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Women in the Park


The last days of Pesach are associated with the narrative in Exodus of crossing the Red Sea. If any reader happens to be in Jerusalem, it is worthwhile making your way down to Rehov Mea Shearim to the Toldos Aharon “court” of the Reb Ahrele Chasidim. There, on the last day of Pesach, the rebbe has his faithful pack the bleachers and simulate the huge banks of the water on either side and then re enacts the crossing, actually running up and down until he drops with exhaustion. So there is a tradition that the Red Sea crossing was not a leisurely saunter but a serious and even terrified run. So that’s why I offer this thought this week.

I regularly walk, jog, and run around Central Park and I have observed an interesting phenomenon about women runners which leads me to a range of theories that I should like to share with you, for your consideration and response. And please do not pull your punches.

The main route around the park has lanes for cars, cyclists, and runners and they are marked with arrows and symbols indicating an anticlockwise flow of traffic. It is true that many users of the park ignore them, except for those restricted hours and sections when general motor traffic can use them. On weekends when there is no traffic it’s very much a free-for-all, and anyway it is true that in general people seem to pay scant heed to the instructions, possibly because there are fewer police around.

For us Brits it takes time to adjust to the fact that in the USA (as in most of the world) traffic drives on the right-hand side. When I first arrived in New York and started to run, I found I got into trouble if I went against the flow. So I quickly adapted to running on the right-hand side of the lane, even if I noticed there were always contrarians.

In addition to the priorities of the road, I should add that I was brought up on an estate next to the River Thames and the law of the river, maintained strictly and policed by the launches of the Thames Conservancy, was that the faster craft always give right-of-way to the slower ones and motor power cedes to manpower. I automatically assumed such etiquette would apply to human traffic. So in the park, when I am faced with an oncoming pedestrian slower than I am, I give way, regardless of sex.

In general my “proper” English upbringing is very strict about giving way to women, which was what I usually do. But when it comes to running I treat athletic women the same way I do any other “competitor”. In the world of female sport, as with male, the competition nowadays is so tough that many female athletes are now faster and stronger than most male athletes of my youth. Faced by an “equal” male or female I go according to the rule that whoever has the right-of-way literally sticks to his or her right. This works most of the time. When someone refuses to give way I am now the one who blinks first (though I wasn’t originally), because I am fully aware of the fact that I could be facing an armed lunatic who could pull a gun or a knife on me if he or she was minded to.

This is all background to my main point. In the runners’ lane, at busy times runners pass within inches of each other. Often one closely misses or brushes or knocks limbs with opposing runners. Now I have observed that I am more than twice as likely to be struck by as female runner as a male. And I wonder why.

Assuming it is not personal, I have several theories to offer.

Evolutionarily speaking, men, as the hunters, developed a better sense of distance. Women who stayed at home looking after the kids, cooking, and preparing clothes had to develop a more focused and shorter range of vision. Therefore their judgment of distance is poorer than men’s.

The style of many women runners is looser, more relaxed and less constricted than men, and therefore their wilder flailing arms are more likely to accidentally strike a nearby passing target.

Women who run concentrate much more than men on their running and therefore have less mental space available to consider oncoming traffic.

Women are more likely to be listening to their cell phones or iPods and less able to concentrate on what is going in around them.

Women who run are likely to be the more aggressive or physical of their species because they had to try harder to overcome prejudice and expectation and therefore are less concerned to avoid physical encounter.

Women who run have usually had to compete against men or overcome male prejudice and are therefore more likely to actually relish any possibility of knocking a male out of the way or making a male suffer.

So there you have my completely unprofessional opinions that doubtless would get me fired from any public job. I have overlooked one other possibility. The rabbis of the Talmud warn that men are particularly susceptible to females (you don’t need to be a big Talmid Chacham to work that one out) and too many rabbis in recent times have been caught getting up to monkey business. So perhaps the fact is that I’m noticing women joggers more than men and all this is the Almighty warning me to be careful and get back to my Gemara!

Otherwise, any other theories or other experiences that might either enlighten or correct me or help me avoid collisions would be most welcome.

29 thoughts on “Women in the Park

  1. Wonderful as always, however, as another polite Welsh Thamesian who suffers from the "bumping effect" I put forward the theory that it may well be that the honour of river traffic makes you an easy target!

    No matter where I am, conference, ballroom, emporium or shouk, it is I who winds up with the bruises no matter where I stand!!!!

  2. I was just about to get verhitzt when I realized that it was April Fool's Day!

    Anyway, Jeremy, there was one conclusion that you didn't come to which was, perhaps you put yourself in the way of those flailing women deliberately for some feminine contact! What would the other rabbonim think of that?

    A lovely column – thoroughly enjoyed in the spirit
    of Pesach because you are free to say what you like and your readership is free to laugh.

  3. Over the past 20 years or so most polite men have experienced a woman's rejection of their courtesy such as opening a door for them or offering them their seat because these women feel that they have to be as "strong" as men and I suggest that some women joggers feel they have to assert their presence on the running tracks to prove their equality. What these women do not understand that most decent men acknowledge dominance of women already. As a man I worship women, their beauty, their dedication, their selflessness and their ability to multi task. As a result I enjoy opening doors for women or giving up my seat for them even though they are often stronger, fitter and even younger than me. It actually pleases me to do these things for them. Of course their lack of logic and ability to chatter on and on drives me mad. At the same time I do not underestimate men and indeed my own self and I recognise that the world would be worse off without either men or women. I understand that in jewish law women are considered more important than men as they make the home and after all the home and the family is the single most important thing in life and work and money only contribute to it but do not make it. I am in awe of what women do as I could not do the things they do and I believe that my wife recognises the things I do that I know she could not do. So I think it is a shame that we cannot accept what we are and accept that we are different and accept that therefore we should be able to treat each other differently. Clive Cass. PS I remember, Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, jogging and playing football with one hand on his referees whistle and the other holding his Kippa on to his head at Carmel College. Rabbi Rosen's walking speed is still legendary and it had to be to keep his eyes on all his pupils in some of the far off corners of the Carmel estate as I recently found out to my horror and embarrassment when I learnt that he knew the things I used to get up to.

  4. Could you switch to roller-blades for a more scientific test? Instead of relaying mere impressions of accidental brushing of limbs, there'd be concrete evidence of entanglement and collisions. Unless of course you can now duck 'n' dive with the best of the Central Park skaters. In which case, we'd be back to square one and have to assume that by shear accident you continually find yourself smack in the path of an oncoming woman!

  5. Dear R.Rosen,
    This is great. Something I can really relate to.
    Firstly, I'm glad to hear that you are still running.
    What can I say?
    "Now I have observed that I am more than twice as likely to be struck by as female runner as a male. And I wonder why."
    Ditto. But I'm vain enough to think that it is their way of saying they are attracted to me! So that's my final answer!
    Worst than being bumped into by female runners is the disrespect given to all runners by women drivers. I (we, including male and female running friends that have discussed this) have noticed that men are more likely to wait at road junctions etc than women for runners, and invariably it's a woman driver that seems awfully close, too often!
    Shabbat shalom, Chag Semeach and run safely.
    Martin B

  6. Clive:

    Such an interesting post, thank you.

    But I fear your memory is playing tricks. As a general rule I did not, and do not, keep my kipa on for sport. That was something I got from my father, even if nowadays it is not the fashion on Orthodox circles. So on the football field, the squash court, or on the river you will not have seen me trying to keep my kipa on my head.

    The only exception will have been on Purim where we had a whole day of sport and fun and then indeed I will have kept my kipa on as I did all kind of strange things, like a pillow fight on a boat in the middle of the lake. And I guess that's what you recall.


  7. Anonymous:
    Never tried roller blades, though I used to ski. Getting too scared in my old age to try dangerous sports!
    As for getting in the way of women intentionally…rumbled!

  8. Martin:
    That's hardly fair! It's not disrespect that causes women drivers to be too close. Rather, it's the same reason women are bumping into Jeremy–they have trouble with kinesthetic judgement. It's just like with the parking. So please remember to judge favorably!

  9. Talking of parks, perhaps you know that the swan in England is the property of HM The Queen and only she is allowed to say who may eat it on the rare occasions when it is served up. I'd just like to relay a newspaper item to you and your readers. Apparently, park officials are reporting that Eastern European immigrants are raiding parks and making off with the swans. Somehow it amuses me to think that while Her Majesty sits amongst exalted company, in palatial surroundings, dining on this most illustrious fare, in a park somewhere, perhaps only a few minutes down the road, an entire family is gathered round the fireside, digging into a banquet of barbecued swan. In these trying times we're all up for a bit of equality. By all accounts, as with so many things in life, it takes like chicken.

  10. Leila, First of all it is the Queen of the United Kingdom and not the Queen of England (incidentally she never bumps people when she is running!!!!). Although all swans and sturgeon found in the UK or UK waters are the official property of the Queen they are protected ….. so no-one actually gets to eat them – the swans that is!!!
    I don't want equality with the Queen, I work hard but she works ten times harder and has to deal with all sorts of people I would much prefer not to!!!
    Nice thought but in many ways a swan is no different to a duck – or for that matter a pheasant which as Jeremy will attest move out of no-ones way on the road….. they run wildly in front!!!!!

  11. Thanks for your erudition, Sheila. I must have been confusing HM with her illustrious predecessor of the same name. But, I bet every now and again the Royals have a nibble of s–n with a glass of bubbly. After all, they're only human. I should add that I wasn't enjoying personal equality with HM rather, I was very taken by the thought that Her Majesty's immigrants from E Europe were enjoying it.

    By the way, may I exhort you not to tell them about
    the sturgeon as it would probably result in a further depletion of our coastal or lake waters.

    With regard to jogging. Is The Queen still to be found on horseback in the Royal Parks? This could
    lead to a very nasty accident should she be on a mare.

  12. R. Rosen

    What bruises (in) the apple, polishes the gem; dressing diamonds demands considerable friction!

    (an old twerp?)

  13. Sheila:

    Believe you me, the rest of the United Kingdom might technically be under Her Majesty's sovreignty but you ak the average Scotsman, Catholic Irishman or Welshman (and women of course) what they think!

    >By the way, you are heretofore to be known as the Phantom Jogger who goes bump in the park!!!!!

    Thank you so much Monty Sheila!


  14. I accept her as a Welshwoman….. she brings in lots of tourist lolly after all!
    Jeremy you can call me whatever you wish but my favourite is Lady Silver of Jerusalem!!!!

  15. Leila:

    Yes, indeed, England has returned to the days of Robin Hood and the poor stealing the King's venison from Sherwood Forest! Frankly my dear, I neither feel sorry for the Queen nor for England! Thats what happens when government is overbloated, incompetent, over-influenced by special interests, incapable of making the right decisions, frightened of losing voters, and out of touch. They lost the Empire, now they are losing themselves. And I also believe the USA might be in danger of going the same way.

  16. Love it!!! Absolutely love it!!!! Gosh it was worth going through the discussion of the monarchy and whether she reigns over Brittania or includes the Celts and the Picts just to be dubbed so graciously with my real name!
    I wish you all a marvellous end to a fun discussion from "The Silver Lady of Golden Jerusalem"

  17. I see, Jeremy, that you are about as in love with British politics as I am but who told you the Empire is no more? Remember Tristan da Cunha, The Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and the Isle of Wight! How do you spell nishtogedacht?

    Anyway, to you, The Silver Lady and all your readers, it's been a lovely laugh and if I bump into anyone in the park, I hope it's Clive Cass.

  18. Swans: Only the Queen is allowed to eat swans, and the members of St. John's College, Cambridge, who get permission to roast a few on special occasions. I never tried it myself, but I am told it is, like wild duck, a bit fishy and tough.

  19. I do not claim acquaintance with Clive Cass but he sounds like a gentleman and there ain't too many of those around!

    I hope you're not looking for a knighthood, Jeremy. Her Maj will not be amused by talk of "fishy and tough"!

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