It appears I offended one of you. Maybe others. I meant no harm. Truly.
It seemed funny to me when I found it, & I thought it would to other moms, too. Helpful even. Especially for those with preteen girls.
Despite my own opinion of it, I got some immediate feedback that my post was unappreciated. More specifically, it wasn’t the post that was commented upon, it was two words found in the subject line:
Seeing these words in her email subject line upset her. & maybe others who didn’t respond in an email, too…
I tried to clarify the communications, which was initially complicated by a MAILCHIMP technical snafu, posting a different link to the subject line that had nothing to do with each other. I explained how I’d taken the words verbatim from the video, & explained the video a bit.
She replied that she didn’t care where it came from. She didn’t like it.
I asked if I could call her, but was essentially told that all was “ok.”
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder… What was the problem?
How can it be wrong to bring in a sense of humor to circumstances that for so long have been shunned or which we’ve been made to feel ashamed of? How can it be wrong to applaud a company that aims to help take the edge off?
I can understand how, out of context, the words YOUR VAGINA arriving in your email inbox can be disconcerting, especially if it’s from some spammy filth-based company that seems to be zeroing in on you. But one look at who is sending the email ought to assure that I am by no means spammy filth, nor do I intend on zeroing in on you… or your vagina.
Not until now, that is.
Because now I am truly curious about our relationship to the word that defines our most private of places.
As you can guess from my former posts, I have two little girls. Lots of vaginas in my house. But I didn’t especially love the word VAGINA when teaching them as babies about their own private places.
It seemed harsh, like a phlegm-filled cough.
For reasons then unknown to me, the word “hoo-ha” fell out of my mouth instead. Even more embarrassingly, the male parts conveniently became “hoo-he.” (Insert groan here). Though eventually, it sounded so stupid I just called a spade a spade- or rather a penis a penis.
Everything seemed to be rolling along just fine in our somewhat insulated little world until my nearly three year old became a bit zealous about exploring her parts… & her four year old sister’s. It seemed the more I insisted that private parts were private, the more interesting they became.
I tried not to lose my cool. I noticed my own reactions, the surges of shame, panic & fear as they innocently explored their own nature.
I ordered books from A MIGHTY GIRL to help me get my point across & to help support me in this important part of parenting. They have a tremendous array of titles for all age groups. The ones I chose are geared for most preschoolers.
AMAZING YOU speaks of being proud of your body & all of its parts, but how some parts are more private than others, & that while checking out your own was perfectly acceptable, it was best left to do in private.
It also mentions how some people have made up names for their parts, but clearly offers the scientific names. Vagina. Labia. Urethra. Ovary. Penis. Scrotum. Testicle. All with cartoon pictures & diagrams.
The other was more focused on “stranger danger.” I read I SAID NO! A KID-TO-KID GUIDE TO KEEPING PRIVATE PARTS PRIVATE aloud to my girls, half holding my breath, realizing how emotionally unprepared I was to be delving into this very important territory with them.
For about a month, my girls were REALLY into these books. We read them at least fifty times together, & they often pulled them off the shelves from which they lived next to other books like The Grouchy Ladybug & Ish (Creatrilogy) to “read” them alone.
Their curiosity eventually waned. They’ve moved on to pilfering my lipstick & my iphone, making little videos & taking pictures of themselves making silly faces when I’m not looking.
But my curiosity is piqued. What is it about our vaginas that can cause a knee-jerk reaction from an intelligent woman who is not only a reader but a trusted friend as well as an investigative reporter & powerful writer who believes in freedom of speech & frowns deeply upon censorship?
& what was MY problem with the word VAGINA back when my girls were smaller? Why did it bother me enough to create my own ridiculous version of it? I didn’t rename any other body parts…
Honestly? I think it has something to do with shame. But why? & where & when did it begin?
Was it being told to “cover up” at the age of four, an age that seems much too young to be self conscious? Was it stumbling upon my friend’s father’s stash of girly mags in the basement while playing at the age of eight, & looking at them with both intrigue & embarrassment? Was it the (inappropriate) whistle of my step-father’s friend when I came out in my bathing suit at the tender age of ten?
How about the way in which many of us learned about the biology of our womanhood as our menses approached? How did THAT make us feel?
I got handed a 1950’s looking pamphlet about menstruation & “the birds & the bees” (literally!) when I was eleven but there was never anything else ever mentioned in addition. I prayed no one could see my mammoth maxi pad through my pants in gym class & read Judy Blume’s “Are you there God, It’s me, Margaret” as if it were my bible. There was no open dialogue about parts or the stuff that biologically or emotionally went along with them.
So everything else I learned by trial & error. Without going into detail, I will just simply say that there was a shitload of error, which only deepened the shame.
But I really don’t think that it all lays on my own experiences. I think it is cumulative as a culture. It’s my mother’s shame, & her mother’s shame & so on. It’s all that sat silenced & burning to be heard that set that hot white shame alive. Shame that can become rage over the casual or humorous mention of our parts.
I can’t be sure why my friend is/was upset & she may never tell me. I feel ROTTEN that I’ve upset her, but I feel equally concerned that her initial response may be more widespread amid our culture than we care to admit. That somewhere within we hold up the cultural notion of shame of our female parts. Parts that -when it comes down to it- perpetuate the human race. Go figure.
As I raise my girls, it becomes more & more clear to me that I need to do more than just grapple with my feelings around all of this. If I’m to raise happy girls with a healthy self esteem, I better get hip to my own sense of being a woman in this world & embrace it as best I can, VAGINA & all.
Part of that means being willing to speak & write freely about the biology of our being without censor & without shame. & yeah, maybe with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.
Because it’s healthy to laugh at ourselves. It can boost our moods & better equip us when we need to teach our children, in an age-appropriate way, how it all relates to them, so that they can grow up without the heavy emotional burden of something that needn’t be there in the first place.
Big love to you mammas. Thank you for tuning in. I’d love to hear what YOU think & how YOU handle this subject matter in your home.