The Brazen Word
February 21, 2007
Filed under Uncategorized
“…he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum” writes Susan Patron in The Higher Power of Lucky, this year’s winner of the Newberry Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. As some librarians have chosen to ban the book from libraries in the Northeast, South, and West because of the “S” word, administrators at universities and theatres across the country continue to stir over “The Vagina Monologues.” Atlantic Theater in Atlantic Beach, Fla., went so far as to list the show as “The Hoohaa Monologues” on their marquee after a driver complained that the word vagina was too offensive to explain to her niece.
But replacing the medical, anatomical term for a female sex organ with “Hoohaa”? We talk about objectifying sexuality, of defacing it with slang and degrading images that flash across our television screens. How can a slang term for the word vagina be less offensive than the term itself? The answer: critics of the use of these anatomical terms are operating on the maturity level of a small child.
Little boys do this often and understandably. And like little boys, the “Hoohaa” proponents blush at the thought of a body part with a God-given purpose, a part of the human anatomy that makes possible our most sacred, most essential part of human existence: reproduction.
As a friend of mine once explained, “The word vagina is no different than the word kneecap.” Clearly this is not the case. But what is it about sexual anatomy that is so taboo, particularly in America, particularly with children?
I have a problem with both parties clashing over the mere mentioning of an anatomical term. On one hand, for someone to get agitated and ban a book from their shelves over the mention of a body part reveals our society’s immature sense of embarrassment over calling a sex organ by its proper name. On the other, critics screaming about how ridiculous it is to get offended over the word are hypocritical. Some of these critics undoubtedly come from the same camps that complain about religious and ideological homogeneity, yet they insist on telling people how to feel and what to think.
But more ridiculous in this whole controversy is the misplaced energy of parents in protecting their children from obscenity. I would much rather my nephew read The Higher Power of Lucky than be exposed to MTV, HBO, or, for that matter, a typical conversation in Marillac Cafeteria. I can’t comprehend the logic behind allowing your child access to shows like “South Park” or even “The Real World” while denying them a text because of a single anatomical term. In an environment that is constantly objectifying sexuality, especially among women, parents and librarians are resisting the articulation of anatomical parts-not slang terms, not curse words, body parts.
The story of Lucky mirrors every child’s-she discovers language and she learns about body parts. She is a sensitive girl learning life lessons. It seems that art, when imitating the more personal, unmentionable moments of life, is unacceptable to a large portion of the American populous. And while I find the “S” word peculiar in a children’s book (perhaps used more for shock value than anything else), I find it hard to intellectually justify pulling the book from public school libraries.
Scrolling through Librarian.net, a forum for information regarding librarians, countless message board posts have responded to the stir over the controversial “S” word. Like the “Hoohaa” solution, one reader suggests replacing the offensive term with a nickname. I think I speak for most people when I say that that solution, which has actually been executed by the above-mentioned Florida theater, is far more offensive than the medical, anatomical term used.
In a country that prides itself on progression, our embarrassment over anatomy remains strangely regressive.