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by Judy Antell

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There are words that cause me pain — like racial epithets and certain stereotypes.  Sexual taunts are up there, too.  But words that refer to body parts, words that I find in the dictionary, don’t alarm me.  So when three high school girls in Westchester recently used the word “vagina” on stage, it made me respect them and their courage. 

  Since this is a family newspaper, there are words that I cannot use in print.  But we publish articles on family health, and we have to use the correct body terms.  I remember when I was in elementary school, a boy got his . . . ‘thingie’ . . . caught in his zipper and another kid ran back from the bathroom to tell the teacher. That was actually the word that kids used back then to refer to an unmentionable part of the anatomy — and the boy who used the slang term ended up getting into trouble. I wonder what word he was supposed to use?  If vagina is a ‘bad’ word, maybe penis is, too?


   No. Apparently using anatomically correct male parts is wrong, too. Witness the recent brouhaha over a children’s book that used the word “scrotum”.  Now, scrotum is not a word usually bandied about in kids’ (or adult) books, but its use in a picture book caused it to be banned from several libraries.  I was happy that it wasn’t only female body parts that offended, but dismayed nonetheless that another word was picked on. What are we trying to teach our children when they can’t even use the correct words for sex organs? Maybe we should ban the word “uvula” — the little flap that hangs down in the back of your throat.  Sounds dirty, doesn’t it?

  As parents, we teach our kids to be careful what they say to others, to not offend. But in the larger world, where ideas must be allowed to flow freely, we need to be able to open our minds and our mouths without being afraid of repercussions.  In some countries, The Vagina Monologues (the play the three high school girls were quoting) is banned, but part of the point of the play is that women should not feel ashamed of this part of their body.

   We have an epidemic of political correctness run amok; even words that sound offensive are questioned.  “Niggardly” (for those who scored under a 700 on the verbal portion of their SATs), means “stingy” and has no racial undertones, but it sounds a bit like a very offensive word, and last year, a politician got in trouble for using it.

   And it’s not just ‘bad’ words that offend; sometimes, it’s the theme.  Connecticut high school students recently had a play they’d written censored — they used writings from soldiers at war to condemn the Iraq conflict.  An Alaskan student held up a banner offering “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”.  My husband gets all riled up over these cases, spouting first amendment rights and the fact that we live in a democracy.  This prompted my youngest daughter, Nora, who is 9, to ask what a “democracy” is.  Indeed.


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