The Vagina Dialogues
"No, honey," I corrected. "That's your vagina."
Deep breath in...
It was hard. Harder than I thought. Which makes no sense at all, if you know me. I was raised with an open, liberal, communicative mom, the kind who said vagina and penis the way other moms might say peanut butter and jelly. All things reproductive and anatomical were discussed in our home with acute candor; let's just say my mother felt absolutely no hesitation in handing ob tampons out at my eighth birthday party so that my friends could dunk them in water and see what happens.
(Okay, there's a little more to the story than that--as a weird pre-adolescent tradition, we used to hand the giggling birthday girl a tampon under the table, freshly purchased from the vending machine in the ladies' room at the Ground Round. My mother's response, upon seeing that faded mint-green box in my hands at the restaurant was, why pay for a quarter for it when we have them free at home?)
I am the type of woman who can sit in a business meeting and blurt out, "Ow! The baby's kicking my cervix!" And while my coworkers (and Fun Mike in particular) may blush, I do not.
So why was disgorging that word from my lips so hard? And why did I wait a whole 19.5 months to get a move-on in the arena of naming the girl bits in the first place? Whatever the reason, I'm trying to get past it, pronto, because I don't think there's an up side to my discomfort with it, however small and however inadvertent it might be.
Here's a start:
VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA.
See the lengths to which I'll go for my kid?
Yes, I could call it kitty or whatever parents are calling such things these days. It might even be more comfortable for me at first. But I just don't know what good can come of euphemisms exactly. Does calling the play The Hooha Monologues somehow make a vagina less...I don't know. Real? I just imagine all these church lady types sticking their fingers in their ears, squeezing their eyes real tight and squealing, "make it go away! Make it go away!" As if denying the word long enough might somehow lead their actual vaginas to mercifully cease existing as well.
How do we instill in our daughters that a vagina is nothing to be ashamed about, if we're ashamed to even say the word in the first place? Don't girls have a hard enough time with their bodies as it is?
Then, right as this whole topic was unfolding in my mind, a new story cropped up, one that gives me some hope in a backwards logic sort of way.
For it seems that this pattern of censorship and semantic substitution is not some sort of anti-female conspiracy at all, but an equal opportunity witch hunt against all medically correct descriptions of body parts, both male and female.
Apparently ten year-olds should not read books, even Newbery award-winning books like The Higher Power of Lucky, that mention, in an entirely appropriate context, such things as...
(Church ladies feel free to click elsewhere now. Right now! This very minute!)
Better to call them balls, I say.
Apparently the heroine of the book, a ten year-old girl, wonders what it means when she overhears that a dog was bit in the scrotum by a snake.
Collective gasps ensue.
What exactly is the hangup here? Yours? Mine? That of the librarian quoted in the Times article who said, "I don't think [I] want to do that vocabulary lesson" in explaining why her library won't be carrying the book?
Are we afraid that there's something inherently adult about having anything beyond a "pee pee hole" or a "dingdong?" Are we nervous that if children know the real word for their organs that they'll put them to use in nefarious ways? Or is it really about us and not our kids at all, an underlying fear that we'll be kicked out of the Junior League if suddenly word gets out that little Olivia blurted out PENIS during a hot game of Ring-Around-the-Rosie at playgroup.
Let's also remember that in the case of the book, it's a dog we're talking about here. A dog. And a dog's scrotum, as we all know, is not exactly tucked into his BVDs out of the sight of impressionable children.
"I don't want to do that vocabulary lesson."
I don't know.
And so, starting now, we're going to talk about vaginas more often in our house. Maybe not at the dinner table when the great-grandmother comes to visit, but when it's appropriate. If I feel myself deliberately avoiding the word, that's exactly when I'll know it's time to bring it up. Down the road a bit, Thalia will even be able to understand the distinction between the inner parts and the outer parts. But for now she can hardly distinguish her back from her shoulders, so it makes sense to me that we're starting with a single world.
(Also down the road, though probably not quite so far down, I will have to figure out a better word than "butt" for her butt. There are some things that daddy the comedian teaches Thalia when mommy is at work, and sometimes mommy has to undo them. )
In the end, I just want a daughter who's proud of what she's got, and confident enough to name it when the need arises. I don't want her having to call it a hooha or a chacha or a vajoogee or a Coocooloocoo McGillicuddy.
At least until she has her own blog and needs to work it for laughs.