While Rev. Haffner is vacationing this week, Religious Institute staff will be guest blogging. Today's post is by Dr. Kate Ott, Associate Director.
It makes sense that the nation’s leaders consider reproductive healthcare services an optional part of universal coverage. It makes sense because from little on, we learn that the “reproductive system” is not a significant part of our bodies functioning. In fact, we ignore its existence when talking to children for as long as we can when.
In my little East Coast town, our library was recently renovated to include a fabulous new children’s play area complete with reading corners, imaginary play resources, and of course a new kid-friendly computer section. My youngest, age 4, started playing a science game about the body’s systems on the computer. You can call up the breathing (pulmonary system), blood (cardiac system), bones (skeletal system), brains (nervous system), muscles (muscular system), stomach (digestive system), BUT you can’t pull up the reproductive system. In fact, the click-on “universal man” is so amorphously shaped he has less reproductive organs than Ken-Barbie.
As you play the game, you learn the names of the body parts including internal organs. You can double-click the heart to see if it is soft or hard. You can highlight nerves and watch them carry a message to the brain. The digestive system stops short of having click-able links that connect to any “private parts.” My 4 year old wanted to know “where the food went next” and why the body didn’t have a penis. He knows that if he drinks lots of water he will have to go to the bathroom and pee comes out his penis. At 4, he made this connection and wanted to know why that wasn’t part of the game. A natural part of life in his opinion!
I took some time to play the game as well, so I could see if my initial reaction was correct. In fact, there were no reproductive organs and no way to make basic connections between areas such as the penis, vulva, or others. Why keep this information out of the game? Yes, the player might have to choose a boy or girl at the start of the game in order to specify which reproductive organs each has. And the explanations would need to be age-appropriate, just like they were for the nervous system.
Silence through absence of a reproductive system in a computer game (or any books available in the library) for children teaches them a loud and clear message that reproductive health and “that part of our body” is not to be discussed. We have reproductive organs, folks. It isn’t optional! Let’s make them an equal part of our bodies, of what we teach children, and of our healthcare plans.