy”, because shops were closed, and, therefore, there were simply “fewer people to harass you”

Catcalling: Fallowfield Loop vs. Curry Mile 

When comparing her experiences of cat-calling at home and in Manchester, Eleanor was certain that it was “more severe” here. We chatted about a time that we had been running together and had to cut our run short because we’d been catcalled 7 consecutive times and were so frustrated by it.

As this occurred mainly on the Curry Mile, our discussion turned to a comparison of the busy curry-house-lined road and the Fallowfield Loop. I asked her which felt more safe. She spoke about the sense of purpose on Fallowfield Loop, of people using it for exercise or as a public footpath on their way somewhere, whereas the Curry Mile is populated by loitering bystanders. In terms of safety, Eleanor expressed that “there isn’t a way to make the Curry Mile safe, other than removing the people who harass [you]”

Catcalling: Fetishised physical activity? 

Due to the exposure to catcalling that women face in a multitude of contexts – not just running – I was interested as to whether Eleanor thought the potential for sexual harassment was worse for women exercising outdoors. Although she mentioned that “people seem to like commenting on you running specifically”, Eleanor also relayed several experiences of catcalling when she’d just been walking around Manchester. Particularly notable, she recounted an instance of verbal harassment that occurred “ten seconds after I’d left my house”.  

In an almost flippant tone, given the frequency of such comments, Eleanor told me that she literally get(s) cat called wearing whatever”. So clearly asking ‘what was she wearing?’, common in the victim-blaming blaming discourse of sexual harassment, is not tackling the problem needing to be addressed.

What would make women feel safer? 

Prefacing this with the fact that it’s unfair that women should have to take precautionary measures to protect themselves at all, and that women would feel safer “if men just weren’t dicks”, Eleanor and I chatted about what could be done to reduce the risk of sexual harassment for women when out running. 

She immediately suggested better street lighting, because in the dark “it’s not safe for anyone, not just women”. This is especially true in the winter months when it gets dark at 4pm, and our hours for outside exercise are more restricted than in summer. Eleanor tells me that she “would never run late at night by myself ever”, and that she worries for her female friends who do, making sure they always text her when they’re home so she knows they’re ok. 

Ultimately, perhaps most telling from our interview, was Eleanor’s expression that “it’s a shame that I have to change where I run”. Catcalling and sexual harassment continue to be so commonplace that I and other women have actually come to expect it. Many of us consider it a bonus if we manage to complete our outdoor exercise unscathed.

This fact alone, which barely grazes the surface of the extensive harassment and violence women, non-binary and other people are regularly exposed to, is disappointing more than anything else. I pity the men who feel the need to shout at us and make us feel vulnerable, whether that is their intention or not. 

What can men do? 

Addressing the importance of men’s inclusion in gender equality, we ended the interview by talking about what men can do. “Obviously the most notable one, just don’t catcall”. Whilst to us this seems obvious, I think it’s always helpful to offer a little reminder to anyone who may have forgotten.

However, like other anti-discrimination movements, we spoke about how it’s not enough to simply not catcall, and that “it’s more about being an active bystander”. This might mean calling out your mates if they’re making a woman uncomfortable, or perhaps crossing the road if you’re walking behind a woman who’s out on her own. 

To simply not catcall is not enough. Instead, men ought to be prepared to call it out when they do see it, being thankful that they can walk about at night and not without it on their radar. 

Eleanor tells me about a recent incident when she was running through Manchester’s city centre in a big group and was accosted by a mob filming and shouting at them. Tellingly, she reveals that the men she was running with “didn’t notice the shouting, didn’t notice the filming, the harassment, because that’s just not on their radar”. Examples like this demonstrate male privilege, and are just one of the reasons why men should be aware of how they can use that privilege to actively oppose misogyny and the harassment of women and non-binary people.

Obviously, the point of this article is not to condemn all men. Personally, I think it is yet further proof of the damaging effects of the patriarchy that a lot of women would potentially demonise perfectly innocent men because of the actions of others who do pose a real threat. Thus in an almost Smithian, invisible hand sort of way, the deconstruction of the patriarchy is something that will benefit all genders.

That being said, please share this article with your male friends; this is an important appeal for women’s safety, and “people need to have more awareness of how bad it is” for it to get better.

Getting involved in running at the University of Manchester 

Whether you’re an avid runner or you only laced up your first pair of trainers yesterday, there are opportunities for you. Eleanor runs a women’s only running group on Mondays at 6:15pm from the UoM’s Whitworth Hall, which is open to all abilities. Information can be found here. 

The University’s running club ‘Run Wild’ also runs sessions every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:15pm, also from Whitworth Hall, open to all abilities and all genders. Information can be found here. 

And as if that’s not enough for you, The Mancunion is putting on a ‘Reclaim the Night’ run on the 16th of March. We’re going to run the Reclaim the Night protest route (SU to Owen’s Park) and back (only 5k and you can walk it if you want!) to protest against female sexual harassment. Pre-run we will host a t-shirt social in the SU, so bring a white t-shirt to decorate with all the things we’ve been catcalled to wear on the run (and get photos in, obvs!). 

Reclaim the Night Run @ Lucy Pummell
Reclaim the Night Run @ Lucy Pummell

T-Shirt Social: 6:00pm 

Run: 7:30pm 

Social: in the SU bar, whenever we’re done, no stress! 

 

For any questions contact: 

Annie Dabb – @dabbinthedark – or Eleanor Taylor – @elean0rtaylor – on Facebook and Instagram! 

 

Nobody should feel unsafe or threatened while running.


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