Saturday, March 19, 2005

What do you call that?

If ever reasons were needed for not having children, number 7 on my list would definitely be the whole thorny issue of what to tell girls to call their genitals. And one of the writers in the Grauniad this week grapples nicely with this dilemma. Often, articles like this are just so much journalistic fluff, but the writer has done her homework, and invites us to look at the issue from a number of interesting perspectives.

First up, there is the whole business of how children acquire language, and how much influence parents have over its development. In one nice example, the parents have consistently insisted on 'vagina', but the little girl will use no word other than 'peanut'. Might be cute now, but imagine the problems with bar snacks later in life... The writer deals intelligently with the complexity of the issue. Whilst one word, or set of words, might be okay for adults, there are real issues about using the same words with children. So, we also get food for thought about the relationship between language, age and education.

Then we get to think about language and gender, and the ways in which English continues to encode negative semantic space where femininity is concerned. This is not a popular contemporary view - we're all equal now, aren't we? - but if we still haven't got a word that can be used by both men and women, without blushing at the pornographic connotations, or wincing at the cutesy tweeness, then feminism still has work to be done, surely? One suggestion made is 'yoni', a word with an 'eastern' etymology, meaning source, and with connotations of worship and the sacred origins of the world. But that is all way too New Age for my liking...

Check it out for yourself:

The vagina dialogues


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