Written by Worth Parker
The murder of Mollie Tibbetts is getting a lot of attention. Partisans of all stripes have taken up her banner in support of their various causes, most of which can be debated in good faith by reasonable people. But there is one fundamental aspect of this tragedy that is undeniable, and my friend Natasha Dekle said it well enough in Georgia that reporters in Iowa reached out to her;
“Women are constantly inundated with ways to keep safe while running: no headphones, claws we should wear on our fingers, phone cases that are stun guns, advice on what not to wear, mace that straps to our hand, billy sticks we can run with, underwear that lock and prevent rape, self defense moves we need to know if someone grabs us from behind, no running after dark, no running alone, and so on and so forth. Men need to be inundated with this: QUIT FUCKING ATTACKING WOMEN.”
Simple fact: We men are the problem here. Am I some virtue signaling, social justice warrior? Nope. Far from it. I drive a truck, shoot guns, and like grilled meat more than anything else. Am I a pacifist? Again, no. Some of my happiest, most exhilarating moments involved the execution of extreme violence against an opposing force. But I don’t want the norms of combat, or even the norms of life in the places in which I’ve experienced it, to be the norm for my wife or my daughter. But in some ways, they are.
I am forty-five years old. I have run literally thousands of miles in my life. I don’t prepare much when I go for a run. I am shorter than average, but I weigh in at 190 and as a career Marine I feel well prepared for almost any situation I can reasonably expect to encounter while running. I don’t carry a weapon. I generally don’t carry a cell phone. I tie my shoes, grab some water and food if it’s going to be a long one, and step off. When I am training for an ultra-marathon and need to do overnight runs, I do so. When I get overloaded on city life, I find some lonely trails. I’ve run traffic choked streets in Cambodia, trails in Afghanistan, bad parts of American cities, desolate parts of the Southwest, and trails in remote parts of Appalachia where strangers are looked upon with suspicion. In all that time, I got yelled at by a truck load of drunks in Wilmington, NC and hooted at by some girls in Tallahassee, FL (I enjoyed that one, to be honest, another significant difference. I could enjoy it because there is nothing remotely intimidating to me about a Camry full of Florida State University Chi Omegas). In stark contrast, my wife has to be on guard even in public areas. In a recent discussion she noted that in the last ten months, when she has walked at least five miles every day in enlightened, liberal, Arlington, VA, she’s “only” been harassed by, or felt the need to be particularly wary of, four men. Twenty-eight years vs. ten months and she’s experienced twice the incidents I have. In the twenty years I’ve known her, she’s come home more than once and said, “I got [masturbated] at in traffic.” What? Who does that? Men. It’s our problem. Women just bear the brunt of it.
Doubt me? Let’s look at murders. The data is simple: In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation catalogued 16,964 murders. Of those, 5,359 (31.6%) of the perpetrators remain unknown. Of the remaining known murderers, 10,310 (60.8%) were male while 1,295 (7.6%) were female. I think it is fair to assume a similar distribution across the 31.6% that are unknown. Even if it’s not, there’s a problem and it’s us, boys. Let’s talk science again. According to healthline.com, the average American man weighs 195.7 pounds at5 feet 9 inches, while the average American woman weighs 168.5 pounds at just under 5 feet 4 inches. In “A Comparative Study on Strength between American College Male and Female Students in Caucasian and Asian Populations”, Chinese researchers found that “Females have 37-68% of muscle strength of males in general.” So, to recap, the average female is about thirty pounds lighter, five inches shorter, and about half as strong as the average male. Some weaklings in our number see those biological facts as an invitation to try and make up some psychological ground by menacing women. They need to get shut down. Hard. I’m not an angel. I find an attractive woman in racing shorts as noteworthy as anyone else. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve never had my head turned by a woman running by or said, “daaaaaammmmn” to a buddy about the same. But with regard to the woman running, walking, shopping, lifting, reading, teaching, learning, or simply breathing in proximity to me, I have a policy. I think it applies equally to any situation: I KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT AND MIND MY OWN BUSINESS. It works in elementary school. It works in the gym. It works on the trail. It works in a board room. It works.
Perhaps because Mollie Tibbetts was a runner, abducted and killed while running by a guy who was angry that she rejected his advances, I thought about her and the issues surrounding her death and the implications for women runners while pounding out ten miles this morning. How should I act around female fellow runners when I encounter them, especially in remote areas? Do I say hello? Is eye contact creepy? Do I need to give them a particularly wide berth? Not really. I just need to KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT AND MIND MY OWN BUSINESS. I don’t need to tell her how she looks in those shorts. I don’t need to suggest we run together. I don’t need to run behind her. I don’t need to shout out of a car at her or whistle at her or tell her to smile. All of these things happen to women I know, regularly, and all we need to do to solve those problems is KEEP OUR MOUTHS SHUT AND MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS. I like to talk to people and I get it that not being able to say hello to 51% of the population is onerous. But so is having to cut your workout short because some guy you don’t know thinks you should want to run with him and “just talk”.
Life has taught me that there are always those members of a population that can’t follow simple rules. Here’s where our extra thirty pounds, five inches, and fifty percent more physical strength can actually be of benefit. When you observe a woman enduring that sort of thing, step up and tell the source to KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. And if she doesn’t want to engage with you, even after your chivalrous act, you KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS too. This is simply behaving like decent humans. It’s easy. It’s what we owe the women in our lives and it’s how we become better as men and a species.
This article was co-published on SOFlete.com.