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Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 | Author:

I was walking by the river with my little puppy the other day, like I do almost days. We were approaching the first bridge that the path crosses under, but were still a ways off when I started to hear their whistles and hollers. I couldn’t distinguish their words, or if they were yelling particular words, or just the inarticulate calls that make them feel powerful. They were yelling and whistling at me.

Three young men stood on the over pass, stalled at the end nearest to my side of the river, looking at me approach in the distance, and their yells rung out over the muddy river. The sounds washed over the old man with his cane and his dog in front of me, carrying a lace of threat with them.

I looked up to see who they were, and instinct made me grab for my phone nonchalantly. I continued down the path, toward the bridge where I would pass under them and temporarily out of their sight, and I held my phone in my hand, pretending to be texting, busy. In reality, I had it in my hand as a threat back to them. I can call someone. I can take your picture. These were the messages I was urging my ignoring body-language to convey.

But maybe it doesn’t convey that. Or maybe they don’t care. Because as I got closer, one of them started to walk toward the end of the bridge, toward the arm of the path that would lead them down to me. I slowed my pace, now not only annoyed, but vigilantly aware of what was happening. Not scared yet, but on guard. Torn between what would be more effective: flipping him off and yelling, “F*** off” while taking their photo, or simply avoiding them.

I’ve taken both tactics, and a few others before, usually relying on my gut about which one to choose that time. This time I looked at my dog, pretending to be unaware or unconcerned, as I still watched him and the others in my peripheral vision.

When the other two men turned and walked toward the third, in my direction, I stopped, still a way away (considering this my head start if it came to that) and pulled my puppy off the path onto the grass, telling her to go potty. Pretending like this wasn’t a stall move.

And it worked, the two called to the third, and they all continued back on their way across the bridge, away from me, continuing their loud whistling and lewd calls loudly at me the entire time until I finally disappeared under the overpass.

I stayed there for a few minutes, trying to make sure that they had crossed the bridge and left before I turned around and headed back toward home.

But they had waited for me. They had gone silent as soon as I’d gone under the bridge. But as soon as I emerged, they stood in the same place they’d been before, and the yells, more angry and relentless this time rung out against my back and bouncing off the river water to the banks.

Stand tall. Don’t look back. Walk with confidence. I recited to myself the mantra that I’ve taught to other young girls their first time we go into a third world city like Port Au Prince, Haiti, where rape-culture is a way of life still, not a topic for internet forums.

When I was far enough away, and when a couple and their young children came into view, sauntering my way, toward the bridge, the rude trio finally stopped and walked away, across the bridge, and out of view.

I continued walking, smiled at the friendly family as I passed them, and breathed a sigh as I let my guard down a little again. It was then that I realized: most men, if they don’t do this kind of catcalling, may not even know what it’s like to be subjected to it.

Now, I’ve never really identified as a feminist before, though I probably am one, and I have come to accept catcalling as a regular part of life. I often don’t mind it, even, because often, it’s done without anything that makes me feel threatened.

An idiot teenager hollering out of his car to me as he passes me on the street makes me roll my eyes and smirk as I flip him off, giving him the response he wanted, leaving me only slightly annoyed.

A guy on the street of Seattle recently was getting into his car  while I got into mine in front of him when I heard him laugh, astonished, and then say, in a totally unthreatening way, “Wow. Your ass is amazing. Have a great day,” and then he got into his car and left.

That still would be categorized as cat-calling I think, and probably isn’t appropriate, but that’s the grey area for me, kind of like the Italian men calling out “Ciao Bella” to every woman that passes by.

The thing is though, for every 5 interactions I have on the street with men, 3 are “Ciao Bella” types and 2 make me feel like a spy — casing my surroundings, figuring out what the closest escape route is, reading their body language, gauging how fast and far I can run in those particular shoes or what I have on my person or around me that I could use as a weapon. And I never agreed to be a part of a battle like that. My gender drafted me unwillingly.

I have never had to run away. (Some women have.) I have never had to fight a man. (Some have.) But the fact alone that their words and actions make me feel like I might have to, is not OK. And I am not alone. Recently there have been the videos of the women walking the streets of New York showing the catcalls. Those have sparked conversation — a necessary conversation. But the thing is, it doesn’t just happen in New York.

This happens to women everywhere, everyday.

Not just in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Not even just in NYC. In Wichita. In Sacramento. In the nice parts of San Diego. In the suburbs of Rocklin. In small rural towns. Everywhere. If not daily, at least semi-weekly.

And this is not a diatribe on how it shouldn’t occur. (For the record, it shouldn’t occur.) I doubt those men read my blog. But it is to try to educate the good men around us, just because it occurred to me that you probably don’t really know. It never happens to me when I have anyone of the male world around me. So how would you know?

So men, when your women folk get skittish, when we get a little antsy walking to the car alone at night, or when we want to lock the doors and sleep with the porch light on, most times it’s unnecessary, of course. But this, I think this is why we feel like maybe, just maybe we need to.

I just wanted to give you a glimpse into one of the unspoken, unseen aspects of our daily female lives. No matter where we live. I’m not bitter. I just want to start talking about this stuff more openly.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 01st, 2014 | Author:

Recently I was with one of my friends, and we were talking about working out, and summer, and diets, as many conversations between women go. And then she said it: “I’ve just been feeling so bad about myself recently. I haven’t even wanted to leave the house.” I was pretty shocked to hear those words coming from my beautiful, strong, fun friend’s mouth. “What?” I said. “Why?”

She went on to talk about feeling bad about her weight and body, something I believe 90%+ (if not all) women are familiar with feeling sometimes. Still, as her friend, with eyes outside of her own, I have never not seen beauty in this girl. She is one of those girls where I already feel happy for whatever man she ends up with because she is such a catch. If I’m honest, she’s one of my most favorite people.

And here she was, talking about having avoided going into public. My heart sank, but it also resonated with her.

I remember a time when I was at the end of my year studying abroad in Switzerland. There were only 25 students in the entire school, and we all lived in the same building and did life together pretty much all the time. We had class together, meals together, homework together, watched movies together, went on adventures and vacations with each other. We were, I imagine, about as close-knit as a group of people from all different countries could become.

At the end of my second semester there, it was Christmas time 2009, and we were having a school christmas dinner and talent show. The semester was wrapping up and I had much on my mind and my plate: finishing school assignments, packing my life back into two suitcases, finishing up work for my job there. And I was pushing the envelope on trying to get many of these things done right before the Christmas dinner.

As others had started to get ready I had kept working until it was about 10 minutes till the start. I was about to go down to the dinner when I realized that everyone was dressed very fancy. It was a formal dinner, and I hadn’t realized that before.

My hair was not done (it either needed to be washed and air-dried curly, or needed to be curled with a curling iron… the curse of the in-between wavy/curly hair). My make up was not done. I didn’t really have anything to wear. And on top of it all, I had the stress and emotions of finishing one of the best years of my life, and facing goodbyes I did not want to make.

The realization that it was a formal dinner just pushed me over the edge. Like my friend, I didn’t want to leave my room. I didn’t feel beautiful. With the people who were so close to me, whom I was so comfortable around, and whom I had never once tried to impress before… all of a sudden I didn’t feel beautiful enough, I didn’t feel fit to go. And I was going to let that stop me from spending the last night all together with these people who I had come to care for so deeply.

Because thats what happens when we lose sight of the beauty that’s in us — we begin to withdraw, to isolate, because we don’t feel fit to share in life with others in whom we can see beauty.

It took the prodding and convincing of two of my best friends to make me go. They helped me figure out that I had something that would kind of work to wear. And they convinced me my hair was fine. They waited while I did a very quick makeup job to get some of the shine off my forehead. And it really was a wonderful evening. I still didn’t feel beautiful when I entered, but by the time I left the evening, I had forgotten about what was beautiful and what wasn’t altogether. I was welcome. I was known. I was loved. And that seemed to be all that mattered once I got down there.

I’m convinced that beauty has less to do with looks, and more to do with being loved, being accepted, being welcomed, being known. And about extending those same things to others.

My friend that I mentioned as beautiful before — in looks she truly is. But so are lots and lots and lots of people. What makes her SO beautiful is the way she smiles and laughs. The way she cares so deeply. The way she makes me feel welcome and loved. And the way that she is welcomed and loved by those around her.

The thing about beauty is that we can see it in others much more often than we, as women especially, can see it in ourselves. We need to make sure that we are mirrors that show others their beauty. We need to make sure that we are the friends that draw a beautiful girl out of her room or her house and bring her into places where her beauty both shines freely and simultaneously doesn’t matter anymore in her mind because she is so welcomed and accepted. We need to make sure we surround ourselves with people in our life who will be mirrors to us when we forget our own beauty.

Beauty, when mirrored, is magnified. When you act as a mirror, your own beauty shines brighter too. Because, beyond looks, beauty is that something special within us that is able to both be loved and to love; both to be welcomed and to welcome; both to be known, and to know; both to be accepted and to accept another. Beauty can’t exist fully in isolation. It blossoms in the presence and relationship with others.

It’s no coincidence that the most beautiful people I know are those whose mirrors shine others’ beauty the brightest.

You, you reading this. You are beautiful. You are lovely. May you find the friends who are mirrors to continually show you that. And may you be a mirror to show the beauty of others.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon