Little Bean can’t talk yet (unless you count enthusiastic “dadda dadda dad!” as talking, and I don’t, because she can’t say “mum”. Until then I have selective deafness). She does understand quite a lot of words though and it’s only a matter of time before she starts that delightful process of wanting to name everything in her environment.
Eyes and ears and mouth and nose will be pretty easy words to teach her. And bellybutton and knees.
It gets a little tricker in between there though.
I strongly believe that all children need to know how to speak about their bodies using the proper words, for self-protection, as well as creating a healthy self-image free of shame and the need to point and giggle at art galleries. And clearly we can’t rely on schools to take over the work of teaching young folk what’s what and what shouldn’t go where at the moment and why. Today’s Sunday Age headline Sex Ed For 10 Year Olds is meant to be provocative I suppose but personally I think at a time when the sexualisation of children starts earlier and earlier and adolescent cases of chlamydia are at epidemic proportions, starting at 10 months is more sensible. Ten year olds can probably learn more about sex from their Bratz dolls than they would in sex ed classes.
So education begins at home. But there is the problem of language. If Bean was a boy, we’d have the very simple and respectable word penis to rely on. And at times that seemed too clinical, there’d be the innocuous willy. And older boys have the luxury of great choice: the widely used and utilitarian dick or the proudly masculine cock being two of the more popular options. Instead, I have a daughter, and so I must choose between the anatomically correct (since we’d be referring to her external genitalia) vulva or the more widely used and recognised vagina. For more irreverent moments, we’re left with the archaic and confusing fanny, the asexual and misleading front-bottom or even one anti-sexual and horrifying suggestion I heard: no-no parts. When she’s grown, it’s porn terms like pussy or the misppropriated, negatively-weighted cunt. (Hey, if James McAvoy can say it in Atonement I can say it here. And at home. And I do.)
I did toy with the idea of reclaiming the c-word in the most vital way by giving it to my daughter.
But I live in the real world where little Isabella returning home from a playdate at our house saying ‘mummy, guess what word I learned today…’ wouldn’t only spell the end of playdates at our house but lead to a lifetime of being whispered about in the local supermarket queue. And not just because I have more than 12 items in my basket.
So, vagina it is. Unless the three of you can think of a better alternative.