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Penis or Bust!

22/04/2014 14:14 BST | Updated 20/06/2014 10:59 BST

My least favourite euphemism in the English language is, "down there", in reference to the female sex-organ-and-peeing-area. As in, "my pants are making me itch *down there*", or "before the c-section, you'll have to shave *down there*". Like we're still calling it "down there" when I'm about to have my uterus opened up.

It's not just because it implies, feebly and apologetically, something dirty or secretive about the area being referred to, but also because it's just not specific enough. And it's a troublesome reflection of how we talk about femaleness in our society, a girl's body autonomy and the access she has to knowledge about her body's' composition and function.

And it leads me to think about the dilemma I face now, in a culture shy to make direct reference to female sex organs, or even acknowledge their existence, especially that they have actual labels (there's a pun in there to do with labia, but I can't see how I can work it...), about how to tell my daughter about what to call her...girls area. Oh god, "girls area", shudder.

I have several options, and they each has its pros and cons.

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I could casually go for "fanny", which is what I say in my head, because I love that word. But it seems a little crude to speak of my daughter's *girls area* (shudder) in those terms.

I should admit that I have considered, and I'm not sure if I can actually commit this to print but here goes, "front bottom". But that implies that it functions as a sort of mirror of the back-bottom, even carries out similar duties, which of course it doesn't. And front bottom is just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg.

My favourite by a mile is "vagina", because I like that word, the way it matter-of-factly strolls into conversation, unblushing and present. But again, to say "vagina" seems terribly reductionist and doesn't even come close to covering the wondrous complexity of...down there. Ugh. But I have used vagina already, in haste to reply to my son's enquiry as to the whereabouts of his baby sister's penis, so it is already in our family vocabulary.

With boys it seems more straightforward, "penis". And one can stretch to "testicles" if necessary. It's all out there. It's like we're used to talking about those things, it's old hat. It's like, "blah, blah, penis, testicles, no big deal".

But the main problem in searching for a girl-equivalent is just that. A girl's sex organs aren't just the girl-equivalent of a boy's. But the narrative around girls and boys and sex and how comfortable we are talking about these things, implies an absence in girls. It's no wonder - the way we hush hush over girls' bits and, ultimately, girls sexuality. Girls aren't lacking, contrary to what Freud would have suggested, because of the absence of a penis. It's not a deficit. But the implication seems to be that a penis is *something* and _________ (whatever we are calling it all) is *minus something*.

Girls are indirectly taught that they have something less than boys have, they are endowed less than their male counterparts, they have something that we don't really have a name for.

My son asks me, "why don't you have a penis?" and I find myself replying that I have different things, because I'm a woman. He says. "do you have a different kind of penis?". Even by my three year old, I'm unwittingly reminded of the imperative phallus.

In not being able to find the words to explain to my daughter (who is nine months old at this point, by the wafertility goddessy) what her fabulous bits are and what they do, I feel that I'm implying - perpetuating the implication, even - that she, as a girl, is lacking. That there's a lack of...something. And in actuality she's not at all lacking, she's excellently equipped with awesomeness.

But all my to-ing and fro-ing and exercising my cringe-o-meter (for I am a product of the culture I criticise, after all) I'm still no closer to an answer.

Originally published at Attachment Feminism.

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