Written on Sep 06, 2010 | by Justin Fraser
“Boobies” is not in George Carlin’s list of dirty words, but teenagers wearing rubber bracelets saying they “love” them are sparking controversy in some Sacramento-area schools.
Last week Hunter Cooper, 15, of Rocklin High School made headlines because he refused to stop wearing his “i love boobies” bracelet from Keep A Breast foundation that’s meant to raise awareness of breast cancer among teenagers.
Principal Mike Garrison said Rocklin High administrators determined the bracelets are demeaning to women and can potentially disrupt classes. So they banned students from wearing them.
Whitney High School, also in Rocklin, is banning the bracelets, too, according to a student; Antelope High School in Citrus Heights made news last week for doing the same. Principals from both schools could not be reached for comment.
Keep A Breast foundation began selling the black and white bracelets five years ago as an alternative to pink ribbon campaigns, which weren’t resonating with teens.
“It’s pivotal to inform young people,” said Kimmy McAtee, marketing manager of Keep A Breast.
She said she receives around 50 phone calls a week regarding the “i love boobies” bracelet from schools, parents and students, some of them protesting the use of the word and others asking how they can defend their right to wear it.
“We didn’t think it would be a problem in school,” McAtee said. “We never thought that ‘boobies’ was a four-letter word. We expected people to maybe giggle a little bit.”
Keep A Breast, which is headquartered in Carlsbad, sold 1 million bracelets last year.
Cooper, the Rocklin High student, was sitting on a bench in his physical education class with a female friend when a teacher asked them to take off their bracelets or “fight their cause” at the principal’s office. They chose the latter.
“When I was asked to turn in my bracelet, I took it off, told them I would not wear it and put it in my backpack,” said Cooper, who got the wristband from his mother, Danielle. “They told me to take it out and give it to them. That’s when I started to ask questions and told them no.”
The P.E. teacher and principal told Cooper the bracelet was demeaning to women and girls and that other staff members had complained.
“I asked them, ‘If girls feel that way, then why are so many of them wearing the bracelets as well?’ I didn’t get an answer,” he said. “I was told I was being defiant and given suspension.”
Principal Garrison said no other Rocklin High students have been suspended for refusing to take off the bracelets.
McAtee admits that using the word “boobie” in the foundation’s awareness campaign can be considered provocative.
“It’s one of those things that no one wants to say. It’s like getting checked for breast cancer,” she said people are reluctant to do it.
Julia Harumi Mass, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bar is high for considering a form of speech “disruption.”
But if “there was a situation in a school where speech was objectifying women to the point of creating a derogatory environment, the school would probably have to intervene,” she said.
Garrison said staff members at the high school who are breast cancer survivors brought the bracelets to his attention. “The objectification of women’s breasts by using nicknames we don’t find this appropriate,” he said.
The campaign appears to be reaching its intended audience.
On an afternoon last week, Arden Fair mall was bustling with teens, and all of them either had the bracelet on or said they’d heard about it.
“Now it’s mostly guys wearing it because it says boobs,” said Cody Vanderveer, 15.
He quickly was drowned out by his friends.
Annie Willis, 16, said she bought her bracelet because her grandmother had breast cancer.
“Many people wear it because it’s such a fad,” said Victoria Michel, 19, “but now the reasoning behind it is becoming more popular.”
Antonio Velazquez, 18, who said he started the Keep A Breast trend at Del Paso Heights High School, has been wearing his black-and-white “i love boobies” bracelet and a yellow Livestrong cancer awareness bracelet for more than a year. He pulled the rubber aside to show the tan line on his wrist.
Rocklin High School is overreacting, he said: “I think they need a chill pill.”