Lost In the Circus

BY Alex Alston

Earlier this month the Obama administration took a marked step forward on the issue of women’s healthcare with the Affordable Care Act by requiring new health insurance plans to cover birth control, annual exams, breastfeeding tools, and a host of other preventative care-related services, all without co-pays, co-insurance, or deductibles.  A clear victory for women across party lines, this decision drew ire from many on the right, perhaps most notably, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.  Obviously, no one expected O’Reilly to be on board with anything the President thought was a good idea, (he probably found it outrageous that Mr. Obama would turn 50 with this economy the way it is) but there is something deeper than just run-of-the-mill partisan politics going on in O’Reilly’s efforts to malign the decision.

Aside from O’Reilly’s position that making healthcare affordable and accessible to all women is the equivalent of “a welfare state” and an overwhelming reason for businesses not to expand and hire, he reasons that, “Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex, they’re not gonna use birth control anyway.”  Now if you can find a way to overlook the crass and sexist generalization made here (if you can’t that’s fine too) you’ll see that Mr. O’Reilly has a bit of a flawed understanding of how the birth control pill actually works.  Most of us are aware that this is something a woman takes daily and not just after sex.  Place his comments in the backdrop of a national war on women’s reproductive health and the big picture is frightening.  A faction of Americans, led by mostly men, is waging an assault on women’s healthcare and reproductive rights without a basic understanding of something so simple as a birth control regimen.  The discourse then, around the subject, is not a debate, but a political circus wherein no effort is being made to genuinely understand what gender equality would look like, let alone value that.  Inevitably, the implications for all Americans are tangibly detrimental.

Hi, my name is Alex and I’m a college student who interned at Hollaback! this past summer.  I am, of course, elated to be a part of the blogging team and hope some of you can hear echoes of your own voices in my writing.  I’m new at this so any comments or suggestions would be more than welcome!

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Anonymous’s story: Standing up to harassers

when i was 11 years old, i was living in Dubai. I was anxious about going to public places because of threatening stares. One time, i was at the supermarket, waiting in line to pay for groceries when this man, probably in his thirties decides to stare and smile repeatedly. I tried to frown at him, and express my anger non-verbally,but all he did was laugh at me. it pissed me off even more… the fact that he thought it was amusing!! like the baby i used to be i started crying!! then when i told my mom the story i laughed at myself for feeling threatened by some immature asshole with no real purpose in life. Later that same year i was with a couple of friends at a public park and it was really crowded, full of adolescent guys with no respect whatsoever. they were making gestures and noises and lewd comments but we ignored them annoyingly. then there was this guy who looked like he was in his late teens. he approaches us with his peeps behind him as if he’s the boss and asked us our names, where we’re from …etc i got really pissed!! how dare he think he could hit on kids with that smug on his face!! i was really scared but i wanted to do something!! so i turned toward him and yelled ” GET LOST!!” he felt
so threatened that he ran away. it feels good! like i gained power back from them 😉 now i’m 16 and whoever dares harrass me will be called out on the spot!!

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Amber’s Story: Harassed in the grocery store

Last fall was my first semester at college. On a weekend trip home, my mom and I went grocery shopping together. We’d split up in the store, and I was just sort of wandering around on my own. I kept noticing this group of three or four young men. They kept looking at me and talking among themselves, and it made me uncomfortable. I was standing in an empty part of the store, looking at something on a shelf when one of them appeared a few feet away from me to my right. He gestured for me to come towards him. Being the nice, accommodating girl that I am, I did. I was standing a few feet in front of him. He started questioning me.

“You got a man?”


“How old are you?”


“What you doin’?”

“Look, man, I don’t even live in Columbia…”

“Where you live, then?”

“Rock Hill.”

At that point, his friends came up. Now, I was blocked in. There was one guy in front of me with another behind him, one to my right, and a shelf on my left. Alarm bells started going off in my head. They were all about a foot taller than me with muscular builds, and there was no one else around.

One of the other men asked me if I had a man. I said, “No,” and started to walk away. Over my shoulder, I tossed back, “And I don’t want one either!”

I’ve been followed around in stores before. I’ve been approached by random guys a few times who asked for my number without even a proper introduction (I forgive them for that because they’re young and stupid). But I never felt threatened by anyone in public until that day. I carry pepper spray with me everywhere I go these days, and I don’t ever make eye contact with strange men in grocery stores. The world’s a dangerous place.

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What’s feminism got to do with it?


As a college student and pop culture junkie, I see firsthand everyday that feminism, or women’s issues in general, simply isn’t very “cool” anymore. Open any mainstream women’s magazine and see basically any major motion picture and it’s apparent.  It exists very much so on corners of the Internet, and no doubt in some communities across the country, but generally it is believed as passé.

Yet, as a self-described feminist, here I find myself interested in the movement.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of HBO’s Gloria Steinem documentary, “Gloria: In Her Own Words,” which debuted Monday night (see more screening times here). After the screening Steinem herself was there for a Q & A with the audience. It was awesome just for her presence alone, but she also had some inspiring and surprising things to say about young people and the future of the movement. “Young women get such a bum rap,” she said. “Young women are much more supportive of all the issues than older women.”

So maybe it’s not so bad that some young women don’t know who Gloria Steinem is. Maybe it’s enough that they be knowledgeable and supportive of the issues out there that directly affect them. There’s a tendency of mine to think of the movement in terms of the one in the 1960s and ’70s- marches and hearings and sisterhood! But as Steinem said at the Q & A, there is no single face of feminism anymore because feminists are everywhere. It’s not a centralized movement, but accepts the diversity of women everywhere.

At the end of the documentary when asked about advice she would give to young women, she says, “Don’t listen to my advice, listen to your own advice.” In a way, that’s the greatest advice she could have given. We live in a completely different world than the second-wavers did. Hollaback! personifies this. As a Hollaback! volunteer for the last month, I saw firsthand the breadth of the movement  and how they connect via Skype, social networking, blogging and email with sites all around the world. This is how movements happen now. And I’m excited to be a part of it. (Awesome side note: Steinem herself gave a shout out to Hollaback! founder Emily May yesterday.)

I’m Annie, a college student and aspiring journalist, and I’m happy to be joining the Hollaback! blogger team! Stay tuned for more blogs on college issues, pop culture and news briefings. Until then, if you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments section.

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Sadie’s Story: “I love my Hollaback-Mom”

I just got honked at while driving home with my mom by a couple of high school kids. At first I thought that they’d just mistaken me for someone they knew(I’m only 23 and I often get asked if I want the kids menu when I go out to eat), but after I looked over at them they paralleled our car for a few moments and stared at me (or us) while grinning/laughing before merging ahead of us. When I noticed that they kept turning around to look I busted out my phone and snapped a picture of their car while explaining what just happened to my mom who thought maybe she’d done something to tick them off while driving.

I told her all about Hollaback and how I was going to post their picture to the site. She immediately suggested that we follow them home to get a picture of their house and stop so she could have a word with their mother about her son and his friend being “sexist assholes”. We didn’t, but I think it’s awesome that she even thought of it. I love my Hollaback-Mom!

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Rose’s Story: None of his business

I was on a physics internship at a university in a small town, where there was a large majority of men (not uncommon). I was having a somewhat intense conversation (incidentally, about sexism) with one of the only female professors. We were just wrapping up when an older male professor knocked on the door and entered, saying he had something important to talk to her about, and he had to head out soon. As we were basically done, I got up to go and said goodbye. Now, I’d just been sitting down, leaning forward intently. My jeans needed to be pulled up a bit. This man, who I’d never meet before, decides to tell me to pull up my jeans! I was taken aback, but as I had been planning on doing it anyway, I adjusted them, feeling uncomfortable but not sure how to react. He chuckled a little, and then pointed out how I was blushing. At this point, I was pissed, but now really uncomfortable, so I made some remark about blushing easily and left quickly.

Why did he feel it was appropriate to tell me that? He’s not my mother, or my friend who thought I might not have noticed, or even an acquaintance who might whisper a helpful comment. I didn’t intend to be showing skin between shirt and jeans — but so what? How is that any of his business? And what if that was just how I dressed? That criticism was the first thing out of his mouth directed at me. Looking back, I was really feeling the pressure to be polite. Why? He certainly wasn’t being polite to me.

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Marissa’s Story: “I feel uncomfortable going out there now”

I’m 14. I live in East Tennessee. At my high school, It’s not uncommon for guys to whistle at girls walking around, but as I’m not the most attractive girl or “well-blessed” in the development department, I’ve never experienced it.
I live in a relatively small neighborhood, with a few teenagers that are all my age there. One is a year younger than me and lives right across the street. I see him out a lot, but I only talked to him the day he moved in.
Today, I was skateboarding down my driveway and around my neighborhood, and while I was making my way up my driveway, he came out. About half-way up my driveway, I glanced over my shoulder and he was turned toward me, and starting making screeching noises and rolling his tongue at me. He made noises like that until I got up to my garage and when I got inside, I looked out the window and he was standing in the same spot, looking at my house.
I feel uncomfortable going out there now. I just want to skateboard, but I’m really easily embarrassed and I feel awkward.


Steph’s Story: “He had no respect for my personal boundaries

I was at the Bethesda metro station on my way back home from work. Ordinarily, I would only have to wait a couple of minutes to catch my train, but track maintenance was causing delays of up to 20 minutes between trains. I was sitting on the bench, texting a friend, when a man sat down next to me, uncomfortably close, and started asking a flurry of questions, like what my name was, if I had a boyfriend, what was I doing in Bethesda, etc. I was stunned, and so I answered that yes, I did have a boyfriend, hoping that it would make him back off. Instead, he started asking if I had any female friends that would want to date him, if I was “in love, or just playing around” with my boyfriend, and if I thought he was attractive. Other passengers waiting around were looking at us, but made no motion to interfere, even though I’m sure I looked visibly uncomfortable. I gave him only negative answers, that no, all my female friends had boyfriends, yes I was in love and didn’t want to date him, but he still persisted.
I thought it would be over when the train arrived, but when I found a seat, he sat down right next to me and began asking me for my phone number. My phone was still in my hand, and when I said no, he grabbed my phone and put in his number and called himself. At that point, I was too shocked to do anything. This guy was clearly not getting the hint, and he had no respect for my personal boundaries. I left the train at the next stop (Thankfully it was mine!) and he said he would call me. I didn’t give any indication that I had heard him.
I felt panicked the whole way home. I kept checking behind me as I exited the station, and I practically sprinted until I reached my front door. I relayed all this to my boyfriend, and he was furious. When the man called, as promised, my boyfriend chewed him out about harassing women on the metro. I felt so weak that I had to have my boyfriend stand up for me, but at the time, I was just so confused and shocked that I felt powerless to do anything, let alone hollaback. I’ve learned a lot from this experience, namely, that this treatment is absolutely unacceptable, and other people won’t get involved; you have to make a stand for yourself.
A note to any unaccompanied female metro travelers in the DC area: If a man in his early 30s named Carl or Carlton approaches you like this, remind him that his harassment is unwelcome and unwanted!


Leah’s Story: Holy land isn’t so holy

I was in a gap year program in Jerusalem last year, and one day I went on a day trip to Tel Aviv with four(female) friends. On the bus ride back I was sitting in a window seat. It was a pretty crowded bus and I didn’t think anything of it when a man sat down next to me, I just continued listening to my ipod and staring out the window. Some time into the bus ride I felt something on my leg, the man had his hand under my dress and was rubbing his knuckles in a circular motion on my thigh. I looked up at him shocked. He looked surprised, I guess he wasn’t expecting me to notice! and then quickly dropped his hand and pretended to be asleep! seriously! It was the first time I had harassed physically, and I felt panicked. My first instinct was to get away from him, which was actually pretty difficult. I had to climb over him because I was in the window seat, and it was such a crowded bus that there were people sitting on the floor. I managed to make my way towards a clearing in the middle of the bus though, where I was able to collect myself somewhat. When the bus stopped in Jerusalem and everybody got out, I waited by the door for the man who assaulted me. He was maybe in his late twenties, tall and lanky wearing, a white button down shirt with the top buttons undone and black suit jacket and dark pants, he had a buzz hair cut, five a clock shadow, bags under his eyes and a shifty expression. He just looked seedy. When he got off I followed him and said to him loudly that he was “a dirt rotten pervert.” I didn’t know if he understood English and I didn’t care, I was furious. When he mumbled “what’d I do” in  English I told him where he could go and I hit him with my bag. I’m glad I spoke up, I hope that maybe I embarrassed him enough that he will fear his next victim will also raise a fuss. At the time I was really distraught though, I felt sick every time I had to get on a bus for a long time after that. I bought a can of pepper spray and almost used it a couple of times, but I’ve never quite felt safe in a public place since that day.

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Rebelgirlelectric’s Story: “No longer would I let my harassers slip away into silence”

I am a small girl, with a rather large bottom, which since the age of 13 has garnered me lots of unwanted attention. Middle aged men ogling me in grocery stores, people shouting at me while jogging, ect. The most annoying and frustrating is the unwanted touches I have endured. People pinching my bottom, smacking it, grabbing it, all of the above! I always just assumed that this is what happens when you are young, and cute, and female, and that the best way to deal with it, is ignore it. After reading many feminist publications, and Hollaback, I decided that it was important, not just for myself, but for other women, that we stand up against this harassment. I decided: NO MORE. No longer would I let my harassers slip away into silence. They SHALL and WILL be called out!!!!!


I was dancing with my boyfriend at his house party. There were lots of people there that I didn’t know, and he didn’t even know. (This happens with college parties, people just walk on in!) We are dancing, face to face, and all of the sudden, I feel someone grope my ass from behind me (my boyfriend, with expressed and enthusiastic consent had his hands on my butt at times throughout the night, but I KNOW how my boyfriend touches me….this was NOT him.). This has happened to me A LOT at crowded clubs and bars. Someone touches you from behind when you aren’t paying attention, so you’ll never really know WHO did it. But like I said, I had decided: NO MORE. So I feel the grope, and my radar is on! Two men emerge from behind, and are walking toward the door. In my anger, I back-handed one of the guys on his shoulder. When he turned around, I shouted “DID YOU JUST TOUCH ME?!?!” He glared. Didn’t say a word, just glared. “DID. YOU. TOUCH. ME.?????” Still glaring. By then, his friend turned around to join in the glare-party. “WAS IT YOU THEN??? WHO DID IT??? WHO TOUCHED ME???” At this point I had gained some attention from the people who had been dancing around me, and neither man was fessing up to the act. (You would think that if someone started yelling at you, you would say something a long the lines of “Woah woah woah! It wasn’t me, I didn’t touch you!” But these guys just GLARED at me.) So with everyone’s attention, I turned in a 360 circle and just yelled “WHOEVER it was that touched me, it is NOT ok!”

It was a weird moment. On one hand, I felt SO proud that I had actually stood up for myself. I had confront a harasser for the first time in my life, and in that moment, I was totally unafraid. I was THE BOSS, and I was taking care of business! haha. On the other hand, it was slightly shameful, because I HIT a guy, and I wasn’t positive if it was him. I felt ashamed because I had resorted to violence. (I didn’t hit him THAT hard…it wasn’t like a punched him in the face…just a back hand to the back of his shoulder). What a weird mix of emotions! Pride and Shame in one swoop! Reflecting on this situation, I would have done the exact same thing, minus the back-hand. I would have done a not so polite tap on the shoulder!

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