“Shake your booty!” I hear Older call to his sisters in the bathtub. I march over the bathroom from the kitchen and tell Older, “No. That is not an acceptable phrase in our house.” Thirty seconds later I hear again, “Bootys! Shake your booty, girls!” I walk back the bathroom, my anger piqued at Older’s repeating something just after I told him not to; my discomfort level high at my seven year old son telling his little sisters to shake a part of their bodies. Where did he learn to say that? I am not in the mood to have to deal with this talk right now. “Out of the bath,” I tell him.
I don’t want to deal with this. Of course, Husband is out on a long run so I am on my own. I’ve had the basic “birds and the bees” talk with Older. Older knows the mechanics of what goes on between man and woman and calls it “the special hug”. But the concepts of “sexy”, of sexualization, of objectification, of women’s bodies being treated differently than men’s bodies; we haven’t come near those ideas yet. But now he’s asking why he can’t say tell his sisters to shake their bootys and a few weeks ago when I caught him and Middle saying “Sexy lady” and, giggling, he asked what the word sexy meant. Like it or not, now is the time to talk to him. I put on a DVD for his sisters, sit down with Older in his room, take a deep breath, and tell him, with frank honestly, that I am not even sure how to explain all of this to him, but I am going to try.
I tell him, you can call any part of your body whatever you want. It’s your body; you own it. And I tell him that I wasn’t upset by his use of the word “booty”. If he wants to call his butt his “booty” I couldn’t care less. Older is surprised. I now have his full attention. I say that it was the “shake your booty” part of what he was saying that was the problem. My mind contorts itself trying to figure out how to explain why it was a problem. I try for an example. I tell Older that he is so handsome with beautiful eyes (which is true). Older bats his eyelashes at me and we giggle. Then I turn serious and ask him, “What if no one ever told you that you played piano beautifully or that you worked hard at karate or that you were a thoughtful and loving big brother, or that you were a whiz at math? What if no one ever noticed all the wonderful things about you except how you look?” His face fell. “I wouldn’t like it,” he said quietly. Then I added, “And even worse, if people only ever said things about how you look, but not about who you actually are, you might start to believe it yourself. You might start to think that the only thing that mattered was how you look.” I push on and I tell him, sadly, that this is the way a lot of people treat girls and women. I explain that a lot of people focus only on how a girl looks, especially certain parts of her body; her booty [no giggles this time] and her breasts [I can see that Older looks utterly confused at this one, he has spent his entire life being nursed and/or seeing his sisters nursed. I think that in his mind breasts are milk machines and nothing more. ]. I conclude, “So, even though I know you didn’t mean anything bad when you were playing with your sisters, when you tell your sisters, or any girl, something like “Shake your booty!” you are not respecting their body.” And he gets it! He tells me that there are some girls he “likes” and that he thinks they are pretty. He asks if that is ok. “Absolutely,” I tell him. “Liking the way that someone looks is part of liking someone, but it should never be the only part.” He relaxes and assures me that the girls he likes are pretty and smart and knowledgeable about Harry Potter and that they make him laugh. I break into a big smile and tell him that he has it just right then. The songs on the DVD that his sisters are watching attract his attention and he gets up to leave. And as he walks away he turns back to tell me seriously “I won’t ever say that again mom. Thanks for telling me about it”. The he runs off and dance to the Wiggles with his sisters, caught somewhere between innocence and knowledge.