If you're a woman who wants to run a bit, a red setter is an essential accessory. Photo: Getty
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How to run (if you're a woman)

According to Runner's World, a woman needs some pink trainers and a dog if she is to stay safe while jogging.

This article first appeared on mytightswontstayup.com and is crossposted here with permission

Last Boxing Day, when I was too full to do a jigsaw or argue with my dad, I sat in the chair near the cat litter tray with a bottle of sherry, and stared at the wall for six or seven hours. Ignoring my mum’s conversation about whether Jeremy Irons had been born a woman, I started to think about my life. Just as I was envisaging the whole community grief-stricken at my imaginary funeral, the next door neighbour’s cat ran in through the cat flap and did a massive shit in the litter tray at my feet. It was existentially traumatic.

As I stood outside in my slippers, leaning on the wheelie bin with a glass of Croft Original in one hand and a bag of Fluffy’s turd in the other, I saw three women wearing day-glo Lycra jog past. FREAKS! I thought. LYCRA! On BOXING DAY! What wankers! Why don’t they just piss off and GET A LIFE! I went back indoors and watched a film about ghosts with Maggie Smith in it and ate two jam tarts, but I couldn’t get the vision of the Lycra-clad runners out of my head. “Mum,” I said, “I’ve just realised that I’ve never, ever run anywhere in my life. Except for running for buses, and that doesn’t count.” My mother stared at me blankly. “Well, I know you never did PE love, but you ran like the clappers to the chemist when you got nits off that kid that looks like Angela Lansbury, and that was after you’d eaten that massive trifle for the Royal Wedding, so you can’t be that unfit.” This got me thinking. If I could career down a dual carriageway pissed on sloe gin, crawling with nits and full of Elmlea then, if I actually tried, if I had the right gear and didn’t eat Toblerones, maybe I could properly run.

On 3 January, I went to Sports Direct, a sort of preparatory dogging ground for passive aggressive teenagers, who feel each other up in massive queues whilst breaking wind freely. It was in the changing rooms that I discovered two things: 1) that most sports clothing manufacturers hate women and 2) that female runners know of a secret supplier, who fashions magic leggings that hold in your stomach, lift up your arse and make the outline of your knickers disappear. Now, not to be big headed or anything, but I’m not grotesque. My legs and arse just look like legs and arse, I don’t have any sort of major weird shit going on. But whenever I tried on a pair of running “tights” I looked like a  bloated Bonfire Night Guy stuffed with sausage meat, dog shit and gravel. In a panicked frenzy, I bought a pair of shiny leggings with a pretend skirt attached, which made me look like a possessed fan of skort-loving nineties pop quartet, B*witched.

After my first three runs and the self-loathing, pain and horror that ensued, I asked my brother for tips. “The problem is,” he said, “you run like you’ve got wasps after you. Stop flailing your arms about and pulling that face. And you’ll knacker your knees doing it like that. But, then again what do I know, I’m not Fatima Whitbread, I know toss all about running.” I pointed out that Fatima Whitbread did Javelin. “Like I said,” he replied. “I know toss all about running.”

So I sought professional advice and, while eating a delicious bagel, perused Runner’s World’s website, where I found the article 30 Things Every Woman Should Know About Running. This is it, I thought, this is the Holy Grail of running tips. These people know so much about running that they manage to write a whole magazine’s worth of crap about it every month. I was excited.

The tips, however, turned out to be so packed with condescending, scare-mongering, sexist wank that I picked up my bagel and hurled it across my living room. I threw it like a Frisbee, and then spent fifteen minutes cleaning Philadelphia off a cushion with a wet tea towel and muttering expletives.

That was seven weeks ago, and I’ve now calmed down enough to revisit what I saw on that angry, bagel-strewn afternoon. Prepare yourselves; here are a few dazzling tips taken from 30 Things Every Woman Should Know About Running:

“Running with headphones outdoors is a safety hazard in more ways than one. You won’t be able to hear cars, cyclists or someone approaching who intends to do you harm. Attackers will always pick a victim who looks vulnerable. When you have headphones on, that means you.”

Cheers Runner’s World! My previous fears re. looking like a sausage meat effigy of the curly haired one from B*witched have shot RIGHT down the list of concerns. Rather than worrying about “Guy Fawking” of the legs, I’m now concerned that I’m going to get massively murdered by listening to my training podcast which, as it happens, YOU recommended on your website. This is particularly irritating, as I have searched far and wide to find headphones that will accommodate my Paul Daniels sized head.

You don’t have to be the competitive type to enter a race every now and then. You’ll find that lots of other racers aren’t overly competitive, either. They’re out there because it’s fun and social, and it motivates them to keep on running.”

What a helpful tip for the ladies! Runner’s World clearly understands that women are never competitive, ever, but know that they LOVE being sociable and having fun! That’s why most runners will tell you that marathons are a real laugh, a proper scream, and that they provide ample opportunity to discuss interior décor and dinner party recipes with like-minded athletes. People have told me they run to improve their stamina, to strengthen their muscles, to look after their heart, to lose weight, to combat depression…but I’ve never heard anyone say “I run because it’s fun and social”. WHO WOULD SAY THAT? If you want to have fun and be social then sod off down the pub.

“Unfortunately, men and women will never be equals in the urination department…Simply find a private place behind a tree or dense shrubbery, squat and pull the lining of your shorts over to one side.”

This is real. This is an actual tip from Runner’s World. While the tips for male runners cover nutrition, training, pronation and injury prevention, the tips for women tell us how to have a wazz in a bush.

“There’s no need to miss a run or a race just because you’re having your period.”

I’m 33, Runner’s World. I’ve had approximately 239 periods. During those periods I’ve done things like dismantle five MDF bookcases with a miniature plastic spoon in lieu of a screwdriver, babysat for four children with diahorrea in a caravan in Mablethorpe and had actual sex with a man. Books and life have taught me that it’s OK, nay, even encouraged, to move while having a period.

“It may not be much consolation, but men are sometimes verbally harassed and occasionally threatened on the run, just as women are.”

Seriously, RW, just Fuck Off.

“Just because you’re married and have young children and a job doesn’t mean you don’t have time to run…You need this time. Taking it for yourself (by letting your husband baby-sit while you run, for instance) will benefit the whole family.”

Question: can you babysit your own child?

“Morning is the best time for women to run, for lots of reasons. First, it’s the safest time; statistics show that women are more likely to be attacked late in the day.”

Wait! There’s more:

“Women who run alone should take precautions. Leave a note at home stating when you left, where you’ll be running and when you expect to return. Carry a personal attack alarm. Stick to well-populated areas, and don’t always run the same predictable route. Avoid running at night and don’t wear jewellery. Pay attention to your surroundings. Carry identification, but include only your name and an emergency phone number.”

Good Grief, I want to do Couch to 5K, not join the KGB. Why would I wear jewellery, Runner’s World, why? And what sort of ID features only my name and phone number? Must I carry one of those little gold tags that fancy Labradors wear on their collars? Which leads on to my favourite “tip” of all:

“Running with a dog gives you the best of both worlds – you get to run alone, but with a friend. A dog is both a faithful companion who will go anywhere, any time, and a loyal guardian who’ll discourage anyone from harming you.”

Who wrote this bloody article, Son of Lassie? Let’s face it, dog walking almost always entails:

  1. Shovelling turd off the pavement and putting it in a bag.
  2. Carrying the turd bag around for half an hour in search of a bin.
  3. Trying desperately to stop the dog having sex with moving or inanimate things.

Now, I have oft seen the cover of Runner’s World magazine, and it usually features an athletic woman with blonde hair, scampering over Scarfell Pike in tiny hot pants and a yellow bra. Never, ever is this woman pictured chasing a Border Collie across Tesco’s car park, with a bag of shit in one hand and a rape alarm in the other.

To top it all off, the “Women’s” section of the website features a massive stock image of a model with a perfect manicure pinching her waistline, just to gently remind us all that we’re fat and disgusting. Other gems in this “special section” for women include tips on how to run with a buggy and reviews of some nice pink shoes.

So, to summarise: we’re all fat and we’re going to get killed. Buy some cerise trainers and get a Red Setter and you might be OK, otherwise, stay indoors.

Thanks Runner’s World, thanks loads.

This article first appeared on mytightswontstayup.com and is crossposted here with permission

 

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder