Last week a man, a stranger, stopped me mid-run to give me friendly advice for which I neither asked nor needed. While this was a mild annoyance, it gave me pause. I thought about similar events - the man who told me I didn’t have enough water for the desert (I did), the man who offered me advice on how to scale a fence (a tip so basic it should have been obvious that I had tried it), It reminded me of men who told me that running is bad for me, that marathons will ruin my knees, that I should lift weights if I want to be thin (assuming that being thin has to be the my only goal in fitness - but that’s another post).
The worst part of these exchanges is the absolute certainty these men exhibit--an almost religious faith in their own baseless, “expert” opinions. How completely confident, how arrogant they were in both content and delivery, like I should be so grateful that they had descended from upon high their pre-workout Heaven to save me from my athletic naivete. Now I’ll admit, I’m a feminist, so I’m conditioned to recognize this type of mansplaining, but I couldn’t think of a single time that a woman gave me unsolicited opinions delivered as divine law.
Suffice to say, I have had enough of this shit. So this post is for you, men so inclined to offer me your unsolicited advice. While I can’t speak for all women, or even the majority, I can give you some friendly advice on two things I wholeheartedly want you to stop doing.
First, stop giving unsolicited advice. Stop. Just stop. If I want a coach, I’ll hire one. If I want free fitness advice, I’ll ask friends, or Google, or one of the 10,000 insta-fitness-stars on the Internet. If I have my headphones in, you should only speak to me if I dropped cash on the floor or if you need some advice.
Second, and here is the really important one, don’t stare. Don’t catcall.
Again, for the people in the back:
If you think it’s a compliment, it’s not. When you scream or honk and stare at me, it doesn’t inspire confidence, it doesn’t validate me, and I don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t make me feel wanted or attractive or valuable.
It does make me feel small.
It makes me feel like all the work I’ve put into my body has been reduced to how you feel about it. It makes me feel embarrassed about my body that is working so hard. It makes me feel like I’m wearing too little, that all the wrong parts are bouncing. It makes me want to cover myself in shame.
It makes me feel fear.
Your shouts and stares may seem harmless to you, but they scare me. They scare me because they remind me that if you wanted to act on those words, you could.
As strong as I may be, as far as I may be able to run, if you wanted to hurt me - you probably could. For the those few moments, you remind me of my vulnerability in this world..
Even if you would never act on your comments, if you consider yourself a protector of or champion for women, your comments tell me that you’ve decided, if only for a moment, that my body is for you - for your judgement or pleasure or entertainment.
I am here to take back my power. I am here to tell you that my body, the work I have put into it, its muscles, its cellulite, its curves, none of it is for your viewing pleasure.
It’s not for you. It’s not to turn you on. It’s not for you to determine what number I am or if you would “smash or pass.”
It’s for me. It’s for the lover of my choosing. It’s for the athletes who loan me their spirit during runs. It’s for running across the country or down the street. It’s for doing work that inspires people. It’s for racing my nieces and nephews and other little humans. It’s for my children, should I have them some day. It’s for carrying me from one place to the next, for lifting things and keeping me healthy and happy, for teaching me about myself and the world.
It’s for any number of things that I choose, but it’s certainly not for you.
You can admire my form from afar. You can respect my work. You can even ask me about what I’m doing (again, not with the headphones in), but you should never, ever honk/yell/whistle at me.
And if you think whatever advice you have to say is so important that you need to stop me mid-run - don’t. It’s not. Stop yourself, not me.
And be sure to tell your friends.