Harassment at School: Not Cool


A depressing new study shows that sexual harassment starts at a disturbingly early age — middle and high school. The American Association of University Women’s report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, shows that harassment is widespread in grades 7-12 for our nation’s students. According to the study summary:

 Sexual harassment is part of everyday life in middle and high schools. Nearly half (48 percent) of the students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year, and the majority of those students (87 percent) said it had a negative effect on them.

Unsurprisingly, the harassment  had gendered implications. Girls were more likely than boys to experience harassment and be negatively affected by the harassment. Boys were more likely than girls be the harasser. Comments like “That’s so gay” contributed to a culture at school where students who didn’t follow gender norms were especially targeted. (I think this antiquated sentiment needs to be retired already!)

With statistics such as these, it’s easy to feel hopeless. But perhaps we should take these numbers as a call to action and start teaching students early that this is not OK behavior. According to one of the authors of the report, Holly Kearl, in this New York Times piece, an open dialogue in schools about sexual harassment (what it is and how to react to it) is helpful in reducing it.

This seems like an easy step to take. Teenagers should know: this is not acceptable or “just part of the school day” in middle or high school, like so many young people are led to believe. Internalizing harassment as normal behavior for young people leads to similar (and worse) behavior later in life. Hollaback! and let your schools and communities know that this is never OK.

P.S. Here is some helpful, specific information on what to do if you’re being harassed in a school setting.

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Taking Back Halloween!


What’s not to love about Halloween? Decorations, candy, fun, games, laughter and of course sexist and demeaning costumes. Hold up! Hollaback moment! Why is it that every Halloween I am spoilt for choice between a sexy Indian, sexy cowgirl, sexy police officer, sexy nurse, need I continue? Putting the word “sexy” in front of an occupation does not validate it as an acceptable costume. Halloween should not be an excuse to openly objectify women, when this happens throughout all communities all-over the globe everyday. And I am sure that I am not the only person that is tired of this.   

So, amidst the barrage of sexy nurse, police officer, milkman, grocery store owner costumes a ray of light broke through the mundane norm in the shape of the Taking Back Halloween Costume Contest!

HollabackPHILLY, in collaboration with SPARK and Beauty Redefined has created a unique challenge for people to “create an alternative to the sexification” of Halloween. Not only are they encouraging us to the redefine female attire for Halloween, but there are some awesome prizes up for grabs! The competition rules appeal for the creation of empowering costumes that are bold, unique and innovative, instead of ones that reinforce a narrow and sexist definition of beauty. They want you to Take Back Halloween!

AND, they have a kiss-ass panel of judges, including Whitney Adams, a professional costume designer, and Sunny Haines, an assistant stage manager and dresser for various theaters.

You can enter the contest here by submitting a photo of you in your empowering costume (only open to U.S. residents). Entries are due Nov. 4, and more information can be found here. You can help spread the world by tweeting, too. (One great example tweet: Don’t be just a “trick” or a “treat” – Redefine Beauty! SPARK a change! Enter to win an iPod, or other great prizes!

Other prizes include awesome Hollaback! Tote bags and Starbucks gifts certificates. So get cracking and have an empowered and anti-sexified Halloween!

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Women, War and Peace


Did you catch “Women, War and Peace” last night on PBS? The five-part documentary series aired its first episode, Bosnia: I Came To Testify, and it’s certainly not to be missed (the episode will soon be posted online).

Think women and war zones don’t mix? The sentimental notion that women are uninvolved peacekeepers only in the “masculine” domain of war is shattered in the series. In today’s war landscape, women have actually become “primary targets and are suffering unprecedented casualties” in many countries.

The series spotlights female bellicosity and passivity in conflict zones in Africa, South America, the Middle East and the Balkans. Some of the powerful ladies shown in the series are also becoming leaders in governing conflict.

One episode features Leymah Gbowee who recently won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, alongside President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen (all for their admirable activism work in advancing peace and gender equality — yeah!).

The series continues every Tuesday night until November 8. Narrators Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Geena Davis and Alfre Woodard all add some star power to the series.

Find out more on the show’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Next week’s episode is “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, the story of Liberian women who powerfully stood up against their country’s warlords, so don’t miss it!

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How To Be An Interruptor


Is there a way to reduce violence in communities without traditional police intervention? What about through disease-control methods? Enter CeaseFire, an awesome Chicago-based organization.

CeaseFire curbs violence through an on-the-ground approach by using professionals from the actual communities to intervene in crises and mediate conflicts. They make use of a public health-inspired model:

1. Identification & detection
2. Interruption, Intervention, & risk reduction
3. Changing behavior and norms

They are working, overall, to change how we think about violence and overturn the conventional “prosecution over prevention” approach. They aim to find a solution to the epidemic of violence in other ways than incarceration.

Interested? A new documentary called “The Interrupters” follows a year in the footsteps of the CeaseFire crew who “interrupt” violence on the streets. You can find screenings here.

This method isn’t just confined to CeaseFire, however. You can also be an “interruptor” in your own life, as shown in this great article. Interrupting racist or sexist discourse, and of course, street harassment, is one big way to cause change in your own community. The ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ campaign is one big way Hollaback! is working on bystander prevention.

Overall, CeaseFire is employing a refreshing approach to a seemingly unstoppable problem. Like Hollaback!, theirs is a grassroots movement that really takes the local community into account. Go CeaseFire!

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The Gaze


Are you familiar with the concept of “the gaze”? The gaze is a common term usually  spoken about in art or cinema, yet I think it’s most interesting in feminist film theorist  Laura Mulvey’s interpretation. Mulvey, in her article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative  Cinema,” says that films are another way for patriarchal culture to dominate by  establishing a masculine “gaze” which permeates the film-viewing experience.

Say what? Basically, the viewpoint of the camera and the male protagonist are one and the same, and this is what the audience sees. The female character is left objectified, with only a passive role. The woman is the “bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning,” Mulvey says. Although she is mainly referring to the classic Hollywood films of the mid-20th century, I definitely think the gaze lives on in more modern films.

Take the film trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She is played by actresses like Kirsten Dunst and Zooey Deschanel. She has no concrete goals or thoughts of her own, but mainly exists to liven up the male protagonist’s boring, emotionless life. She is, as Mulvey would say, made to be an object who we see only through the male gaze. Learning this trope, I was shocked to discover some of my favorite films make use of this! Although I still enjoy them, I am now constantly on the (difficult) look out for fully-developed female characters.

(Sidenote: If you’re interested in some more common female tropes in movies, I suggest you read Mindy Kaling’s recent delightful article in The New Yorker.)

I also realized this “gaze” extends to everyday life. Many times I have been uncomfortable on the street due to staring, which, like in cinema, establishes a type of control and makes me feel somewhat powerless. I’m sure many Hollaback! readers are also familiar with this. Making someone conscious of their staring would be a brave step, and reminds me of Barbara Kruger’s famous work (shown above, via The Chicago School of Media Theory) which renders the gaze somewhat powerless by calling the gazer out.

Luckily, a lot of the power divisions in movies have dissapeared with the introduction of independent cinema and more female-centered films. But the gaze still lives on in many ways. Have you encountered the “gaze” in everyday life?

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A Tribute to Leslie Knope


This post is in honor of one of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation, which returns for its fourth season this Thursday. (Yay!) Along with being hilarious, the show also shows gives us a rare subject in today’s network television shows — a female main character who is strong, complex and a self-described feminist.

For all those who are missing out on this delightful show, Leslie Knope is the name of this character, played by Amy Poehler. She is a person who is very competent in her small-town government job. She also has aspirations of being the president of the United States. She has photos of Hillary Clinton and Sandra Day O’Connor by her desk. She has relatable relationship triumphs and problems.

Basically, she’s a realistic and driven modern-day lady. It shouldn’t be that rare on TV, but it is.

Along with being a relateable character, she’s also adorably quirky, like many of the show’s other characters. Her quirkiness is contrasted with the extremely logical persona of her best friend Anne, played by Rashida Jones. Another refreshing part of the show is its inclusion of a strong female friendship. Like all friendships it has its ups and downs, but its a friendship extremely valued by the characters and a large part of the show’s plotlines. It also doesn’t revolve around men.

So, if this show were a movie it would definitely pass the Bechdel Test. And what’s most refreshing is that you do see a personal progression of Leslie’s character through the seasons of the show. Hopefully this season she will be better (and more feminist) than ever! I’m ending my spiel, but please do check out the show on Thursday. And if you haven’t already, check out the clip from this Sunday’s Emmys broadcast of the leading ladies of comedy coming up to the stage in a faux beauty pageant set-up. As one commentator said, “Who’s saying women aren’t funny now”?

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Small Scale Feminism


It’s easy to feel hopeless about the world when we are constantly barraged with the media’s continuing fascination with Sarah Palin, sexist JCPenney shirts for girls (although it was promptly removed from their site), and other depressing news like zero job growth. It’s easy to feel that you can do, well, nothing.

In one of my college courses we are reading the influential “Feminism Is For Everybody” by bell hooks. In the final chapter, she ends on a positive note by reminding her readers that feminism can be advanced on a personal scale; anyone can take a stand against sexism.

“That work does not necessarily require us to join organizations; we can work on behalf of feminism right where we are,” she says. “We can begin to do the work on feminism at home, right where we live, educating ourselves and our loved ones.”

This was refreshing to me, as I feel there is a lot of pressure on self-described feminists to stir up society at large. Of course, that always causes the most instantly recognizable change, but questioning someone you  know on a racist or sexist statement they made can also stir up change. Making just one person question their viewpoints can be just as important and “radical.”

There is a project called Microagressions which aims to do just that. People send in short remarks that reveal how privilege persists as a defining force in their everyday life, in settings like the doctor’s office or their own home. It just shows that acknowledging hurtful, commonplace comments about sex, class, race, gender and other factors is the first step to creating change. Hollaback! is another good example of this- sharing your story of harassment is one of the first steps to creating broader change.

Whenever someone around me makes a discriminatory statement, even if it’s seemingly normal and not meant to be malicious, I try to correct them and acknowledge that their statement is Wrong. But to be honest, I don’t take the plunge every time. I’m going to try to be more critical, however, and acknowledge these “microagressions” in everyday situations. It’s the easiest way to provoke change in the world, however small your community is. Will you?

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College Kids These Days


Deciding what to wear on a night out is usually a matter of deliberation and accomplished with the help of my roommates. In my college town, as in a lot of other areas populated with young people, there seems to be much more pressure on female students than their male counterparts to dress to the nines and look “cute.” Annoying, sure, but is this harmless or damaging sexism at work?

In this recent New York Times piece, writer Lisa Belkin contrasts the equality college women have achieved in the classroom to the lack of respect they seem to receive in social settings. Mainly using examples of fraternities, she describes a setting where largely “men set the pace”, and the “he chases, she submits” way of thinking seems to be ingrained in college culture.

Of course, sexist fraternity members aren’t representative of all college students. It is true, however, that many think that because we’ve reached certain statistics and quotas that demonstrate equality, we can stop caring about it and stop working toward change. That just isn’t true. Women compose more than half of college students, but that doesn’t mean the same old gendered power division doesn’t exist outside the classroom.

A defining factor, I think, is believing you have the choice of what to wear and how to act, independent of others’ expectations. As a young woman, I was taught that I can wear anything I want (and sometimes I think back in disbelief to the days before women could wear pants!). This sometimes includes short dresses, but I don’t like to think it’s dictated by a societal trend that takes away my agency.

The generation of women in college have the most freedom women have ever had, and therefore more expectations, so I can understand the writer’s frustration with the current college culture and definitely think it should be further discussed. Do older generations just not “get” this new kind of female empowerment, or did women’s equality truly get lost in the shuffle somehow? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section!

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Goodbye Blockbuster Season, Hello Films With Females


If you’re like me, you distrust the summer blockbuster season for its general obsession with superheroes, mindless violence and sequels. With the exception of “Bridesmaids” and the somewhat controversial “The Help”, this year was no different. The end of the summer brings some optimism, however, with several upcoming movies covering uncharted territory (read: women’s and LGBT issues, here and abroad). At a screening of “Another Earth”– a wonderful film I would definitely recommend- I saw the three following film previews that peeked my interest and reinstated my faith (a bit) in the movie industry:

  • “The Whistleblower”, released in the beginning of August, is about a UN peacekeeper who uncovers human trafficking involving the UN in post-war Bosnia.
  • “Pariah” tells the story of Alike, a 17-year-old girl who is embracing her lesbian identity amidst conflict from her family. No release date announced yet.
  • “Circumstance” is about two girls in Iran dealing with their emerging adolescence and the boundaries set upon them by their birthplace. The release date is August 26.

And finally, this trailer was released a few days ago and takes a look at the, ahem, accidental history of the vibrator during the Victorian era, titled “Hysteria” for the illness doctors were attempting to cure. No release date set for the U.S. yet.

Awesome, am I right? Films that actually reflect lives of those who are not white, male and wearing superhero suits are a plus in my book. Support films like these and maybe, someday, blockbuster season will be filled with diverse stories of women (a girl can dream!).

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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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