My children love to talk about penises, to the point that it's embarrassing. Iris torments her little sister by saying, "Lubrick has a penis!" Lucy has figured out a brilliant tactic in the sibling wars: if she gives her sister permission to do something, the joy is sapped for the tormentor. "It's oklay for Iris to say I have a peeeenis," Lucy chirps. In private, she says to me, "All the times Iris says I have a peeeeenis, SHE IS WRONG!"
However, Iris's nonstop teasing on this point may be confusing Lucy. At Camp Mather, I overheard Lucy murmur to herself in a stall, mid-urination, "It looks like I do have a penis." Lucy has also harangued me about why her baby doll lacks this equipment and suggested that we "make a penis" to sew on. Anton has drawn the line at that. "It is inappropriate to make penises!" Lucy argued, "But Iris knows how!" That's an arts-and-crafts project I'm not looking forward to.
Although this penis chatter seems over-the-top, the alternative is worse, to my mind. Not long ago we had one of Iris's friends from kindergarten over. In the car, Iris came out with the time-honored taunt, "Lucy has a penis!" "What is a penis?" her friend asked. Anton, ever-informative, started to answer, but I immediately shut him up. I am not close with the other child's mother, and I could only imagine how sordid a story this would make in the retelling. What would this little girl say at home? "Anton told me about penises!" or, worse, "Anton has a big penis!" (which is what our children say: Iris says Anton has a big one and Lucy has a little one, which is evidently why Lucy's is not visible to the eye). I immediately imagined a potential kindergarten scandal, with a lack of playdates for our young socialite. We left it to Iris to explain this fact of anatomy.
Later I polled a few other parents about how they would have handled this. All were united in their shock that a six year-old didn't know what a penis was, but they were all additionally agreed that it was too risky for a husband/father to discuss penises with someone else's kindergartener.
My plea: please, parents of the world, tell your children the facts of anatomy so that no other parents are put on the spot later. And please don't use euphemisms. There are studies showing that children who are taught to use the proper anatomical names are significantly less likely to be molested, perhaps because they are brought up to be able to discuss their bodies honestly without shame. The generally admirable Ayun Halliday taught her child to call her personal area her "bukiluki"; a parent I otherwise love calls her child's vulva her "lucy." Imagine how that's going to make my Lucy feel should that come up in conversation.
But, but, but, if everyone taught their children about their genitals, and what said genitals were for, we might no longer have a society with fucked-up issues around sex and shame about our bodies. What would the conservatives use to hold women back/down if that happened?
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