Did you know that today is International Day of the Girl Child?
At our house, I tried to kick off the celebration early yesterday, because I had something very special in the house. . .
That’s right! Our very own female anatomical model! Whoop, whoop!
. . .
As it turns out, I was the only one who was really excited about this. See, Cute W is teaching this sexuality course for 7th and 8th graders at our church, and he’d had to borrow a model for the class. When I heard, I said, “Oh, yay! We should totally have a look at that before we give it back!” J looked interested, M rolled her eyes, and then J rolled her eyes.
So a few days later I’d pulled the model out and set it on a table, just in case anyone was interested in learning a teeny bit more about her own body. M arrived and promptly ignored it. Then J walked in and approached the model right away. I jumped up to show her how we could pull it apart like a puzzle.
“Hey J,” M called. “Did Mom tell you that your mat [a late birthday present] finally arrived?” J squealed and ran down to the playroom, girl parts forgotten. M looked at me and chuckled.
Later, after we’d dropped J at gymnastics, I gave M a hard time in the car. “I can’t believe that you totally threw me under the bus like that!” I said. “J was honestly interested, and you’re trying to make her think it’s not cool to be interested in the way her body works. I don’t understand why you’re so against it.”
“Eeewwww, Mom! Just. . . gross. Just nasty. It’s nasty.”
“There’s nothing nasty about your body. It’s wonderful. It can do amazing things.”
“Yuck, yuck, nasty, nasty.”
“Seriously? Is that really how you feel about your whole body? Why?” At this point I don’t know if she’s just yanking my chain–because she loves to do that–or if she’s entirely sincere. Which freaks me out a bit.
“No, it’s not all nasty. I like my stomach because it holds food. And my fingers are useful. . . .” M is considering her various parts.
“Hello!?! A uterus can contain and nurture an actual human being!” I counter. “That. Is. Cool.”
“Blegh” is her response. Silence for a minute. I take a new tack.
“You know, boys like their genitals. Boys love their penises.”
“Mom!” She’s horrified and appalled. “No way! Yuck! They do not!”
“Oh, yes, they do,” I answer, smug. It is somehow much easier to dish on boys than to convince my daughter of anything about herself. “Boys think that their penises are awesome, and I think that you should think that your vulva and your vagina are just as awesome as boys think their penises are.”
“They don’t like their penises. No way.”
“They really do.” And even as I’m typing this now I realize that I should have told her about how the scrotum is sometimes called the family jewels. Instead, I shared a story about someone we both know.Â “When he was a toddler, he loved this show called He-man, and He-man would always raise his sword and say, ‘By the power of Greyskull. . .Â I have the power!’ and once he pulled out his penis and called it his ‘power’ and his father was, like, ‘That’s my boy!'”
“I am not even kidding. It was adorable”
“Well, that’s just weird. That doesn’t mean that boys in general like their penises.”
“Yes. They really do. We can ask Daddy. He’ll back me up.”
“Yes, we’ll ask him. You can’t ask other boys. That would be inappropriate,” I say, suddenly imagining this scenario and the ensuing parent-teacher conferences.
“Well, yeah,” M answers in a tone that leaves the unstated “duh” drifting through the car. “Can you even ask Daddy? Isn’t that inappropriate?”
“No, we’re married. We can talk about that stuff.”
We moved on to other topics, but later that evening M, Cute W, and I were finishing up dinner. “Oh!” I remember. “I forgot that I had to ask you something. . . .”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t!” yelps M. She hides under the table, covering her face, bright red and laughing with a mixture of horror and delight.
“Honey, do boys like penises?” I ask.
Cute W is understandably confused and cautious. “Umm, they like their penises. Penises in general, like, other men’s?”
“No, no, no,” I hastily correct myself. “Their own penises. Do you think that, in general, boys are grossed out by, or like, their own penises?”
“Oh, they like them,” he answers, with a certain satisfaction that makes us all laugh. “Hey,” he says, “There’s a story about [He-man toddler]. . . .”
“Yep, I told her,” I interrupt. “I was trying to convince her that she should like her vulva and vagina like boys like their penises.”
Cute W sobers up quickly. “Oh, you should like your body. Female anatomy is amazing. Really.” He says with the earnestness of a man who’s had official body image issues training. “Wait, are your friends telling you that parts of your body are nasty?”
M, meanwhile, is now fighting a two-front war: “No,” she says to Cute W, “We have better things to talk about!” And to me, in reaction to my use of the wordsÂ “vulva” and “vagina”: “Ugh, stop saying that!”
Of course, “Stop saying that,” in our house, is just an invitation.
“Vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva,” says Cute W.
“Vagina, vagina, uterus, clitoris,” I say.
“I don’t even know what a clitoris is!” she’s exasperated.
“Oh, the clitoris is. . . ” Cute W begins, and “I’ll show you on the model. . . ” I begin, but we’re drowned out. She’s plugged her ears and started singing “la, la, la.”
Cute W and I smile at each other, conceding defeat. Officially time to leave her be. She unplugs her ears, still laughing.
We separate again. Cute W is off to soccer, I head to pick up J from gymnastics.
When we arrive home, J sits down at the dinner table, takes a look around, then gets up and tucks the female anatomy model into our pretty new corner cabinet. I raise my eyebrows.
“Do you mind?” she asks wearily. “It’s just. . . I’m trying to eat.”
I sigh and pack the model back into its box. I’m returning it today.