The following exchange just took place on the ride home from school. (For the purposes of anonymity, I refer to my soon-to-be-seven daughter as “Nugget” online.)
“Guess what. When I grow up I want to be a strong woman!”
“Who taught you that? I love it.”
Before we proceed, be warned: there are some swears below. And if you’re my daughter, you’re more than welcome to read this.
We let our daughter swear at home and in the car. We call these “house words” as a means of emphasizing that she isn’t allowed to say them at school or while with her friends. I’m sure this boundary will be pushed or tested at some point, but we’ll deal with that bridge when we get to it. The concept of “bad” words got to me. Kids talk a lot about “bad” words, which seems like a weird message to teach them about when and how and when to express themselves. There are obviously some words that are not allowed in our house because they imply hatred, but on their own, swears do not. Teaching that swears have more innate power than their intent is a weird and sloppy message.
A while back I watched Deliver Us From Evil, a documentary about the Catholic Church abuse scandal. One of the subjects revealed that she did not reveal her abuse to her father because her he told her that if she was ever abused, he’d kill the culprit. Taking him at face value, she didn’t want him to go to jail and so she didn’t tell as a means of keeping him safe. A different circumstance, sure, but it made me think a lot about how kids think about words and expression. Since, I have met people who never spoke up about their abuse because they thought that words they’d need to use to describe the actions were off limits.
So Nugget can talk about whatever she wants so that she never has to feel strange about expressing herself around us. And it gives us the opportunity to talk about context and intent. Undue fixation on a kid using the word “ass” over a hurtful statement that contains no profanity strikes as an odd prioritization. And she should never feel like the words used to describe her body are innately dirty because her body itself is not innately dirty.
Finally, it gives us the opportunity to demystify the words. Sometimes she says “friggin” or “fuck” or whatever and we don’t respond or over react. When I was a kid, the beauty of swearing, particularly in the face of authority, was using it as a means of getting an easy response. We hope to be circumventing that early.
Regarding movies, I should clarify the click-bait-y title. We don’t let Nugget watch any movie. She isn’t interested in most adult-targeted entertainment. And fortunately, regarding sex, she doesn’t even like seeing her favorite characters in Footloose kissing let alone desire to see more. But she does love Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. She likes Ghostbusters a lot and has been watching it for the past three years. We recently introduced her to Mad Max: Fury Road, which is rated R, and she is in love with it. We did this because she also loves the Avengers and Mad Max, while grittier, isn’t any more violent than the super hero franchise. But more importantly, we did so because the character Furiosa is a strong protagonist leading a charge against an oppressive war cult and as far as examples go, there aren’t much better than that. When I first asked what she loved about the movie she said, “I love how Furiosa and her team work together.”
When she was very little, we had considered cutting Barbies and princesses out of her play diet altogether. The whole pink / infantilized feminine / helpless schtick struck as such a bummer. But family members buy toys and kids want what their friends have. You can’t keep them away from all that. With that in mind, we saw and loved Frozen, which went out of its way to invert the popular princess model as Brave had done before it. She loves Jem, which is available on Netflix and was developed with a feminist message in mind. Fortunately there are also a number of kids books that try to throw a wrench into the “princess” machinery. All of this media gave us an opportunity to talk with her about many different ways to be and aspire to rather than to turn Barbies and Snow White into contraband. After all, when I was a kid I wanted nothing more than what I was not allowed to have. For the same reason, we’ve expanded her media universe to include positive and constructive messages and inspire broader reaching conversations.
Swears and scares aren’t enough to keep a movie off the table, and this includes Furiosa and her positive influence. Sometimes I wonder if any of this matters or makes sense, but I overheard her playing with a friend the other day. Her friend, mimicking a princess, said, “But I am a princess! I can’t run!” to which our girl responded, “Princesses don’t always have to be saved.” Hearing that felt pretty effing amazing. It was wonderfully validating.
In a world where even the youngest kids have ready and regular access to the Internet, shutting out the realities of the world seems like a futile task. Instead, we look forward to continuing to create for our girl an open forum for asking questions about all of the confusing things sure to come her way.