Friday, December 17, 2010

Boobies in the Eye of the Beholder

Posted by: Noël Jones

As Christopher Baxter of The Morning Call aptly points out in his Dec. 14th article on the ACLU lawsuit over two Easton middle school students' right to wear "I ♥ Boobies" bracelets in school to raise breast cancer awareness, it is the noun "boobies" that is on trial here. I would go a step further, and say that not just the word, but boobies themselves, are on trial.

What was argued in court in Philadelphia yesterday, as reported by Colin McEvoy of the Express-Times, is whether or not the word "boobies" is "lewd and vulgar," because the school district has

the right to censor student's clothing and accessories that contains "lewd and vulgar" text. The girls claim the word is innocent and harmless and that they are fighting for their right to freedom of expression so that they can continue to spread breast cancer awareness.

The word "boobies" is used as a sort of cute, sweet word among girls and women to refer to breasts. Another cute nickname that stems from "booby" is also used used between mothers and their babies and toddlers: "boo-boo". It is an easy word for young children to say. There are many words floating around out there that are used by boys and men as insults to intimidate women and make them feel ashamed of their bodies. I can honestly say that I have never heard the word "boobies" used in this context.

What will be taken into account in the judge's decision, is whether or not the common use of this word in our society is in a "lewd and vulgar" context.

In Baxter's article, we hear the school district's rationalization for labeling "boobies" a "lewd and vulgar" word:

'... "boobies" on a bracelet in the context of a middle school doubles as sexual innuendo and violates the district's dress code, which prohibits clothing with "nudity, vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, and double entendre pictures or slogans."

According to prevailing case law, school districts can regulate clothing that causes a "substantial or material" disruption of the school day. The district in court filings argues the bracelets caused middle school boys to make inappropriate comments toward girls.

In one case, it writes, a boy inappropriately touched a girl.'

How the actions of one boy can justify the categorizing of a word used by millions of girls and women all across America in a harmless context is beyond me. Even if there were legions of stupid boys breaking the law by harassing girls and touching their bodies without permission, to legally establish the context of the use of this word is society as "lewd and vulgar" discounts common usage by over half the population--girls and women.

Note that the school district "argues the bracelets caused middle school boys to make inappropriate comments toward girls." So the boy is not responsible for not harassing girls and touching their bodies without permission, the bracelets made him do it, and therefore, the girls made him do it, because they chose to wear the bracelets. But the assignment of guilt doesn't stop there--it's not just the bracelets, but the girls' boobies that made him do it. The assumption here is that boys and men have no control over their own behavior and that it is the responsibility of girls and women when boys and men break the law.

But as pointed out in another article by McEvoy on a separate harassment lawsuit against the Easton Area School District, harassment is illegal, period. It is the district's responsibility to punish the harasser, not the harassed. And implicit in this law is the understanding that it is the harasser who is responsible for his illegal behavior, not the recipient of harassment. In other words, in this civilized society, we do not claim that victims of harassment "asked for it." Which is precisely what the school district is alleging these girls have done in their attempts to raise breast cancer awareness.

Since "boobies" is not commonly used as a derogatory word against girls and women, then the only justification for considering the word lewd and vulgar, is guilt by association with actual boobies. There is a problem there, and the problem has been there for centuries. Breasts are not genitalia, they are part of a human's upper body, and they are there, biologically, for the breast feeding of babies. But because boys and men have lewd thoughts when looking at them, guilt has been projected onto breasts themselves. The law makes women cover their upper bodies when boys and men can run around shirtless on a hot day. For this reason, there is still a contentious debate going on in our society as to whether or not mothers should be allowed to breast feed in public. Even though sex is the last thing on her mind when feeding her baby, a mother is somehow guilty for the response of men to the sight of her breast--guilty both in the eyes of the man who is having his lewd thoughts, and in the eyes of women who also blame the mother for their men's reactions to her.

I want to make this very clear: Breast-feeding is not sexual. Breast cancer is not sexual. Whether or not "boobies" is a sexual word is in the mind of the speaker. And middle schools girls whose boobies are in the process of developing are not responsible for the lewd thoughts of boys and men. It is time for our society to insist that boys and men take personal responsibility for their own testosterone-induced behavior.

The thoughts and behavior of boys and men are not the fault, or the responsibility of girls and women. And if a word like "boobies" can be used happily and innocently by over half the population, then it should not, legally, be classified a "lewd and vulgar" word.

Just as importantly, we need to stop allowing the provincial perspectives of teachers and administrators to infringe on the constitutional rights of our youth to freedom of expression--especially when they care enough to become civically engaged, and to fight for their right to do so. If the grown-ups running this world have not had the spine to bring about the change we need in our country, we can only hope that our youth will. Fights like these are the proving grounds where boys and girls learn to question authority, think independently, and act on the strength of their convictions. We could use a lot more of that in this country.


tunsie said...

I dont think teen use of the word boobie will remain as a responsible topic with them.they are bound to use the term inappropriately sooner or later and may eve fixate on that and tell girls they love boobies.I think if they were college students and they were aware of the consequences of thier horse play they may think twice about it.......I love noel jones,shes the beatest........tunsie

tachitup said...

You're right on, tunsie, but you only go a tiny part of the way.
Noël, you're trying to use logic and common sense, but that doesn't work here. You've obviously never been a junior high school male. A male high school student just starts to understand. Those boys don't know that breast-feeding isn't sexual. Saying "boobies" is titillating to a junior-high male.(sorry, the word fit)
To revisit a past post, my issue is that there was no effort to change a silly rule before defiance.
After the judge finds in favor of EASD, I hope we can recover legal costs from the ACLU.

noel jones said...

tunsie, i understand your point.

i am not denying the reality of male behavior toward women and their breasts, just pointing out that it is the responsibility of boys and men to control their behavior, and the responsibility of the school district to enforce the law with regard to harassment.

as a society, it is important that we stop accepting the harassment of girls and women as something, normal, ok, and the responsibility of females. the "boys will be boys" excuse does not fly. boys are responsible for their actions--it is not a girl's fault that boys feel crazy around boobies--a boy's hormones are a boy's responsibility and it is very important that they are taught from when they are young (preferably BEFORE the hormones kick in) what acceptable behavior is.

tachitup--i understand your point--i'm not sure how it all originated--maybe the students and parents felt the administration would not budge on this (which, clearly, they don't want to do) and were comfortable fighting the rule in a public forum. sometimes it takes public attention to get a rule/law changed. look at how many public displays and suits we have over other rules and laws that people challenge, i.e., Don't Ask Don't Tell, fighting insurance mandates, etc.

public attention is often a key part of changing a rule or law.

Tim Pickel said...


I understand for the sake of discussion you are taking the stand you have chosen. But this entire issue isn't about harassment, male behavior or sexuality. It is about rules and the consequences of ignoring them.

Rules are created for reasons. The reasons can be and are debated. Through debate, rules may be changed or modified. Welcome to civility, the action that keeps anarchy from taking over our society.

Outright defiance is not the answer. When that course is chosen, the consequences or punishment is appropriate. These girls had it all wrong. They should have been taught or guided by their parents to seek the proper channel to solve their dilemma.

Unfortunately we have parents who chose to support their precious little girls because, well, because they are so precious they should be allowed to do whatever they want. They will pay for their fifteen minutes of fame when future disrespect for rules will be come back to bite them.

T. S. Eliot said "It's not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them." A better lesson would have been to respect the rules set in place, seek the reasons behind them and then see if change was an option.

Fia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fia said...

Thanks for posting an image of a mother breastfeeding (not boobiefeeding).

noel jones said...

a friend of mine in new york who has nursed both her young children told me this weekend, "i call nursing boobie milk time- my friend calls it tata time."

her two-year old son says "boobies."

she also said, "boobies is the one word we can own that is not offensive--besides breasts- which often makes me think of chickens so I don't like using it for women... but i know i am kind of weird like that."--that cracked me up.

the point being though, that when these women are talking about nursing with their friends and children, it has nothing to do with sexual innuendo or double-entendre as claimed by the school district. it is a cute, innocent word in common use.

noel jones said...

Tim--i respect your opinion--for you it is about breaking rules and respecting authority. For me it's about young people being willing to fight for their constitutional rights and a cause they believe in. We'll see what the court decides--it will be interesting.

tunsie said...

My father said when you get married,make sure she has a good heart,and she MUST love children.dont marry a pair of breasts.They dont always stay the same.most teenager are looking for a reason to fixate on BOOBIES,and they are trying to get away with making a joke of it...It is the world we live in my friends......tunsie

Mike said...


The EASD could shit a golden egg, and you would find something nefarious to criticize them about about.

Why should the district administration and BOE back down from enforcing a rule that was made clear to these students? If you were following the facts of the case as reported by the local media, these girls stated that ANY language, no matter how "gross" or obscene would be appropriate to express their view so long as it was for a good cause. REALLY? Next we will see "Stick It To Me" for blood donation week!

Don't forget that it was reported that the administration was considering the "rights" of ALL students, especially the ones who have parents who object to the use of inappropriate sayings. According to the district, many of these parents have supported the actions of the school district 100%!

noel jones said...

Mike, thanks for posting, but your assessment is not accurate. The kids that participate in the musical theater productions that lead to the Freddy Awards each year are a golden egg, and I sing their praises on this blog. I also posted when Paxinosa got it's award last month. I also complimented Kerry Myers on running a tight meeting, and other school board members on various good votes.

Most will find, though we may disagree on issues, that I give credit where credit is due, and criticize where criticism is due.

We just disagree on this issue, and that's ok. This is an interesting debate, where I have my opinion, but I also understand the logic behind the positions of those who disagree with me on this. It will be very interesting to see the judge's final decision, as I have no sense as to how it will turn out.

Does anyone know if the judges decision has been made yet? If so, please post.