Alia is doing her reading homework using a non-fiction book on Captain Cook’s voyages, selected from the primary school’s library. It is too hard for her, but she chooses to persevere with it. She reads to me a sentence describing how Cook had trouble with the Tahitians trying to get hold of items off his ship, by trade when possible and by theft when necessary. She starts the next sentence like this –
” ‘The women pursued this practice as much as the men and with much success…’ ”
I really hope this isn’t going where I think it’s going, and I steel myself.
” ‘…owing to their willingness to pay for shirts and nails with sexual favours.’ ”
And… there it is.
“Mum… what does ‘sexual favours’ mean?”
I take a deep breath.
“You remember how we talked about what ‘having sex’ meant?”
“Ye-es… ” Meaning, yes she remembers, but no, she doesn’t REALLY know what it means. She is, after all, only seven, and unlikely to understand it until she’s well into her teens. Even the twelve year old, when told what ‘pornography’ meant, pulled a face and said, “Ew, yuck!”
I press on. “Well, this means that the Tahitian women were going onto the ship and having sex with the sailors, and in return the sailors gave the women shirts and nails.”
“Oh,” she says indifferently. Then she brightens as a thought occurs to her. “So it’s like a kind of trade!”
“Yes…” The word ‘prostitute’ is foremost in my mind, but I don’t want to dig this hole any deeper than it already is. “The thing is, a lot of people think it’s a bad thing to have sex in exchange for money or possessions.”
“Why? If they both say ‘yes’, then it’s OK…isn’t it?”
“Well… a lot of people think that you shouldn’t have sex with someone unless you love them.”
“Pffft. No, I don’t think it has to be like that.”
OK, so maybe she understands more about sex than I thought…
Throughout this short discussion, I am in turmoil. Do I explain the concept of prostitution to her, or put it aside for another day? Am I a bad mother for giving her the idea that prostitution is wrong? What if she grows up, and some of her best friends are prostitutes? What if she grows up and decides to become one herself? Would I support her if that were her chosen career path? Am I a bad mother for NOT giving her the idea that prostitution is wrong? Am I a bad mother for being an overly politically correct fence-sitter, not wanting to impress on her my own views on sexual morality? (Ethical behaviour, on the other hand, is an entirely different thing. In my opinion, the two only sometimes intersect).
It’s too hard for 8.15am on a Thursday morning. This is all the book’s fault, I decide, not mine. After all, what use is it living in a Culture of Blame if you can’t occasionally fob off one’s responsibilities onto an inanimate object?