In this edition of the series Windows and Mirrors, we shift our gaze slightly, exploring ideas around identity spaces, and the power that can be harnessed when members of a marginalized community come together. For you, this specific story may be a window into a space not your own, or it may be a mirror to your own experience. Whichever it is, I hope you will step with me, side by side, with curiosity as your guide.
By Stephanie Imig
It began in a moment of solidarity.
My dear friend and one of the strongest women I know told her story of a recent run--of being chased in the dark morning hours, having death threats slung at her, and taking cover in the blackberry-bramble-lined canyon, snuffing her headlamp, and hoping the man would lose her trace. While the blackberry slashes on her legs healed fairly quickly and predictably, the emotional wound remained raw; as is always the case, emotional wounds far outlast the physical ones.
Not wanting to run alone, she called upon friends to join her for her pilgrimages in the darkness. As someone with parenting and work responsibilities that can make morning runs a logistical challenge, I have often said no to invitations to run in the morning, because a “run with friends” felt like a selfish indulgence. But this invitation from my friend was a call to action. A call to fight the fear and announce our strength. A call to take a stand and take up space. A call to not be threatened and bullied away from doing what we love. Joining her for a morning run was not an act of selfish indulgence. It was an act of support and collective action.
It sounds hyperbolic, but it is not. Every day, women are warned: don’t run in the dark, don’t run there, don’t run alone, don’t run with headphones, don’t don’t don’t. Of course, those warnings stem from real statistics; true traumatic events that happen every day. As we head out on something as simple as a run, we have to navigate the claustrophobic spaces between safety and independence; between fear and courage; between precaution and boldness; between smart and spontaneous. And when we choose to be independent, courageous, bold, and spontaneous....and something happens, the accusatory questions flood like a landslide--You were running when? You were running where? You went alone? You were running in just your sports bra?! And don’t even get me started if we dared to wear headphones.
Two weeks ago I joined a male friend who was out for 2 laps of a burly 11-mile loop in Forest Park in Portland, OR. He started his first loop at 6 AM, alone, in the dark, on the same trails where my friend had been threatened just a few weeks before. When I met him for his second loop, we talked about the freedom he had to do what he was doing--alone or not, in the dark or not. These considerations are not part of his decisions--at least not for safety reasons. Of course, running with friends in the light is more fun, but for women, the choice to run in the dark alone is not merely a choice of more or less fun.
And so, we run in the dark together. We transform a safety precaution into a sacred hour of...of what exactly? Of soul-affirming joyous sisterhood. When we arrive at the trailhead, we switch on our headlamps, everyone gets the obligatory kisses and butt-waggles from my dog, and we head off into the pre-dawn fog. Our legs may take a moment to warm up, but the conversations start immediately. We talk loudly (because we are excited, not because we are trying to scare away predators). We let our voices fill up space and we fill up each other. We talk about anything and everything: from exactly how much worse it is if your dog rolls in dog poop versus human poop, to relationships, to racial injustice, to class warfare, to gender discrimination--at work, in the media, in our minds, in the world. Feminism is a given. Together, we nurture one another into a force to be reckoned with, ready to take on the trolls, the bosses, the whole entire system!
When we return to the trailhead, I am never quite ready for the miles to be over. At the same time, I feel strong and ready to face whatever highs and lows the rest of life will sling my way for the day. I am ready to parent, to teach, to be a loving partner, to be a light for others if I can. I generally feel like I have had an hour of pure selfish indulgence.
This is my story of being a woman running with other women. It is a story of support, of joy, of laughter. It is a story of the personal being political. It is a story of being stronger together. It is a story of paradoxes--of collective independence. It is, for now, in our very imperfect world, how we spread our arms wide enough to hold all of the considerations we are asked to navigate: of safety, “smarts”, independence, courage, fierceness and spontaneity.
In the end, what began as an act of solidarity has become my own narrative of the power we have to lift one another up, and transform a traumatic moment into ongoing joy.