A new year, a new survey revealing the grim reality that over a third of British women have experienced harassment while out running. I would call this a shocking statistic, except that it isn't any more; not when it comes barely three months after another survey found the rate to be 43% amongst American women; not when that number rises to 58% for those under 30; not when a quarter of women in yet another study said they don't exercise outside at all for fear of harassment or assault.
The latest research, from England Athletics, showed the impact that such regular harassment can have on women's lives – over 60% of those surveyed said they felt anxious while running alone. The findings were released to coincide with the launch of Run Together, a national programme designed to get more people jogging and running regularly.
Having the option to run in a group is a fantastic incentive for many people to get fit and stay motivated, and doubtless many will relish the benefits.
But there will also be those who will suggest that such groups provide a solution for women who are harassed – that those who feel anxious should simply stop exercising alone and join a local running group. Problem solved! Except that it isn't. Because suggesting that women should alter their behaviour, change their route, adapt to somebody else's routine, and generally face inconvenience and disruption in order to avoid being harassed or worse is no solution at all.
There is a section of the Twittersphere, of the audience at any given event about feminism, or of the comments under an article like this one, which can be confidently relied upon to assert that in any given sexist situation there is evasive action women should be taking to protect themselves.
A woman is never to blamefor rape, they will hastily stress, but it simply makes sense for her to take 'sensible precautions' regarding her dress, or alcohol intake. It might not be fairfor police to suggest that women don't walk alone in an area where there have been recent assaults, but surely it's just 'common sense'? Of course it's not rightthat girls experience sky high rates of sexual harassment in schools, but if they will wear such short skirts, what exactly do they expect will happen?
What's most interesting about these arguments is that they so often come from the same group of people who react to anti-sexist campaigns with the indignant response: #NotAllMen. The same implications and arguments are employed – 'I see your point, but you must be logical about this. You must be reasonable.' It simply doesn't make sense to lump all men in together.
The only thing all rape victims have in common is the fact that they came into contact with a rapist
Well it doesn't make sense to lump all women in together either. You can't have it both ways. Leaving aside the fact that #NotAllMen is usually an aggrieved, defensive response to perceived rather than actual generalisation, it is worth pointing out that we shouldn't enforce mass behavioural change on women as the result of the actions of some men either.
What's more, we know with certainty that instructing women to take precautions to 'protect' themselves from rape or harassment isn't actually sensible or effective, because the reality is that the only thing all rape victims have in common is the fact that they came into contact with a rapist. Women of all ages, races and religions, wearing all kinds of clothing, are raped all over the world at all times of day.
Indeed, given that 90% of those who are raped already know the perpetrator (meaning that women are most often raped by partners, colleagues and friends) the most 'sensible' advice would be to suggest that they avoid their own homes, workplaces and beds.
Given that the vast majority of perpetrators of harassment and assault are men, it would arguably be equally, if not more effective, to ensure that male runners travel in pairs to keep an eye on each other's behaviour?
The idea of suggesting that all women take specific actions to 'reduce risk' might sound eminently reasonable to those who won't have to live with the consequences, but perhaps they wouldn't be so keen on the idea if we turned it on its head. Given that the vast majority of perpetrators of harassment and assault are men, it would arguably be equally, if not more effective, to ensure that all men go out in groups in areas where assaults have occurred, or that male runners and pedestrians travel in pairs to keep an eye on each other's behaviour? What's that you say? Not all men?
Well then – why all women? Why should all women pay the price for male violence on a daily basis? Why should women's lives be disrupted by the fear, anxiety and constant looming threat of harassment and abuse? Why should our schedules be rearranged, our commutes disrupted and our physical health suffer because some men commit acts of misogynist violence?
A new year, a new survey. Perhaps the reason things aren't changing is because we keep suggesting women find solutions, instead of tackling the perpetrators who are the real problem.
Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project