I grew up on euphemisms designed to mystify and “de-grossify” the natural human functions of a woman. Urinating became a tinkle. Defecating was called a poop or going number 2. In public you either had to go (urinate) or you HAD TO GO (defecate). Your vagina was anything but (I won’t make anyone faint with all those names here, but the ladies know what I’m talking about), breasts were boobs and boobies (or knobs if you were a kid), and your menstrual cycle? Well, monthly menstruation was like “He Who Shall Not Be Named” in the Harry Potter Series. Speaking it brought terror, fear, and the cold night of evil upon the speaker and all she loved.
Now that I am grown up and have 2 girls of my own (one fast approaching preteen status), I wonder why women having bodily functions makes everyone so uncomfortable. Why is it so important to denote that girls don’t belch? What makes it okay for a boy to fart but not me? At what point did a woman doing human things become such a big deal?
So I started (much to my own learned discomfort) to teach my daughters the real names of their body parts. I explained to them the basics about what they were and what they did and what will start happening to these body parts later on. The hair that will come; the chest that will hurt as breasts grow. The inevitable menstrual cycle that starts when the body is prepared to make babies possible. The places that people–not even doctors or family members should touch without mom present. I wanted to normalize their experiences a little, not let them go into things surprised like so many of us did. Also to not let them learn the wrong thing from a forward thinking little girl or boy at school. Also to prepare them for someone trying to use their innocence and ignorance against them when we weren’t around to protect them.
The result? Of course, they still giggle when I say vagina. They crack up when they hear breast–or boob for that matter. But I can tell they feel informed. They do not seem surprised or afraid when they see my “feminine hygiene” products (who came up with THAT phrase?!). They seem very self possessed when things about their bodies change. They know how to tell people when they are uncomfortable, when their space is being invaded. They are learning what makes them feel safe and how to protect their privacy while being okay with being human at the same time.
I still use those euphemisms I learned when I was little because old habits die hard, right? And I know that doing something just because it makes someone else uncomfortable is stupid. All the same, I am proud that I have demystified their experiences early on. There is no harm in saying to a child “this is what these body parts look like and this what they do now, and these are things that they can do later but this is just a really small part of who you are”.
Yet in America we make the physical body such a mystery to our children. We put all our focus on the wrong part of relationships–the physical instead of the spiritual and intellectual, then wonder why kids are making it at 12 and 13 years old. I mean, have we not figured out yet that you won’t stop teen sex/pregnancy by telling a bunch of rebellious teenagers to NOT do it? Shoot, God told Adam that he would die if he ate of that tree, and Adam went right ahead and smashed. So if God’s saying “no” did not work, what do you think our words are accomplishing exactly? The opposite effect. Because people are tempted by what they cannot have, we have created a cycle of children interested in sex because it is so mysterious while we keep yelling, “Don’t do it! You will regret it!! Wait! Wait!” Even as the world around them is giving the wrong picture of the body, sex, and relationships.
A young man should be excited to get to know a young woman without being so stressed about sex. Sex should be the last hurdle to cross. Instead, we teach our girls false modesty and body shame at the same time we give boys the green light to pursue the human body more than the heart. Boys become men who are only interested in unmasking and using female body parts for personal pleasure; girls become women reduced to sexual objects to satisfy what is basically an 8 year old’s curiosity and a 13 year old’s never-ending hormone cycle.
What I really want my girls to understand, I think, is that they are not the sum of their body parts. These parts (while useful) do not make them who they are. I want my girls to know that they do not have to be embarrassed about having certain body parts; NOR do they have to put said parts on display to be valued and loved. I want my girls to find value in their hearts and minds first, ten demand that same value from those who come into their lives.
So every once in a while, we talk. I answer bathroom questions. I explain the new thing that is happening to their bodies with the right vocabulary word and a straight face (even while I am sweating bullets). And they giggle.
But they also listen. And that is my start.