Rubber wristbands supporting the fight against breast cancer, mostly in shades of pink, are worn by thousands, if not millions, of cancer survivors and their family members every day. Their messages vary depending on the organization that sells them. The breast cancer-awareness bracelet of the moment is edgier than most, carrying the message, "I 'Heart' Boobies."
And that edginess has found an interesting and somewhat controversial audience.
Students across America -- from Portland, Ore. to Junction City, Kan. to Easton, Pa. -- have been sporting these bands alongside the more ubiquitous yellow LiveStrong bracelets and other silicone bands
with innocuous messages such as "Celebrate Hope" and "Support Our Troops." But a nationwide clash is developing over whether the "boobie" bracelets contain inappropriate sexual double entendre for students or if they're an inventive way to introduce an important cause to a new audience by taking advantage of teen humor.
According to the website for The Keep A Breast Foundation
, the organization that markets the fund-raising bracelets getting all the attention, the "I Heart Boobies" message was created as a way "to speak to young people in their own voice about a subject that is often scary and taboo. . . Keep A Breast believes the best way to reach, educate and impact people is by speaking to them in a voice they can relate to."
As the mother of a fifth-grader, I can attest from personal experience that you're going to get kids' attention and giggles with anything that has the word "boobie" on it. But is it the kind of attention that truly benefits a good cause, or is it just sensationalism aimed at tweens who like to challenge authority?
Two Easton Area Middle School students are testing those waters.
Twelve-year-old Kayla Martinez and 13-year-old Brianna Hawk were spotted wearing the bracelets by school officials who decided that the wording on the bands violated the school's dress code against offensive language. When the girls refused to take them off, they were suspended and banned from attending school dances. The girls felt they were being treated unfairly and that school officials were taking the message of the bracelets out of context, so they took the school to court for allegedly violating their First Amendment free-speech rights.
Last week, a federal court judge heard arguments in the case filed by these empowered girls and their mothers to defend their right to speak out about breast cancer in a way that would resonate with their peers. According to the accounts of the hearing, Martinez and Hawk testified with maturity and seriousness
as attorneys for the school questioned them about their concerns:
"That phrase, 'I love boobies,' do you see any other meaning to that? Say, especially from boys' perspective?" Freund asked . . . Hawk.
"No," Hawk said.
"Do you think boys would have a natural attraction to girls' breasts?" Freund asked.
"Yes," Hawk answered.
"So couldn't it possibly mean something else?"
"No," insisted Hawk. In the context of the bracelet that simply was not possible, she said.
Martinez . . . conceded that some boys encountering the word could respond in a less-than-mature fashion. But they, she said dismissively, would be boys who 'act like they are 2.' "
So as one of the girls' attorneys said, is "boobie" just an inoffensive word you'd feel safe using around your grandma?
Or as the lawyer for school district claimed, is it a lewd distraction for middle-schoolers' budding sexual curiosity?
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Regardless of which way the judge rules, Hawk and Martinez have gotten their first taste of activism on behalf of a cause they believe in. Learning how to stand up for something important is a good lesson for any middle-school student.