Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Good Intentions, Bad Word Choices: Conversations on Women's Bodies

I love my dad, but sometimes he puts his foot in his mouth. This morning he told me about a conversation he had with my mother, who recently turned 52:

MOM: I got my period again today – I thought I was through with this.

DAD: Well that’s okay – that just means you’re still all woman.

MOM: (with a raised eyebrow) So when it does stop, I won’t be a woman?

DAD: (stammer, stammer) No, no, I meant you’re still a young woman.

MOM: So then I’ll be old after menopause?

DAD: (stammer, stammer, and um, more stammering)

Now Mom’s been with Dad long enough to know he’s not purposely trying to be a jerk, and that, in his insensitive way, his intent was to make her feel better, but it did bring up an interesting question – why are conversations about women’s bodies – and I mean conversations, not commentary - often uncomfortable? I admit to feeling grossed out by what my body does sometimes, even though it’s always natural – is it a result of this discomfort?

The problem is that there isn’t enough open dialog about this, so it’s no wonder the men in our lives don’t know how to support us through these changes, or even the women for that matter. I can’t remember exactly what my dad said when I got my first period, but it was something like “congratulations – it’s supposed to be a good thing, right?” And my mother has trouble getting advice about menopause from my grandmother; Grandma can't shake growing up in a "don't ask, don't tell" atmosphere. We do have women’s health product commercials on TV, but let’s face it – those are often cringe-worthy, too, and don’t do anything to make having a period, or not having one, feel more normal. Usually these products (I’m thinking douches, estrogen pills, etc.) are focused on “fixing” the condition.

I’m lucky enough to have a Mom who will talk about any and all of this with me at great length, and I hope that others do, too. Let’s start the conversations now, with our children, moms, grandmas, partners and our dads, too – my dad may always be unsure of what to say, but at least he can learn what not to say, and why. What is this conversation like for you? How can we make it better?


Honey B said...

Great food for thought! I think men AND women are told constantly through ads("Do you ever feel...mmm...not so fresh...??) , magazine articles and products ("personal hygiene products"?!) that women's bodies are smelly and unclean.

I wonder, though, if part of it is women's oversensitivity to what men say. Men have been taught never to ask a woman's age (why not?) and never to imply that she might not be 'young' (like in your parents' conversation) and never to be honest about how she looks (That old comedy stand-by "Do I look fat in this?"). They're basically taught to lie to a woman's face to make her feel better about herself.

No wonder men feel uncomfortable bringing up any topic about women's bodies, they know they'll always say something wrong!

Sarah said...

I think that's a good point - my dad commented that he should have said, "How does that make you feel?" which is a nice, neutral way to allow mom to talk about it without edging into dangerous territory.

I wish I could say I'd rather my fiance tell me if I look terrible in a outfit than lie to me, but in truth I'd rather hear the lie from him. I would, on the other hand, expect a friend to tell me the truth. It's a strange dichotomy.

Anonymous said...

I wonder it is really necessary to force men into any great understanding or appreciation of things natural and feminine. I remember a conversation I had with my husband about sex a long time ago. I explained the times of the month I was in the mood, and long it really took to get me going, etc, etc... and his response was..."I wish you were like me so sex can be fast and easy."

At first I was furious with his lack of curiosity and adoration for things feminine. I mean, I learned to do the stuff that guys like in bed. But that stuff gave me quick easy satisfying results, for the guy anyway.

Its hard to argue with easy. Guys have a simple approach to life and love, because their bodies work simply and easily. They don't really need to understand the workings of the female anatomy to find it pleasurable. (Not that some aren't more eager and adoring.)

Its like my pc. I don't really understand how all the drives and memory cards and operating system work to enjoy the ease with which I pay my bills each month. I can if I like. It may enhance my overall pc experience, or it may just complicate the hell out of it. I may walk away out of frustration if it gets too confusing.

Now I am not saying that a man shouldn't take the time to learn how to make love to his woman or understand menopause, but I am saying I understand why these things aren't foremost on his list of issues to deal with today.

I think honey b hit the nail on the head when she called women oversensitive. Maybe we should all be working on our self esteem and self confidence instead of trying to teach others how to speak to us so we feel loved and appreciated at all times.

Thanks for listening.