How to Talk About #MilesforMollie
This one is for the dudes, but ladies if you want to read and share with someone who isn't meeting you where you are at, feel free to forward.
You have probably heard the name Mollie Tibbetts. You will probably forget it as quickly as you forgot why you remember Chandra Levy. Had she not been having an affair with a Congressman she'd just be another Karina Vetrano. If your wife/sister/female colleague is a runner she may be freaking out right now. I wanted to take a minute to coach you on your end of that conversation. Make no mistake: conversations about females and runners and safety are land mines. I don't want you to get blown up.
Why me? I'm a two-time sexual assault survivor and an avid runner. I navigate this world with the continual assistance of a therapist and am therefore much more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations than other females in your life may be.
TLDR; This article lays it all out, it's by far the best I've ever read. I strongly advise you to give it 5 minutes. This one, too.
Here are some general things to know when the topic of female runner safety comes up:
1. Don't Tell Us What To Feel. This is actually a strong piece of relationship advice, too. When we tell you we are scared, it's tempting to tell us not to be, that statistically speaking women are more likely to die in car crashes than be murdered while jogging in broad daylight. In one fell swoop, you are telling us that our feelings aren't valid, that the threat isn't real or that you don't see it, and that you aren't taking the conversation, or our safety, seriously.
2. Don't Criticize Female Victims - Mollie was running at 7:45pm in Iowa in June, which is still daylight out. Which is why pretty good CCTV footage exists of her murderer's car. This is why we are all scared- Mollie was doing something all of us do every day. She didn't break any obvious safety rules. It's also one of the two reasons the media is all over it- she is a blameless victim. When you criticize her, we may think you are implicitly criticizing us.
Now, If you think we ARE taking risks and this is an opportunity to start the conversation, that is a separate and totally valid discussion. Real life example: a female jogger was attacked in Wash Park in 2013 right as I started training for the NYC marathon. My husband travels for work so this news story scared him- he asked me to run indoors until the guy was caught. We found the money in our (TIGHT!) budget at the time for a gym membership and I ran indoors every day right up to the race; my only outdoor runs were my long runs on Saturday mornings with a local run club.
Was this extreme? Possibly, but so were my husband's fears.
You can have totally valid discussions about extreme fears and everday risks, even if you don't view them the same way. If this is the case, I strongly advise you to approach the topic carefully, working forward from your fear rather than insinuating that your wife/sister/colleague is doing something dangerous or taking unnecessary risks. You want to avoid putting us on the defensive if you don't want the conversation to escalate into something you didn't see coming. Speaking of escalating....
3. Don't Gaslight Us - A very basic definition of Gaslighting is when we say, "this happened" and you respond, "no it didn't (you are crazy/paranoid)". This is separate from #1 above because gaslighting actually nullifies our experiences. We all know the right answer is to say that #notallmen are rapists and we don't walk around in constant fear of men and what could happen (we know this, and we don't). At the same time we are hyperaware of the need to avoid situations where we could end up raped or killed, and unfortunately, most of us know quickly situations can escalate from a catcall we try to ignore on our morning walk to work to that same dude chasing you down the street DEMANDING you respond to him. Or that time we turned down a drink from a random guy in a bar who got SO MAD that we rejected him the bouncer had to get involved. These very common experiences are why the sight of a random guy on our run trail at 6am scares us. Worse still is the thought process of how to handle it: i could run away, but what if he follows me? If I stop, what if he grabs me? Is anyone around that could hear me scream? What if I'm being unfair and he's totally normal, am I paranoid? There are no right or good answers. When male anger blows back on us, that's where the real danger lies. I don't know any women who haven't experienced that fear; these situations aren't always avoidable or predictable (or the end results prosecutable).
4. Don't Make It About You - Keep the conversation centered on safety, resist the urge to defend yourself. We are not saying, "all men are..." we are saying, "any man could be...." Women are deeply conditioned to avoid making men angry, and avoid situations where acts self-preservation would make a man angry. We cannot discuss our safety without gaming these situations out, which can make us sound really paranoid and make dudes say things like #notallmen. Yes, at some point some woman probably had these thoughts about you. No, we probably aren't afraid of you, but we may be aware of the threat you could pose under the right conditions. REMEMBER!!! I am NOT saying that men never think about making women angry (that would be stupid). It's important to realize though that our anger isn't connected to your sense of safety the same way your anger is connected to our sense of safety. This lack of understanding is how conversations about women and safety break down so quickly.
Besides, it's not just you: Even incredible resources like IRunFar.com took 6 years to crack the nut of why female participation in ultra-races is one tenth that of men (spoiler alert, it's safety in training). I LOVED everything about this article- they addressed their blind spots with humility and grace and directness. I wish everyone would.
This is why you need a couple of women at the table when you're trying to figure us out. It's really really hard to have conversations about someone else's truth, which is why you are hearing more and more about 'seats at the table' and inclusivity.
You can, and should, read the whole survey here: https://www.irunfar.com/2018/05/irunfars-trail-running-and-safety-survey-results.html Then go to their Patreon and support their amazing work, please.
I'm your run coach not your life coach...but your life will be INFINITELY easier if you are cautious in approaching these difficult conversations with the women in your life. We aren't scared because we are crazy and paranoid. Our life experiences and the experiences of our friends have made us cautious, and the resulting sense of paranoia has probably kept many of us alive.
Coach MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC where she coaches all kinds of runners for $30 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. Click here to download her Marathon Selection Guide!