Pendulums swing back and forth. There’s a new era of prudery; hopefully things have swung as far in the conservative direction now as they had in the opposite direction in the sexual-revolution days, and we’ll find some sort of common-sense middle ground regarding sex. Everyone, especially in academia, is so afraid of it these days, it seems.
The New York Times today reports a growing controversy over the use of the word “scrotum” in a Newberry-award winning book intended for 9 to 12-year-olds.
It reminds me of a story my father tells from when I was in kindergarten. Walking to school one day, some other kids were talking about “wee-wees” and “dickies” and I, already exhibiting both by teaching and know-it-all instincts, informed them that what they were talking about is actually called a “penis.”
That evening, my father got a call from a father of one of the other kids, complaining that I had taught his son a dirty word. My father explained that this was, after all, the correct and neutral word, and noted that as a lawyer, were he in court, he would not be allowed to say, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client’s ‘dickie‘ was permanently injured in the accident and he deserves fair compensation.” The judge would not just allow but expect him to use the word “penis.” I don’t know how well that conversation ended, but Dad had a good point.
It is clear that so many teachers are afraid to death of even naming body parts for fear of being accused of using sexually-provocative language, and so The High Power of Lucky is getting banned by elementary-school libraries for transgressing moral standards by including the word “scrotum.” I did not appreciate the sexual overtures I received from some of my teachers in my later high-school and college years. There were some unhealthy aspects to the sexual revolution. But the new Puritanism isn’t much better.