Hooters and Cocks in Ames, Iowa
by Nan D. Stein, Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College

There are many ways to fight for rights and equal treatment.  Going to court is by no means the only option – or always the best one. 

Sometimes it's much more effective to be creative.  Here's a story from Ames , Iowa back in the mid 90s. 

For over a year, some boys in the middle school in Ames had worn "Hooters" t-shirts to school.  They featured owl eyes peering out from the letter "O," that fell strategically around the nipple area, with this slogan, "More than a mouthful," sometimes on the back, sometimes on front of the t-shirt.

In response, a group of eighth grade girls decided to create a parallel parody. After some friendly adult (fathers and male teachers) in-put, they created a t-shirt that proclaimed: "Cocks. Nothing to crow about."

However, by the time these t-shirts were rolling off the presses, both the Hooters and Cocks t-shirts had been banned by the principal. That was not the outcome that the girls wanted. In the words of Sarah Hegland, one of the leaders, "We wanted the hooters shirts to be socially unacceptable rather than legally unacceptable."

Despite of the threat of suspension, about 20 students wore their Cocks t-shirts to school on a particular day. Most students did not make it to their first period class in these shirts.  They were met at the front door and told to turn the shirts inside out. Most complied.  Four did not and were suspended (three boys and one girl).

The leaders, Erin Rollenhagen and Sarah Hegland, joined a group of other girls in the principal's office to discuss the issues implicit in this episode. As Erin told me in an interview in October 1995, "Sarah and I felt it was our job to negotiate to get some positive outcomes." They repeated what they had said in an earlier letter to the principal -- they wanted a public forum on the two issues involved in this episode, free speech and sexism. 

They got their public forum.  About 300 people attended, including the national executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Ira Glasser, who happened to be in Ames at the same time.  And their story made the local and national press, including Seventeen magazine.

Erin wrote, "It's true, no major school policy changes were made, but there were some other changes. At least for a while, people talked and thought about sexism. A lot of us really needed this controversy to remind us that we do have the right to demand respect for ourselves."