Op-ed: May Madness Boys and Men of the World, the Shirt Does Matter

I read a Tweet last week from a student involved in the May Madness contest that ranks girls’ looks in the same way sports gurus rank college basketball tournament teams, with girls pitted against each other in the name of finding the ‘hottest’ girl in school.

The social media rant was directed at the Mount Si High School students who made t-shirts saying ‘Be Above the Madness’ in protest of the contest. The tweet said tomadnessshirt make shirts for something that actually mattered, like the nearly 300 African girls kidnapped while taking a school test.

I’ve been thinking about that statement, knowing how young the person is that made it, and realize his age probably kept him from seeing a connection.

I get it. He thinks it’s no big deal. People judge people on their appearances everyday. It’s just the way our society is. Don’t fight it. Just grow thick skin. Buck up.

For the record, I am not a card-carrying feminist. I care about my appearance most days. I tell my kids they look nice before school. I think telling my girls they are beautiful is important, as is reminding them how smart they are.

But I am a mother fighting to remind my daughters that their looks are not the only thing that define them. They need to be kind, helpful and respectful. They need to work hard. Study hard. Be responsible for themselves and their community because the world does not revolve around just them. I am fighting against society that says being pretty is more important  – and I know that.

When my grandma was born, women couldn’t vote. When my mom was in high school, a woman needed to attract a man and get married because it was almost impossible find a job that paid enough to support herself, let alone a family, without a male breadwinner.

When I was in elementary school, girls were just starting to play soccer and basketball on teams and athletic and academic college scholarships (for girls) were few and far between.

My entire life society has defined women by their appearance – knowingly and unknowingly objectifying them. It’s engrained and entwined in our society. But somehow, someway, there has to be a shift.

So May Madness Boys (and Men), maybe think about it like this… Someday you might have a daughter. Chances are you’ll send her into a world that keeps telling her that her outside defines who she is. Your job as a parent is going to be fighting off what society is throwing at her. Your words may end up being her armor.

Sometimes, though, no matter how hard you try, you lose the battle.  For three years I did.

I had a smart, beautiful, kind, caring little girl who somewhere along the way thought being pretty and popular were the ONLY things that defined her. Without me even realizing, she was in your May Madness brackets hoping to win; dumbing herself down; needing to be thought of as prettier than her friends. I fooled myself into thinking my words meant more than your brackets.

Do better for the next generation – one that might contain your children.

Be Above the Madness is a realization for girls; a realization that there’s more than just the outside. The outside may differentiate you; make you recognizable to others, but it’s a package deal and the things that ultimately define us have little to do with our hair and eye color, shape of our body and the size of our jeans.

School is for learning, both intellectually and socially; a place to hopefully find a passion in life, study, develop ideas; a place for development and refinement, shaped and molded by how we treat people, what we stand up for, the people that surround us and the kindness of our hearts.

So yes, ‘Be Above the Madness.’ Be above reflecting a lingering flaw of our society.

Don’t judge and objectify – because when you do, others can become less human. They can become objects for the taking – just like 275 Nigerian girls who were going to school to learn; better themselves; create futures with more choice.

There IS a connection to the shirt. You just need to think and see it. The shirt is a pushback; a call for change for the next generation of girls.

So leave the brackets for March basketball – because someday you may be the parent of a little girl and find yourself fighting against the message of society.

And you want your words to be the armor against everything thrown at your daughter, right?




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  • I am so proud of the girls that chose to rise above and fight back. I am so proud of the people who are involved in this war against oppression. That’s what it is. I’ll tell you why it’s important. Sexualizing young girls like this is damaging to everyone involved! THIS MATTERS! It matters because even if the girls can’t make the stupid ranking thing go away, they gain by standing up for themselves and with their friends. It makes a world of difference. STOP THE MADNESS! Man – if only I had found an alliance of other girls when I was in 16 or 13.
    When I was in school, boys thought it was perfectly fine to sexually assault classmates. They thought it gave them bragging rights — bragging rights that led to more assaults. Essentially, these idiots were bragging that they had raped a girl. But back then rape wasn’t common in our language. If it happened, the girls were usually blamed. No one talked about it. It was common for teen girls to get grabbed and shoved into a locker bay or corner and be assaulted. There was no recourse. I know. It happened to me. I thought it was only me. I didn’t know until some 35 years later that others had the same experience. To this day, I know it affected everything.
    TODAY — it is 2014 not 1974 and people know better. People / parents know better. THIS IS WHERE IT STARTS! And if you don’t teach these children to respect themselves and each other, just imagine how they will be as adults!!

  • Kudos! Now if those who perpetuate the Madness of May Madness could read…and comprehend. I wish I could believe I’m too cynical…

  • I think you perfectly articulated the importance of raising awareness, standing against and speaking out in opposition to this “contest”. I hope that some of those boys who voted (and parents reading this) take note of your point that some day they may be the father of a girl belittled in a contest such as this. If nothing else, its been a teaching moment in our home. For my daughter who learned a bit about speaking up for things that she believes in and, interestingly, a little about the process of news reporting and how stories are put together in today’s social media age. (That’s a whole different story!) And, for my son, who has been fairly warned that he is to never be part of any ranking system, other than sports! Thanks Danna

  • Living Snoqualmie