Her Bad Mother

Friday, April 7, 2006

The Vagina Dialogues

*WARNING. What follows is long and confessional and likely only interesting to women who think that Our Bodies Ourselves is good fun beach reading. Proceed at own risk.*

**Nothing to see here, Google pervs. Turn back.**

You know that there's fire in the brain (and that WonderBaby is having some good naps) (Dudes! Unswaddled!) when I post twice in one day.

I might have simply posted multiple comments in response to the excellent comments to my post of this morning (which you can read here to get caught up), but I decided that the thoughts that those comments provoked were worthy of their own post. What follows might be somewhat incoherent, being entirely off-the-cuff and the product of a mind that is racing faster than fingers can type, but here goes...

The Vagina Dialogues - the thoughtful commentary that was provoked by my blitheringly confessional query concerning how parents refer to their children's genitalia - have further proven to me (although I needed no further proof) just how valuable a learning tool the parenting blogosphere is for a new mother.

If you've read the post, you'll know that I was feeling prissy about refering to my daughter's vagina (vulva! Thanks, Moxie! It's been a long time since what passed for sex ed in Catholic school!) by its proper name. Not that any sex talks are pending with a five-month-old baby; the issue came up for me when I realized that our bathtime body-part-naming song was, um, lacking in pedagogical rigor when it came to certain body parts. I felt uncomfortable singing about WonderBaby's vagina (vulva!), and wondered whether that was weird of me, and wondered further how other parents went about refering to the nether regions of their children.

So what did I learn? Well, the fast lesson, for me, was that there are some good reasons for overcoming one's prissiness regarding language (which, hello? Hypocritical from a woman who derives great pleasure from swearing like a trucker in the company of Husband, close friends and blog-peers) and keeping to the correct terminology when talking or singing about Those Parts with one's children. There's the obvious, educational reason: children should learn the correct terms for things. I was concerned that insisting upon preciseness in the language used to refer to genitalia in bathtime songs would put me over the pedantic edge (over which, my very small collective of regular readers will know, I already regularly dangle. Or - fine - fall over entirely.) But if the Cool Moms are doing it, well, hell, so will I.

But Sunshine Scribe provided another, very important reason:

The reason I don't call his penis a peepee or something cute is not because I want to be "correct" but because I have read and been told by a practioner in the field that using anatomically correct intead of "funny" terms is a molestation-proofing strategy. Whoa. Stay with me. The idea is that if they understand that it isn't a silly part that has a funny name and they can correctly identify it then it is less likely someone can talk them into a funny game with their funny-named part and also that they'll be able to articulate themselves better when you are explaining how to handle those situations. Very long winded, badly written, run-on sentence way to say:if I ever have a girl, no matter how clinical it will sound, I'll call it a vagina.

Her comment speaks for itself. That, my friends, is more than enough reason for me to overcome petty prissiness and start singing songs about vaginas (vulvas!) rather than tooties and woo-hoos.

(A question, though. Should I not be singing silly songs about those parts? I'm serious - does making those parts at all funny get in the way of an anti-molestation strategy? 'Cause if it does, I'll stick to 'Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.' Sunshine Scribe? Anyone?)

So - vulva it is.

But there were a few more lessons for me here, beyond Why You Should Use Proper Names for Certain Body Parts and It's a Vulva, Stupid. (That 'Stupid'? That's for the laugh. At my own expense. I really did appreciate the reminder.)

The first lesson: that however much I might like to say that I was being prissy about it because I wanted to Avoid Being Pedantic, or that, yes, my reluctance to use the term was pure prissiness but that my prissiness is not a function of Bigger Issues, neither of these statements is truthful. I do have - have long had - issues about the/my body and the sexuality thereof. And however much I might protest that I don't want to impose such issues upon my daughter, that hasn't stopped me from letting those issues inform - already - how I communicate with my daughter.

Bear with me here; I'm coming to a point. (Really.)

Sky said this: When you think about baby talk, you think about sweet songs, butterflies, teddy bears, cute toes and knees and not "anatomy class".Do you tell your baby "now I am going to wash your spinal cord"? or my baby has cute "abdomenal region". No, you say belly. You try to be cute... When I read this, my immediate thought was YES. But the thought that immediately followed was WHY?

Now, obviously, babies are the very definition of cute. File that under DUH. And it is also, obviously, a truism that one usually associates one's own baby with All That is Cute, whatever cute means to you. I myself draw the cute line well distant of treacly Winnie-the-Pooh gear, choosing instead to identify cute with things like Mutha Sucka t-shirts, but still. WonderBaby, for me, is all sweet, sweet innocence and light. Maybe with a few bows in her quiver - and yes, she's packing a quiver - but all-in-all, She Is Love and Love Is Sweet.

And that's all well and good, but really? In the real world, love is not all sweet and good. Love bears arms. And the world is, and people are, messy and messed up and not reliably good at all. I want to protect my daughter from this (see above re: DUH). I want to preserve her innocence as long as possible. I want the world, for her, to be all sweet songs and butterflies for as long as it can be that. But I also want her to be prepared for the world that is not that.

And I don't know that I serve that end by neutering her. She is not a sexless Cherub (however much I might want her to be.) (And, for the record, Renaissance Cherubim are not sexless. They have Parts.) She's a future woman. And she's got the parts (and the attitude, I might add) to prove it.

Maybe I wouldn't have the issues that I do if I hadn't gone forward into puberty and, later, into adulthood thinking that my Part was, or should be, a Barbie-like mound of tidy, neutered tootyness. Maybe my first period wouldn't have felt so shameful, or my first sexual experience so painfully destructive of my sterile ideas about the body and love. Maybe if I'd had a more honest relationship with my body I'd have gone out into the world a more powerful woman, and less a prudish romantic with a Barbie complex. And maybe then I'd have fewer issues. And be better able to preserve my daughter from same.

I want my daughter to be powerful. Now, during her babyhood, is not, I know, the time to be full-out stressing about that. Now is a time for innocence and sweet songs and butterflies and all that. But I do want to lay the right groundwork. And there's no wrong time for that. So - viva la vulva!

There was something else... Oh yeah: the second lesson. Which is: mom/my bloggers are entirely responsible for the first, epiphanal lesson. Which is huge. HUGE. The wisdom and role-modeling and opportunities for self-reflection that you all provide are invaluable: today's lesson confirms that absolutely. So, thank you for that.

And thank you all from refraining from pointing out, in your comments to that last post, that I am, indeed, a tripped-out vulvaphobe. I'm very grateful that you all, instead, inspired me to come to that conclusion myself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

See? Posts like this is EXACTLY why I love you, vulvaphobia and all.

BTW, isn't Moxie just the absolute BEST!

Vulva it is for me, too. Vulvas all around!!!

9:59 AM  
Blogger The City Gal said...

you wrote: "Maybe I wouldn't have the issues that I do if I hadn't gone..." and I can't tell you how much that reminded me of my own experiences.

I went to a religious school and I thought it was bad to be a woman, until I was 19. (Hence hating my body) It took me a couple of years to admit that shamefully I was a sexual being and I put myself in a vulnerable position that my first sexual experience was not by choice!

You might laugh, but the show Sex'n the City taught me a lot and broke the taboos for me.

I was 25 before I really understood what it meant to be a woman, to love and be loved emotionally and physically, to respect my body and expect others to respect it too.

I have asked myself many times if I could make sure that my daughter doesn't go through the same thing (when I decide to have children)

2:28 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

You are one awesome woman "Her Bad Mother". You are infact the antithesis of your name. So amazing that you are thinking about wanting your daughter be powerful and investing in thinking about vulvas too!

I related so completely to your Barbie complex paragraph that I cannot even tell you. They could have been my words (only I am not nearly as eloquent as you are).

Thanks for drawing attention to my thoughts on the issue - you are too generous. I think that every family will have their own way for abuse-proofing their child and even just thinking about it is a huge positive step. Your daughter sounds like she is in very good hands. So sing those funky vulva songs or whatever works for you!

5:51 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I appreciate the topic being discussed, because it is forcing me to think about how I'm going to address the issue when it comes up. Cordy is not far away from asking about her body parts, and I want to have an answer for her when she asks.

As a kid, I was a tomboy, and so spent most of my time ashamed of and denying my "girlness". So there was never much open and honest dialogue about my girl parts. Soon Cordy could be asking me questions I never prepared for.

6:46 PM  
Blogger MrsFortune said...

Viva la vulva. Sounds like an awesome band.

6:22 PM  
Blogger ninepounddictator said...

Gawd, I'm not even sure what my Vulva is....
I make my daughter say "Vagina" but mostly because it sounds so cute when she says it...but she calls her breasts her "boobs." Mostly, too, because it's adorable....
Hope you had a good weekend. Looking forward to what you have to say this week. I tell you, I'm addicted!

9:41 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

This very topic has been on my mind so much lately! I grew up with an "our bodies, ourselves" mother myself, so I'm no stranger to anatomically correct terms. But I gotta admit, I just hate the term vulva. Same as headcheese.

1:04 AM  
Blogger Miguelita said...

Loved both of these posts. Very thought provoking.

That settles it. I will officially stop referring to the parts as "Mr. Johnson" and "Fine China".

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading the paragraph about the Barbie complex brought tears to my eyes. I felt it was also my history (I was also educated on a catholic school)....uf

Kisses to all of you!!

3:28 PM  

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