I have recently been introduced to the concept of the flâneur: a bourgeois man, free to explore urban zones with no particular objective. He is invisible, he’s an observer, he wanders all over the city without being disturbed. The flâneur was “born” in Paris, in the first half of the nineteenth century as a result of the proliferation of public places of pleasure. Women of course had no such privilege. There was no flâneuse back then (unless you pulled a George Sand, dressed yourself as a man and experimented the beauty of walking without getting unwanted attention), and – some people might disagree – the flâneuse of today still doesn’t experience the city the same way men do.
There is a lot of material available for those interested in knowing more about the history of the flâneur (and the amazing George Sand), but I only mentioned this as it made me think about my own experience. Not exactly flâneusing, but running. Running in the streets of London, as so many other Londoners do every day, all the time.
I’ve taken up running a few years ago, as it’s something I can do anywhere, anytime, and I don’t have to pay for it. In addition, it is something I do with my husband. It has become a big part of our life as a family of two, something that has strengthened our relationship and has become so embedded in our everyday lives that we plan other things around it (as in “oh, sorry, we can’t go out tomorrow as we need to run”).
However, it’s not every day that we are able to run together. So, every now and then, I have to run alone.
Photo: RWD Mag
You know where this is going, don’t you?
I’m a different runner when I’m by myself. I run like a girl. Which means that I only go during daylight time. I only run in the park. And, even inside the park, I never take smaller, hidden paths. I never look around, only straight ahead. I hold my mobile in my hand. I wear sunglasses. I run shorter distances. I make myself as invisible as possible.
Basically, when I’m running by myself, I feel like a piece of bait. I might not look around, but I know I’m being watched (I can tell that most women reading this will understand this feeling. Oh, the male gaze). Yes, I have been catcalled and wolf whistled several times while running, but this discomfort stays with me even when that doesn’t happen. It’s like I’m stepping into enemy’s territory. And wearing those ‘short’ shorts worst of all!
I can’t help but use one of the favourite activists ’cliché, “the personal is political”. Every time I step outside to run with no husband by my side, I feel I’m embodying female power and taking a stand, fighting for my place within the public space. But unfortunately, it’s not that easy. After a lifetime of being harassed in the streets, I’d much rather have my male companion beside me (actually, in front of me, which is quite symbolic).
Every time I cross paths with another female runner, I look her in the eye and nod. I don’t know, they might think I’m weird, but I love to think we belong to a super special group of women that reclaim the streets with our drifit tops and neon trainers. I like to think we make each other run faster not because we are afraid, but because we are training to run the world.
Words, Heloisa Righetto