Opinion

Banning of the boobies in schools | Amy Johnson

School districts across the nation, from Florida to California and now Washington, are banning “I (heart) boobies” bracelets.

The bracelets are part of an awareness campaign for young people about breast cancer, sponsored by Keep-A-Breast, a foundation whose mission it is “to help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support…so they are better equipped to make choices and develop habits that will benefit their long-term health and well-being.”

One can imagine the types of disruptions school administration is concerned about. A school spokesperson in Silverdale described the disruptions as “really coming in the form of gesturing.”

Seeing the potential logic in both sides of this issue, I invited discussion and opinions over the past several days. Here’s what I heard.

“I think adults are offended by it. ‘Boobies’ is a term that makes (some) adults uncomfortable, so they decide to ban it,” said one female senior at a local area high school.

A recent male graduate from across the country disagrees: “In my eyes, with high school boys being high school boys, wearing these bracelets is just another objectification of young women. If the administration hadn't stopped them here, what's next? Shirts that say ‘Women are objects for my pleasure?’ Censorship isn't pretty. But I understand the rationale.”

A teacher I talked to said he’d mainly seen the bracelets on wrists of teen guys at the school where he teaches in the Puget Sound area. He was doubtful the intent was solely to support breast cancer. Still, wearing the bracelet didn’t seem to be the problem; it was the behavior associated with it, which he felt most teachers could handle.

Another high school student from the Midwest concurs: “The bracelets don't threaten anyone, and if they are used by some guy to make a girl uncomfortable, taking the bracelet off won't solve the problem.”

One argument the Kitsap County school administration used for their actions was that some breast cancer survivors on staff were offended. Yet, one 23-year survivor I talked to said: “This is an ugly disease and anything that brings awareness is encouraged in my book.”

Keep-A-Breast maintains that “boobies" is not a "four-letter word” and that their goal is to reach young people in “authentic ways” by reaching out to them in venues they already patronize.

Bottom line? Kudos to all the educators who take the opportunity to have meaningful discussions in their classrooms about the bracelets and harassment.

Hats off to parents who take time to have two-way conversations with their children about these issues. Parents: Strive for understanding, not necessarily agreement. You may learn something, and you can encourage critical thinking skills in your child or teen at the same time.

Many of the harassing behaviors seen in schools could be reduced by meaningful and ongoing discussions about sexuality, respect and relationships, carried out in homes and schools across the country, starting at a young age, and continuing in developmentally appropriate ways throughout our children’s years of growing up.

Meanwhile, the controversy around the bracelets is likely to spike an increase in sales for Keep-A-Breast, which is OK with me. Even if those who purchase them use them for purposes other than to promote breast cancer research and prevention, the dollars they spent on the bracelets still go toward that cause.

Finally, teens need to check school policies and wear the bracelets to school at their own risk. While we do have freedom of speech in our country, most work environments and schools also have policies about things people wear that are offensive or illegal. And while “boobies” themselves are not inherently offensive, to some, the bracelets are.

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