Saturday, March 1, 2008

Boy, Meet Your Penis

I thought it was cute when my 23-month-old son tugged on his male member and said, several times in a row, “Hi, Penis.”

I thought it was funny when he pointed to his father’s post shower noodle and labeled, like he does so many other objects, “Penis.”

I did not think it was as funny, after my shower a few hours later on the same day, when my son stuck his miniature index finger into my scruffy muff and said, “Penis.”

What’s a good feminist to do? I was never the biggest fan of the French feminists but still didn't want to play into that Freudian trap of being defined by the lack – “No honey, I don’t have one of those things you know and love so well.” But does he really need to learn “vagina” right now?

It’s winter, and I haven’t bathed with him for months. Our body part discussion of late has been focused north of the equator. He points to my sorry chapped nipples and says, “Nurse!” and that’s plenty literal enough for me right now. What good will it do to add the word "breast" to his vocabulary just now? It’s bad enough that he starts to feel me up in public shouting “Wanna nurse you!” I don’t think anyone needs to hear an anatomy lesson on top of that, and I worry where “vagina” would come out if we introduced it in this developmental stage, which seems to be a cross between a coked up Adam in Eden pulling names out of his ass and then looking over his should to see if he's right and poor simple Tarzan tackling pronouns.

I expect that with my son's father and I both sporting dark brown triangles in the same spot, he is less likely to get the fact that mine doesn’t have a dangly than he would be if I were appropriately depiliated for the 21st century. If I'd sported a Brazilian wax like I'm told Katherine Heigl does in Knocked Up (I haven't been to a movie in two years so I can't be sure), would the boy notice my folds and say whatever connected up in his brain what he saw? My mind scans his past culinary experiences to recall whether or not he’s ever seen a taco. He might know the color pink; I'm not sure.

Maybe I should have taught him “genitals” instead of penis. The boy clearly identifies the space between legs as penis-territory. Maybe we could have just generalized with the G-word, like saying “firefighter” instead of “fireman,” though so far that has not worked with "snowman."

If he were a girl, I think I’d be more matter-of-fact from the get-go. I might expect that she could take in the knowledge and deal with the fact and she and her mom shared something that Daddy didn’t. But this little boy is so attached, I’m not sure he can handle the idea that he wasn’t made in my image -- or that I don't match his.

I am surprised to find that, for all my graduate work in women's studies, it wasn't until I became the stay-at-home mom of a boy that I seriously, practically considered the formation of gender identity. But the matter is not entirely in my hands, so to speak.

Tonight I overheard my son on the changing table as his father readied him for bed. "Penis?" the boy said in that half-question that expects a big affirmation complete with italics, "Yes that is a penis." Knowing I was in earshot but ignorant of the bathroom vocabulary session the other day and of this blog post I drafted last night, my husband replied to our son, "Yep. Does Mommy have a penis?"

This posting is cross-posted on my other blog,