I’ve always cringed at references to women’s parts that invoke floral imagery. ‘The soft petals of her womanhood,’ ‘she opened to him like a flower’ – ew, ew, ew and ick. They’re lazy, these tired botanical tropes, these limp figures of speech that call upon a weak association between the softer, gentler, prettier elements of nature and womanhood. They’re lazy, because they derive whatever resonance they carry from our deeply ingrained assumptions about the delicacy of women and the fragile passivity of their sexuality. Feminine sexuality, when compared to flowers, is characterized as a thing of beauty that stands nobly and quietly while the more aggressive forces of nature penetrate and draw upon their sweet liquids, the better to expand nature’s bounty. It paints woman as passive participant in the sexual act, where that participation amounts only to accepting the invasive ingression upon her core. It’s stupid, in my books.
So it is that it has always been my intention – regardless of the difficulties I might face in forcing myself to use the correct terms, with a straight and unflushed face – to avoid euphemism in discussions of body parts with my child. And in particular, to avoid cheesy or lazy or icky euphemisms. Like “flower.”
What, then, am I supposed to do when Baby Einstein starts putting Freudian interpretations of Georgia O’Keeffe in their toddler board books? How does one avoid vulva-flower associations when one stares you in face at storytime?
It’s a flower, sweetie.
Whassat say Mommy?
It says “hot,” sweetie.
Why flower hot, Mommy?
Georgia O’Keeffe, of course, rejected Freudian readings of her work, even when it was her own husband promoting such readings. So I’m guessing that a layout of her work that sets Red Canna alongside some kind of abbreviated erotic haiku would have bugged her more than it bugs me. But then again, she wouldn’t have been confronting said layout during storytime with her toddler.
Some day, of course, I look forward to thumbing through art books and visiting galleries with Wonderbaby and talking about all the wonderfully different ways one can read art. I just hadn’t expected to be confronted with a graduate-level case study before she turned two. Well, sweetie, Steiglitz and others saw in O’Keeffe’s work an erotic study of the vulva – that’s the outer part of your sexual organs, honeybear – but O’Keeffe insisted that a flower was a flower was a flower, implying that female sexuality was more robust than any flower. Then, what? I bust out my best Muppet imitation and we sing “V is for vulva, that’s good enough for me? Oh, vulva, vulva, vulva starts with V!”? It just doesn’t feel quite right to be jumping into the finer points of eros vs. thanatos in art and analysis of artistic and literary interpretations of female sexuality before the child has mastered the potty.
Or is this what they call a teaching moment, and I’m just not seeing the pedagogical garden for the vulvic lilies?
Today’s the last day to post your kids’ artwork for the Wonderbaby Artstravaganza Crayola Giveaway. Freudian or Post-Freudian interpretations of said art optional. Wonderbaby will draw a winner tomorrow (so get your link to me sometime before dawn tomorrow, EST), and we’ll announce Sunday.