Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Biggest Boob

I was supposed to be blogging about Banned Books Week today (which I am, if you’ll just bear with me) but first: a word about boobs.

Actually, “boobies.”

Don’t you just love ‘em? I do. I love mine. When I was in my early thirties, they fed my children. They linked us in a way which was more profound and emotional and visceral than I could have anticipated. They imprinted me as “mother” in a way that even pregnancy and childbirth did not, and stripped me of all the various credentials I had worked so hard to amass up to that point, reducing me to one, all-important thing: caregiver.

Which is the greatest thing anyone can be, whether one is a parent or a loving friend; a breast feeder or a formula feeder; man or woman; biological parent or adoptive. For me, it took those boobies to firmly establish what’s important in life, and I am so grateful for them.

I’m also grateful, every year, when I take those boobies off to the scanner and receive the diagnosis: healthy. I’m so grateful mammography exists, so grateful that because of the strides made in research and technology, a diagnosis of “breast cancer” is no longer the death sentence it was back in my mother’s day.

That is, if you catch it early. Which is why raising awareness about breast health and early detection is just as important as hurling millions of dollars toward lab research. Which is why what’s going on at Medomak High School in Waldoboro, Maine is so upsetting.

You know those rubbery Live Strong bracelets? Well, there’s a bracelet being sold to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, and it is stamped with the words “I (heart) Boobies.” Attention getting, don’t you think?

At Medomak High School, Principal Harold Wilson has been suspending kids who wear the bracelets to school and refuse to take them off. He says the bracelets are “disruptive to the education process” and violate the school’s guidelines against wearing sexually provocative attire.

Dude, in the eye of the beholder. Just because you can’t see breast cancer awareness bracelets without thinking of sex, doesn’t mean your student body isn’t more enlightened.

Yes, kids, you’re right: some adults are idiots. Please, don’t grow up to be like them. Please keep reading and informing yourselves, so that, unlike Harold Wilson, you’ll know that a Federal judge in Pennsylvania has already ruled that students are within their rights to wear these quiet little rubber bracelets, and forcing them to take them off violates their constitutional right to free speech.

Harold, do you really want to spend the taxpayers’ money in Bangor defending your policy when the Maine Civil Liberties Union challenges it in court? Because you know that’s gonna happen.

Which leads me (yes, I’m finally getting around to Banned Books Week) to all this squeamishness about breasts and body parts. And I was reminded of one of my favorite and most recently “challenged” books, The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister, by my friend, Charlotte Agell.

This delightful middle-grade book has been challenged by school districts around the country for a variety of reasons, one of which includes issues surrounding the discussion of breast cancer. The protagonist, India, has a mom who, in addition to being an artist, is a breast cancer survivor. She has had a mastectomy. But before her surgery, she made a plaster cast of her breast … not unlike the plaster casts some women make of their hugely rounded bellies in the final stage of pregnancy … which now adorns the living room wall in India’s house.

India remarks that this is a bit of a curiosity to her friends who visit, but she shrugs it off as just another body part. What if her mom had made a plaster cast of her nose? Odd, perhaps. But no biggie.

The pre-pubescent India approaches breasts with innocence. Free of all the sexual connotations they summon in the adult world (think Harold Wilson) they are mere facts of life, something all mammals share. She breezes past the plaster cast in her living room without a thought, without an agenda, but acknowledging that her beloved mother dodged a bullet when she had her breast removed.

India is not unlike those brave teens in Waldoboro who are refusing to remove their bracelets and willing to face suspension. They don’t have some twisted, prurient preoccupation with breasts. They’re not wearing the bracelets to be difficult: they have friends and relatives who have either died from or are dealing with breast cancer. They bought the bracelets as an act of solidarity with them.

The sexualized, lewd and vulgar view of breasts seems to be the realm of the adults. Who fear words. Like “boobies.” Yes, indeed, a molotov cocktail thrown into the order of an unruffled day at Medomak High. Which, ironically, is in an uproar at this point, because the principal felt compelled to make such a stink about it. Talk about “disruptive to the education process.”

Which makes you wonder if Principal Harold Wilson might not be the biggest boob of all.

Note: several days following this post, the Superintendent of Schools in Waldoboro ruled that students at Medomak High School could wear the "I (heart) Boobies" bracelets. All those who had been suspended would have their suspensions removed from their records. This ruling was in no part related to this blog post, but was most likely related to the power of common sense.

September 24th – October 1, 2011 is national Banned Books Week.

The Bangor Book Festival will be held just as Banned Books Week concludes: September 30th – October 1st. I’ll be participating in a panel on banned and challenged books with authors Charlotte Agell, Carrie Jones and Kelly McClymer at 9:00 a.m. in the Bangor Public Library Story Room, at 145 Harlow Street, Bangor, Maine.

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