The resilient nature of COVID-19 presents the daunting prospect of ever-extending public health restrictions imposed by the British government. The arrival of the virus into the UK has plunged the British public into a year-long cycle of reoccurring national lockdowns, social distancing measures and isolation periods. Attempts to contain COVID-19 has necessitated the closure of retail stores, hospitality venues and leisure facilities across the nation.
On top of the obvious economic and social consequences, the pandemic has produced devastating psychological consequences for the British public. The minimisation of time spent with others and a disrupted everyday routine has exposed the individual to increased stress, lack of motivation and depressive periods.
Physical activity, however, has been proven to dramatically improve psychological welfare. A 2004 study demonstrates how exercise enhances cognitive function and self-esteem, alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. A spout of daily exercise serves to dramatically improve mental health; for athletes in particular, keeping fit is vital to their sense of identity.
Catcalling, wolf-whistling, derogatory comments and shouting from a distance are all examples of public harassment deterring women from exercising during national lockdown
Yet, for many women, a problem looms: with gyms out of action, venturing outside to exercise can create more detrimental psychological effects than from staying indoors. Catcalling, wolf-whistling, derogatory comments and shouting from a distance are all examples of public harassment deterring women from exercising during national lockdown. Exercise serves as an outlet, a means of self-preservation and personal improvement. To have this space invaded by, generally, men without consent, is both unsettling and immensely intimidating.
According to a Runner’s World survey, 84% of women say they have experienced harassment to some extent while running outdoors, with 67% fearing physical assault. What’s more, this sense of threat is enhanced at night-time, meaning women, quite literally, have a narrower window open to keep fit. For working women in wintertime, this makes exercising outdoors extremely difficult. If walking during the day is rarely free from harassment, then exercise at night seems an impossibility.
From a personal female perspective, a simple derogatory remark or stare is enough to spur on feelings of intense fear…
Professional sprinter Hannah Brier speaks on the irony of outdoor training in lockdown: ‘I’m not allowed on the track for safety reasons, but I don’t feel safe where I’m training now’. From a personal female perspective, a simple derogatory remark or stare is enough to spur on feelings of intense fear and disgust, forcing one out of a public area and into confinement. The impact of street harassment on both psychological and physical wellbeing is, therefore, immense.
How can we tackle this? Although the nature of public harassment described by Brier should not be normalised, encouraging women to maintain a fitness regime during lockdown has proven beneficial. Molly Ackhurst of Hollaback London, as part of an international movement tackling public sexism, establishes tips for dealing with street harassment. Ackhurt’s tips include attempting to get out of the situation, reporting the harassment and calling out their behaviour in an assertive, yet calm, manner.
Whilst it is frustrating that street harassment still exists in the 21st century, the inevitability of it still stands. Fitness is, for many such as Hannah Brier, more than just a hobby, it is a lifestyle. Brier’s intensive sport means she trains six days a week to prepare for her 100m and 200m sprints. The issue at hand might seem minor in the wider context of COVID-19, yet harassment is extremely damaging for female athletes and non-athletes alike, and therefore must be given more attention.
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