It was hot and humid — a typical fall day in the South. I wore my usual tank top and a skirt, with pocketed shorts underneath, that holds my phone and water while I run.
My path — yes, I change my route every day — went by the construction supply store in town. Across the street is another store. Its parking lot is frequently used as parking for the construction store. There in the lot, were a bunch of men gathered around a truck. As I stood at the intersection, waiting for cars to pass so I could cross, there were a few whispers and pokes among the men, and one-by-one their heads turned to direct their eyes at me.
I’ve gotten this look before — a kind of bewilderment, a WTF look. I’ve gotten cat-calls and yells of encouragement. So I have seen this happen before and know it will happen again.
I’m a slow runner. I’m also almost 6 feet tall and often get mistaken for a guy. I’m not skinny. I’m strong, love baked goods a little too much, and jump between gender roles relatively easy.
I felt like I needed to say something. Even a few days later, I’m still pissed. My dad worked in construction. He may have looked at pretty women every once in a while, but the stares during my run weren’t a few seconds. They lingered until I crossed the street and I got directly across from their silver truck and gave them the look I reserve for when my kids are about an inch from crossing into the “I’m going to use all of your name” territory. Each of my kids has two middle names, so it takes a lot for them to cross that line.
So to those construction workers, and all people who can’t help but stare or cat-call at people working out, I write this:
If I was your mother, would you celebrate the fact that I was working to reverse my diabetes? Would you chide me as being too old to do something that gave me joy?
I am the mother to three children. Respect my motherhood as you’d respect your mom.
If I was your daughter, would you allow boys or other men to look at me that way? Would you celebrate the fact that I’m doing something I love? Or would you tell me I should be more like a girl, maybe wear a little makeup when I play? Would you say that my dreams are ones reserved for boys?
I am a daughter who was always encouraged to pursue things that make me happy.
If I was your granddaughter, would you celebrate that maybe, just maybe, the illnesses that plague generations of your family would finally come to an end as I tried to live a healthy lifestyle and set an example for my kids? Or would you tell me that I can’t outrun my genetics, and I should accept my fate?
I would hope you’ll chose the first option, as my family has several generations of diabetes, high blood pressure and other obesity-related illnesses.
If I was a friend or family member, would you put up with someone disrespecting the women with which you surround yourself? Are you disrespectful to all women, and I’m just the latest target?
I should have yelled at you. Maybe it would have shaken you out of your stupidity.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. I’m a human. You deserve respect. So do I, and all the other decent humans in the world. EVERY. ONE. MATTERS.
Get your heads out of the gutter and concentrate on being passionate about your calling and being kind. In this turbulent world, we could use all of that more than ever.