opinion

The real shame in the story of the Sydney poo jogger.

On Monday night, Sydney businesswoman and founder of Sweaty Betty PR Roxy Jacenko shared three clips of CCTV footage to her Instagram account.

Within 18 minutes, the post had received over 6,000 comments.

In the videos, which have since been deleted, a young blonde woman can be seen running down a Paddington street, before squatting between two parked cars and defecating on the road. The unknown woman appeared to be carrying toilet paper, and cleaned herself before continuing to run.

“What an absolute disgrace you are,” Jacenko wrote alongside the footage. “Doing this in our residential street where we have a primary school and multiple residences.

“What has the world come to.”

In the days since, the story of the ‘poo jogger’ or ‘Paddington Pooper’ has gone international. It’s been covered locally by News Corp, New Idea, the Huffington Post, The Project, A Current Affair and 2GB – just to name a few – and more broadly, by Daily Mail UK, The Sun, The New Zealand Herald and LADbible.

Appearing on The Project, Sweaty Betty employee Mason Brown asked: “In what world would anyone – anyone in their right mind anyway – feel it necessary to take a sh*t on the street of a morning?”

Video by Channel 10

On A Current Affair, Tracey Grimshaw said the unidentified woman “should’ve thought” about the fact that she’d be caught on CCTV, while the words ‘HOW COULD SHE?’ appeared in bold across the screen. In that report, Sweaty Betty staffers said they thought it was a dog at first, and asked: “who does that?”

“She’s not the smartest runner is she,” remarked one staffer.

Grimshaw concluded the segment by sharing that the alleged offender had deleted “all her social media accounts, to avoid her active wear being recognised”.

The common sentiment in response to the ‘poo jogger’ story has been that it’s ‘disgusting’ behaviour. “This person needs to be caught and named and shamed then referred to a psychiatrist,” wrote one Facebook user.

“There’s no excuse,” repeated several tweets, while others simply wrote, “gross,” or “absolute disgrace”.

poo jogger
Image via Twitter.
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Some media voices expressed their discomfort with the story, but for the most part, the angle was clear: Yuck. This woman, no matter who she was, or why she’d behaved the way she did, had committed a major social transgression, and thanks to the wonders of the Internet, everyone could watch it and laugh.

It wasn't just that residents of an affluent area of Sydney were having their idyllic neighbourhood compromised. It was the disrespect. The entitlement. The shame.

Of course, no one knows anything about this woman. What her name is, what her story is, or what her life looks like.

The current narrative is based solely on assumptions: She's attractive and she's running, so she must know exactly what she's doing. She's in Paddington and she's dressed well, so she must be acting from a place of privilege.

There's no consideration that maybe, just maybe, she wasn't okay then, and she's definitely not okay now.

Sure, it's unusual for someone to go to the toilet on a city street. It's surprising and disarming and none of us quite know what to do with those images.

But what can also be seen in every story and photo and video of this young woman is a stark picture of vulnerability.

A woman who might be unwell - physically or psychologically - or who, for reasons we can't know, is simply struggling to adhere to a social norm.

As I watched her, I felt compassion, not anger.

Imagine, just for a moment, you are that woman. You've acted in a way that transgresses social expectations, and you may or may not know that. Then, for days on end, you're the subject of an Australian media storm. Sure, your name isn't written in ink, but it's your face on the screen. It's your body in the paper. It's your clothing online.

The people who know you know. And you know. There's laughter and puns and insults and they're about you.

There's no way to defend yourself, because a cry for help would mean being identified and all those horrible comments suddenly having a human being to attach themselves to.

We don't know who the woman in the video is, but surely we can agree that she doesn't benefit from public shaming - from being called 'gross' or 'disgusting' by people she's never met.

If we look at the international conversation around the viral CCTV footage with an ounce of compassion, it appears that the shame, ultimately, doesn't lie with the unidentified female jogger at all.

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