Saturday, December 14, 2013

You Keep your Rules, I'll Keep my Gluteal Folds

There is an interesting conversation happening at Studio Veena at the moment.  It's about whether or not there should be a dress code in pole studios.  You know. Whether we should start telling women they need to COVER UP a little more when they are in the studio.  I scrolled through the comments, which range from "hell no" to "yes of course" and came up with my own response to the situation.  Read on.

For the love of God. If I wanted to be a part of a community that was going to tell me how to dress right down to the number of centimeters my gluteal folds are permitted to be "exposed", I would have been a damn gymnast. I would have been been an ice skater. I would have been a swimmer. No, see I became a pole dancer because it gave me freedom - freedom to be who I am in the studio and out, freedom to explore my dance through things like dressing up or down, playing with heels, collars, ties, boots, hoodies and whatever else I found myself drawn to in the moment. Pole is subversive. It's subversive because it challenges the traditional ideas of what a woman can and cannot be, should and should not do when it comes to her body. When you have a woman who is smart, articulate and perhaps works as an engineer by day (like Nadia Sharif) and then who puts on high heels, and dances out the sexy in her free time, you have a woman who is actively breaking down stereotypes. Why yes, I can be smart and sexy and be public about both. Why no, dancing in high heels on a pole does not make me a dumb, desperate woman. And yes, I am CHOOSING to dance like this, to move like this, to DRESS like this because it pleases me. And I really don't care what you think. Because what you think is a reflection of your own values and issues. I'm at peace with my choices, and who I am. 
This is what infuriates me the most about these kinds of "rules" about dress and bodies and exposure in pole: Underneath is a thinly veiled expression of shaming. And shame is what I shed when I started pole dancing. The words "appropriate" and "professional" come up a lot in this thread in reference to clothing. I spend my days working in a place where I have to be appropriate and professional. The last thing I want to do is walk into my studio at the end of the day and get the same rigamarole. As far as getting the mainstream to accept pole, I truly don't think pole will go anywhere if we whitewash the sexy out of it. Why should we change in order to be taken more seriously? If you change yourself to be accepted by another person, what happens? You lose the respect of that person and you lose your identity. That same dynamic exists on a macro level as well. Yes, pole is athletic and it gets you fit and it's beautiful and yes it has many faces, including competition.  And yes competitions and studios need rules for safety, among other things. But forcing pole dancers to look or act or present themselves a certain way just so that "other people" will accept pole as "legitimate"  is just squeezing the very soul right out of our pole culture.  Pole is already legitimate. We make it legitimate just by the simple act of dancing.


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Sexual Is The Spiritual

Recently, I began inviting people to share their stories with me about how pole dancing has changed and shaped their lives.  The Pole Story is as much about you as it is about the culture of pole.  In fact, your stories are what create the culture of pole.
My first brave guest writer chose to write about the intersection of her spirituality and her sexuality in pole class, and the ways in which this meeting furthered her healing process.  Given the time of year, a story about the spiritual aspects of pole seemed the perfect way to kick-off a lovely new series of Pole Stories.


For some pole dancing is about the workout.  For others, it is about feeling beautiful and sexy. I go to S Factor for all of the above reasons.  But the main reason I go is for what it does for my spirit.  It makes me feel connected to myself and to the Divine.  
When I get to class, the room is dark.  I sit down on a purple mat and the world around me quiets. I close my eyes and ground into my body, letting my mind go for just a couple of hours. I feel the music coming into the room, pouring onto my skin, into my ears and I allow it to take me. I hear the teacher's voice and it guides me on a journey to connect with my heart, with the Divine. With my eyes closed I go into deep meditation. I don't let my mind rule me; I just do what feels right. It's completely magical.
In meditation the goal is to master your mind.  In class, while I’m dancing, I attain that mastery. I don't think to myself, "Ok, I'm going do a couple hip circles here and then I'm going to throw a spin." I let the music enter my body and let my body take over, allowing my mind to follow. It is a conversation between God and me. 

I have been taught that my spiritual self and my sexual self should be separate. That there is a time for your spiritual self and there is a time for your sexual self. And that the time for your sexual self should be in the privacy of your own bedroom, with your husband. In some ways this is true. There are certain things that need to be saved for you or your partner in the privacy of your own home.  However, it is also true that we are spiritual beings and we are sexual beings. In order for us to live sanely in this world we need to tell ourselves that it is ok for the spiritual and the sexual to merge. There is a common misconception that sexuality is "bad" and "dirty." In reality it is just a part of who we are. There are so many things that we do instinctually that would scientifically be classified as sexual behavior that we don't even recognize.

I have done Kundalini Yoga since I was 12 and I have been a Sikh for about the same amount of time. It has healed my soul and saved my life, but S Factor has taken my soul and my sexuality to a different level. It helped me to KNOW that it is really and truly ok to be sexy. Since I was young, people have been telling me that I am "Too Sexy." I never understood what that meant.  It always made me feel like I was doing something wrong, but I never understood what, because I didn't feel like I was "doing" anything.

I don't tell many people outside of the pole community that I take classes at S Factor because I know they won't understand. But, S Factor has changed my life. It has given me an outlet to heal myself and my sexuality on a whole other level – one I have never experienced before. Because of S Factor, I know that I am sexy and that it is 100% ok to be that way.  It is not only ok, but it's good for me. It isn't about the workout (although that is a plus), it is about the deep spiritual journey that I go on in each and every class.
As a deeply spiritual person, who lives a spiritually disciplined life, I never would have thought that S Factor would give me the "enlightenment" that I needed to continue healing myself. It takes me into my heart and allows my body to express itself the way it wants to. What I have come to realize is that my spiritual self and my sexual self are one. I have been able to merge the two in a way that I never thought possible through this movement. It has given me an outlet to release and let go of things I've been holding onto for years. It has allowed me to discover myself on a new level and showed me that who I am is beautiful and perfect.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Kyleanne Hunter, one of the first female Cobra helicopter pilots in the U.S. Marine Corps and a strong, unapologetic and beautiful woman.  We quickly recognized a kindred spirit between us, and I asked if I could interview her for my blog as well as re-post some of her blogs on The Pole Story.  She graciously agreed.  What struck me about Ky's writing was that despite clear external differences in occupation and career, there was a great deal of similarity in our struggle to define ourselves as women through non-traditional roles.  Read on to find out more about the amazing Ky.

"I'd rather be looked over, than overlooked" - Mae West

I never really had a choice. I was always taller than the average girl, but was definitely not a boy. Physically, I kept up with the boys from 4-year-old soccer team; perhaps a portend to the future being captain of the boy's waterpolo team in high school, beating my male counterparts on the endurance course and PFTs in the Marine Corps, and racing in men's races on the bike. I'm 5'11", and, shall we say, have curves; still definitely not a boy. Even my name, Kyleanne, stands out as unique. I stand out in a crowd. Not exactly overlooked.

However, the past decade of my professional life has, on the surface, has pushed gender neutrality and conformity. "We're all Marines," we were told, starting at OCS. "Woman Marines" has become as cringe-worthy as a racial slur. Uniformity, order, and discipline were drilled into us along with the core values of honor, courage and commitment. My time in the USMC was the time of the Nation's longest war. A time when I went from optimistic post-college girl, full of spit, fire and donning designer shoes, to battle-ready Marine, trained to close with and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver.

Through OCS, TBS, Flight School, Squadron Life, and deployments I lost "Kyleanne" and found Candidate -> Lieutenant -> Captain Hunter. A rank-name construct that is gender-race-creed neutral. Necessary for order and discipline and execution of commander's intent. This is what wins wars, secures our Nation, and makes crowds ohh and ahh at the precision and lock-step of ceremonial drill.
It also has secondary effects. It allows us to think of ourselves as a collective "Marines" rather than individuals. In war, this makes it easier for us to sacrifice ourselves and our friends for a greater good, and to kill the enemy. Detachment is necessary for success. Individualism must be overlooked. Personality stymied. We become interchangeable parts in the Marine-Air-Ground-Task-Force, known for our names, rank and Military Occupation Specialty; by extension, learning not to think of ourselves or our personal wants. "Weapon-Gear-Self" is the order of precedence of care. And generally by the time self is reached, I'm too tired to think about it.

When I entered the Marine Corps, I was fully aware of the "service" component of military service. I was, however, unaware of just how much it would change my perception of self. For several years, I put on olive drab green or desert brown, and, in the name of supporting the country I love, worked to ensure that Kyleanne would be overlooked for the betterment of the Corps. Success and acceptance went hand-in-hand; to thrive, which in turn meant the MAGTF thrived and wars could be won, I blended in. I became hard when I had to be hard, and reacted on instinct and training.

It wasn't until I came to the House of Representatives as the Marine Corps Liaison that the loneliness of being overlooked in the name of honor, courage, and commitment came to weigh fully on me. The energy I had poured into ensuring I fully became "Captain, USMC" my peers had poured into creating relationships, marriages, homes and families. The hours I spent piloting a Cobra helicopter over the desert, they spent building a life to ensure comfort, love, and security in their old age. Nights I spend sitting, shivering in a conex box wondering, in the few moments of solitude I got, "what the fuck am I doing here?" they spent in lovers' arms. My 20s and early 30s - years women typically give to someone to start a foundation of life together - I gave to everyone else. As I am beginning to shed the layers of green and brown and transition into civilian life, this brings to the surface intense feeling of loneliness, fear, and overwhelming anxiety that I have missed some higher life purpose.

I do not regret one minute I spent as part of great collective that is the USMC. People have often remarked that I am a "strong, independent woman." And I am. But, in order to be so, I need to be Kyleanne. Today I found out that I was accepted to every graduate program to which I applied. In a small way, it was a sense of validation that I am still wanted and relevant as an individual. That my time as part of the collective is just a step in become more of an individual.

Last year, I was in a position to start doing things for me. It started with racing my bike. The pain I felt was mine, and mine alone, and the victories were a result of long hours of very personal suffering and dedication. On the bike, I was needed and wanted for being me. I developed a personality that became known (and maybe even loved) in the regional elite pelaton. I developed a relationship with my coach that pulled me through bouts of depression and anxiety, and life-long friendships with teammates and competitors alike. For the first time in nearly a decade, a community wanted me as much for who I was as what I could do. I was being looked over, as it were, not over looked.

Transitioning into the civilian world, I'm still not fully sure who Kyleanne is, nor who she will become. I have spent so long worrying about not being "too-Ky" that I don't know how long it will take to full separate myself from being part of an institution and openly and completely embrace the individual. The irony of my years of burying myself in order to be overlooked, is that as I enter my new life, this will cause me to constantly looked-over. There are few female attack pilots out there, and fewer still with legislative liaison experience, and exactly zero others who also race bikes. So I'm moving on, knowing full well that I am in a position to once again stand out. And am embracing this as an opportunity to probe myself and others with curiosity. And challenge the world to go ahead and look me over. Just don't be surprised when I look back.

To read more of Ky's blogs, go to:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How Exercise and Sex Can Help you Meet Your Fitness Goals

By: Jackie Anderson

Everyone is looking for new ways to stay in shape. Usually when starting a new diet and exercise plan the first couple of days are pretty rough, but we all persevere, right?  If you're having a little trouble, I have some motivation and additional workouts you can do. Don't worry you don't have to eat rice cakes while you do 100 squats--this one is a little more fun!  To really push your workouts into overdrive, and burn up to an additional300 calories you should add in a few 30 minute to hour long sessions a week. 

What  “sessions” am I talking about? Having sex of course!  That's right. That added pleasure in your life is actually doing your body some good inside and out.  But here's the fun part--hold on to your seats--working out and having sex go hand in hand and both get better with the aid of the other.
Getting your butt in shape allows you to have greater stamina, stronger muscles (for wall sex, of course).  This means you can get into different positions and get into them faster. And losing weight obviously makes us feel more confident about ourselves, so you'll want to walk around naked more often, which just might lead to having sex more often.  Taking care of our body physically also often makes us think more about the food we eat. You just might find that you put down the chips, the heavy starches and excessive red meats and cheeses, which is good because these are all foods that make you bloat and bloating doesn't really put you in the mood. You'll find that the healthier alternatives give you more energy and therefore a better chance at doing the dirty. 
And the healthier food may help you to lose some weight too.

As for having sex, well as I said, that helps you burn up to an additional 300 calories a session. That's 300 calories burned by doing something that you truly enjoy. Bonus! Sex also helps you sleep better, due to the oxytocin your brain releases during a sack session. Oxytocin helps your muscles to repair overnight and you will have stronger workouts the following day.  It also builds your immune system and lowers your stress. Stress wears on our body and causes it to store fat.  If you can get your stress under control, you're likely to see more progress with your workout routine and be happier in general.

Now maybe are you thinking..."Well, I don't have a significant other, so what am I to do?"  Don't worry!  While getting yourself off doesn't burn nearly as many calories as sex, it does have the same brain and body advantages. You don't need a partner when you have sex toys to help you out. An orgasm elicits oxytocin and endorphins--two things that make us sleep better, happier, and reduce stress. Plus, all of the working out you're doing just may land you a new boo in no time. Maybe you'll even meet them at the gym.  

So this weekend, as you're gearing up to do a five miler or even just a one miler, think about ending your day in an additional calorie burning bedroom sesh--whether it’s with someone else or yourself. You'll find that your body appreciates it as much as you do. 

 Brought to you by:

Friday, June 28, 2013

How Fly Gym Convinced Me That Pole Is Fitness (Too).

So those of you who know me well are familiar with  my super sexy stance when it comes to pole dancing.  So you might keel over when you hear what I have to say next....
Pole is fitness. (I know, whaaaaat?) It takes discipline, stamina, practice, energy and strength.  It makes you stronger.  And you have to train to be proficient in it.  
Beloved Felix

Now that we have that cleared up, let me introduce you to Jehan Izhar.  Jehan is a physical performance coach and aerialist who recently completed her Masters in Kinesiology.
According to her in addition to strength pole takes mobility, flexibility and power.  Jehan also teaches the Fly Gym Instructor program.  Fly Gym is a system that uses supportive fabrics that are hung from the ceiling (or wall) to provide a fitness "experience" that combines aerial fitness training, aerial yoga and pilates.  It is especially beneficial for students training in the aerial arts as it allows you to achieve 360 degree rotation while engaging your muscles the entire time.  As Jehan points out, static muscle building exercises that work on one or two planes only are not preparing muscles properly for pole work.  You train for the transitions not the tricks.
Jehan in her Ninja Move

I took the Fly Gym Instructor Training over the course of 2 Saturdays. What I liked about it was how much focus Jehan placed on assessing for needs. Because she is a physical performance coach, her eye is trained to look for where there is compensation in the body.  She understands posture and alignment extremely well (she is a yogi and a cirque performer after all) and her Masters in Kinesiology means she is an expert at human movement.  So when she teaches Fly Gym for Pole she emphasizes watching your student's body for areas of compensation.  Certain exercises with Fly Gym can help to illuminate those weak spots and then help to strengthen them. This is not something I have seen in pole training before.  Usually we just kind of try the tricks until we get them.  And of course this can be dangerous. 
Learn Twisted Grip without the strain on your sweet wrists!

Even more interesting is the fact that both Jehan and the other student in the class, who is a teacher in Australia, acknowledged that there were certain tricks they did not teach because they were simply too risky on certain size poles or because they were simply not good for your body.  Keep in mind that pole is different from other aerial arts because there is almost always a push-pull dynamic going on in tricks, which means unlike lyra or silks, where the center point is your body and therefore body alignment is easier, in pole the center point is the pole itself.  This means we are always a bit off-balance.  As we know, pole takes a toll. This training reminded me that being fit and healthy also meant being balanced.  If we are exercising one side of our body more than the other, or pushing and pulling as we do in pole, then it is best to balance that out in our workouts.
You don't need a pole to Fly Gym! Take it to the playgrounds for practice!

I am not a fitness expert by a long shot.  And so maybe to someone who has a background in personal training, this all seems like a no-brainer.  But I think I will say what I have to say anyway.  I really appreciate how much this training emphasizes building up strength AND flexibility FOR pole.  In other words, it really focuses on how to make you a stronger and smarter pole athlete.  If pole is about fitness then a pole curriculum should reflect a healthy and balanced approach towards building a student's strength. And curriculum developers should be consulting people like Jehan to best determine how to teach pole in a way that reflects the true meaning of the word "fit".

In addition to training pole athletes, Fly Gym can be used on its own to work with populations who need strength training and some extra support while they do it.  The creator, Aruna Andes, is currently working on bringing Fly Gym to disabled veterans at the VA.
Aruna Andes, creator of Fly Gym

As for me, I will be taking my Fly Gym to the monkey bars in the hopes that I can someday achieve my twisted grip without aggravating the tendonitis in both my wrists.  And, I will be bringing my 70-year-old father with me, so he can practice balancing on a standing leg. Happy Flying!

For more information on Fly Gym go to
To find out how to get in touch with Jehan go to

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why We Can't Move Past the Sexy Stigma

In September, three brave women went on Anderson Cooper to defend their kids’ right to pole dance.  I watched the show several times and several things popped into my head straightaway.  First, I was disappointed.

What disappointed me about the show was that Anderson Cooper and Goldie Hawn cast pole dancing into such a black and white light.  Is it sexy or is it not sexy? Well, the truth is, it’s both.  And like everything in this world, what pole is depends on the context in which it is being explored.  And yet, this narrow attempt to define pole dancing in an oversimplified way highlighted not just how little the general public knows about pole but also how the pole dance community lacks a strong defining image.  When Anderson Cooper points out that the adult classes focus on “increasing the libido” and have overtly sexual names like “sexy-flexy” and “babes on bikes”, he is making a very valid point: How can you say what you are doing is not sexual when all of your adult classes focus on sexuality? We cannot, as a community, vigorously argue that we want to move past the stereotype of pole as a sexy activity and then market our classes as sexy.  It makes no sense.  We, as a pole community have to be clear on our message and our definitions of pole, and paradoxically, we have to be able to defend the sexy in order to defend the fitness.

Another problem I saw with Anderson’s line of thinking and therefore his questioning was the assumption that pole dancing will somehow lead girls down a shameful, sex-driven, promiscuous path of harlotry and immoral behavior.  He asked two versions of the same question.  The first was, “Why pole dancing?  Why not something with less of a sexual connotation?”  The second was, “Once they reach maturity, THEN what happens?” 
I love these kinds of questions because they reveal our culture’s innate reaction to female sexuality:  Keep it secret and keep it safe.
As if a woman who learns the art of sexuality and pleasure through dance is also learning to disrespect her body and her sexuality.  I would argue that in fact, the opposite is true.

One of the biggest concerns with young women and sex today is that they often view sex and sexuality as something you give as a performance for attention, rather than something you engage in because you want to.  There is a psychologist named Deborah Tolman who has written extensively on this topic.  She talks to girls about their experience of “wanting” versus their experience of “sex”, which is more often than not about being wanted.  Tolman uses the phrase “silent bodies” to describe the sexual experiences of these young girls.  Whether or not these young women had sex, they had a difficult time expressing if or how they felt desire or arousal in their bodies.  They instead chose to muffle their feelings, out of fear for where it might take them, out of shame and out of anxiety.  Nevertheless, they were still engaging in sexual activities and, more often than not, these activities were described as having “just happened” to them.  This is dangerous.  When a girl does not know what her own feelings and desires are she is much more vulnerable to the power of others feelings and desires. 

If what Tolman is saying is true, then teaching young women how to develop a subjective sense of their sexual selves would actually be a solution to them giving away their sexuality, when in fact we must teach them to own it.  In other words, our culture needs to teach women how to get in touch with what desire and arousal feel like, how to experience it in their bodies, and how to express what they want and don’t want.  Pole dancing is actually an excellent vehicle for such an education.  And this is because sexuality and desire are primarily experienced in the body. 

So to turn Anderson Cooper’s line of thinking on its head, I would argue that it is important for every young woman to learn how to explore her sexuality through pole dance in a safe, all-female environment.  I won’t teach my daughter to pole dance because I want her to go to the Olympics or win a competition somewhere- I will teach her to pole dance because it will teach her about her body and her sexuality in a healthy and sane manner.

Clearly Anderson’s question about where someone would “go” after learning to pole dance is based not just on his lack of understanding about the value of the sensuality of the movement, but is also designed to point out that pole dancing has no organizational strength.  And here, he also has a point.  We are so new that we do not yet have all of the things that other sports have to show their validity: scholarships, corporate sponsors, official coaches, etc.   But that will come, if we want it to.

I think the question is, do we want it to?  Goldie Hawn’s parting advice to the brave trio was to take the sexuality out of the movement and out of the marketing campaign immediately.  But should we really do that?  It brings us back to the age-old debate: Do we jettison sexuality in favor of mainstream acceptance of pole dancing? 

Personally, I don’t think that will ever happen.  But what this interview highlighted was just how confused people are about what pole dancing is

My personal belief is that until we can defend the value of the inherent sensuality of the movement, we will face ridicule and misunderstanding from the general public.  The truth of the matter is the majority of pole dance studios (in the US anyway) are focused on the sensual aspect of pole.  It is impossible to argue that pole is a sport and a form of fitness only while marketing classes as a form of sensual empowerment and putting on shows that highlight the sensual nature of pole dancing.   We need to address the issue of sensuality, the inherent value of the sexiness of the movement before we can defend it as nothing more than a form of fitness.

I wish Anderson Cooper and Goldie Hawn had been far more curious in their line of questioning.  I wish they stuck to their promise of having a “chat” about the topic with these ladies, rather than assault-style questioning.  Because perhaps then, all the beautiful aspects of pole could have been shared and understood by people around the country.  Next time ladies…next time.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How To Look at a Woman

I almost posted this picture without any words.  But you know how I like to have to have an opinion on things. 

This picture argues that based on her hemline alone a woman can be judged on her moral character and her sexual nature.  Of course, this kind of thinking is not new.  And while the idea that a rape victim is “asking for it” based on her clothing choice is considered unacceptable by many in the U.S. today, if a woman dresses provocatively and then complains about the attention she receives, most people are less than sympathetic.  Because she was asking for it, right?

It’s complicated.

On the one hand, many women acknowledge that dressing provocatively will almost always result in male attention (if the men are straight).   But men are going to notice a woman no matter what she wears. Whether it's an ankle or wrist underneath a burka or super cleavage, the female body draws attention. The question is, what is that quality of attention? Is it respectful and admiring of a woman's beauty? Does it change depending on how much of her body she is willing to expose? Do we make assumptions about where she loses her rights to be treated with respect based on her level of dress or undress? Because that is not right. Every woman is deserving of protection and respect for her beauty no matter how she is dressed.  And men will always look. 

Personally, I don't think it is problematic that men look at women. It think it is the kind of attention they give a woman and all the assumptions they carry with them about her based on her appearance, occupation, or whatever that is troubling. Women do it to women too.   How many times have you been called a slut by another woman because you pole dance?  Here is the thing: Overt displays of sexuality by a woman do not give you more of a right to judge, touch, shame or violate that woman’s boundaries in any way.  But they also don’t mean that you have to act like they are not happening.  There is a way of turning your gaze towards a sexually provocative woman that is neither demeaning nor dismissive.  There is a way of appreciating a woman’s beauty that acknowledges your own feelings without disrespecting her.

There are women who dress and behave in provocative manner because they are sexually disempowered.  There are women who dress conservatively because they are sexually disempowered.  There are also women who dress provocatively and conservatively because they are sexually empowered and clear in their values, desires and boundaries.  It would be nice if we could acknowledge and honor these choices.  It would also be nice if women felt truly free to make these choices from an authentic place. I cringe at superficial displays of sexual empowerment as much as I cringe at attacks on pole dancing that make it out to be the latest development in raunch culture.  But even if a woman is choosing to put it all out there because she is deeply insecure, needs attention and feels worthless isn’t carefully choosing to ignore her behavior versus shaming her for it the kind and right thing to do?

Another issue that comes into play with the male gaze is that women, because of a their fear of being threatened physically or judged or otherwise bothered, are not receptive at all to male attention and respond to it by becoming angry. At times this is justified. If someone is belittling you, of course you are going to be pissed.  At the same time, I think women are so conditioned to respond negatively to any male attention that they reflexively shut a man down, even when he is simply admiring her beauty.  The opposite side of that coin is that they feel they have to say yes or accept any advances because they don’t know how to set boundaries.

I used to get really angry when men would whistle at me or try to pick me up or say "Dddaaaaaammmnnn" when I walked by them. If I was wearing something revealing I would inevitably feel shame too.  I was sure that I had “asked for it” and that this meant I was a very bad girl.  (Turns out I am, and that’s a good thing, but that’s another blog.)

Today, I smile back at whoever is paying me the compliment (because, yes, I think it's a compliment when a man notices my beauty in a playful way) and say thank you.  I have had men hang out of car windows and yell at me about my beautiful ass, I have had them wave politely from trucks, I have had them smile at me across cafes, I have had them stare unabashedly at me in bars and I have had them stop me in the streets to tell me I’m beautiful and ask me if I have boyfriend.   I always respond with kindness.  If they try to pick me up I politely tell them I am not available.  Most men back off. Most men are grateful that I did not verbally emasculate them for paying me a compliment and taking the initiative to try and introduce themselves. 
I don't find most male attention demeaning or threatening. Even more importantly, because I engage men, I know when it IS truly threatening (versus judgmental, or just playful, or a little rude) and that makes me feel safer in the world.  Maybe I sound completely naïve. But let me tell you, my approach towards men today works far, far better then the shut down, fear-based responses I used to take with them.

And yet, while I think women need to be more open to positive male attention, and recognize that most men do not want to hurt them, it’s my belief that the ultimate responsibility for safety lays not in a woman and her choice in dress and behavior, but in the man who is giving the attention. The idea that it is EVER a woman's fault for any kind of boundary violation - including unwanted, unkind attention - is the same mentality that puts rape squarely on the victim's shoulders. "She was asking for it." Bullshit.  As men, it is your job to learn to control your instincts, learn to respect women in all their states of dress and undress and take responsibility for your reactions to your own arousal, disgust, pleasure or whatever else comes up when you see the female form. And until that happens, not a whole lot is going to change in the world.