Four girls walk into a bar: two Brits, an American and a Canadian.
Okay, it was a living room, but I thought the bar had a nice lead in. Some glasses of wine were had, chit chat, and inevitably many a discussion about our children. As the night grew eventually a new topic—the Vagina—raised by the Canadian, moi. My question was this, What are people calling “it” these days with their daughter? The reason I was asking was because a friend of mine mentioned that her daycare didn't love the use of the “V” word by the children. It lead to an interesting discussion and a sort of international query.
The American and I were staunchly in favour of anatomically correct terminology. I didn't do a lot of soul searching on this, I just decided that vagina was its proper name, so why call it something else. The UK ladies said they were less likely to use this but would say “privates” with their child. Others names popular with UK girlfriends: bots, fanny, and bottom/front bottom. The American/Canadian variety seems to meld into private parts and v-jay-jay, thanks to Oprah.
Okay so little girls are one thing but what about the moms? What do we say if discussing our own bodies? My one friend, again from the UK, finally admitted that if having issues she wanted to share she would most likely just point to the area with a grimace. I asked her if she pointed like “this is my embarrassing, bad dirty place?” and yeah, pretty much she agreed. We laughed at the preposterous notion of this.
So I took it to the men and it was poignant. My husband simply read the title and said, “You have to change this.” I was aghast. I told him he might want to read the article first. His tone changed, but his first reaction? "This is a shock value word."
I wanted to know why. Why is it a shock value word? Since writing this piece I have read Joe Boughner's YMC article entitled “Penis, He Said Somewhat Awkwardly," and yes, memorable impression as genitalia is generally a bit of a shocking title. But is it more than this? I then discussed it with my friends' husbands, and yes they wanted to escape the room. Mind you they could all talk about the male anatomy and the various nicknames with abandon. These men were again of international variety, this time we had representation from France, he uses “vagin” eloquently and without apology. All the remaining men could come up with for women was “downstairs” teamed with—you guessed it—the grimace and point.
Now, I know not all moms use "penis" and there are loads childish euphemisms for boy's anatomy. But would a daycare or another mom take issue with penis as a word? Maybe, but less so than "vagina" I think. I also kind of doubt that a man will grimace with a look of fear or shame when referring to this appendage.
Although fascinating, I was a bit perplexed and a bit sad as a woman and as a mother to a daughter. And if we mums are pointing to our parts with disdain or shame, what kind of message are we sending to our girls about their bodies? I think a possible solution is this: if vagina is too clinical or makes you uncomfortable that is okay, find a word that works for your family. I think it is important to pick your word use it proudly and don't let shame or embarrassment be attached to the discussion with your children about their bodies.