Yesterday, my 8-year-old daughter received her first lesson in chess
from her godmother, Honey Lee. She has now played a total of three games
with other people. (She's also been playing against herself -- or some
imaginary loser, I don't know who -- but those games seem to end rather
quickly.) I myself don't know a rook from a rooster, but I am captivated by
watching her play. For one, she's very emotional and surprisingly rowdy.
She whistles loudly while her opponent is contemplating the next move, and
she had one big cry when her dad, Jon, "stole" her knight, as she put it.
Instead of saying "Check," she sings out, "POP goes the weasel!" I picked
up the beginners instruction book ("Chess Basics," by Nigel Short, highly recommended!)
to see if this is really part of the chess vocabulary. "Oh yes," said Jon,
"that's what Fischer said to Spassky in the Reykjavik match."
I didn't know whether to believe his story because I did find
a story in the book's gamesmanship chapter about two adult champions,
Petrosian and Korchnoi, who in a 1977 tournament kicked at each other
under the table until a below-the-waist partition had to be built to
In any case, I am riveted by Aretha's competitive spirit and her desire to
win and gloat. Early in her very first game with Honey Lee, she warned,
"When I'm done with you, your life won't be worth a penny."
I was never encouraged to play like this when I was a child. I fantasized
about knocking balls across the field to the amazement of my schoolmates,
or beating a grown-up in a simple card game, but I was very afraid of being
immodest or too competitive in public. The one contest of any significance
I won was a spelling bee, although I was initially disqualified because the
judge, our principal, made a mistake with the three-letter word "it's ...
As in, 'It's a beautiful day.'" I spelled it with the appropriate
apostrophe, and he triumphantly rebuked me, "No, that's wrong, the correct
answer is I-T-S."
I would never have contradicted him because that would be talking back,
arrogant and a whole lot of trouble, but later a teacher pulled me into his
office, and the principal grimly announced, "There has been an error. You
have won the spelling bee." He handed me a gray piece of paper with the
Riverside County Schools letterhead on top. I gathered there would be no
My fear of competition and my desire to "make nice" were the first aspects
of my sexuality I confronted when I began to have sex with other people. If
my lover touched me in a way that was displeasing, hurt or just didn't rock
my boat, I would rather have died than said anything about it. I instantly
grasped the technique of faking orgasm because it was as familiar as faking
satisfaction about anything else when courtesy demanded I not speak
up, but I also wouldn't show what I wanted with my hands. That, too, would
have drawn too much attention to myself.
My salvation was that I read a lot, which introduced me to the notion that
I would be happier if I asserted myself sexually. Germaine Greer said so!
In addition, I had a couple of very blunt lovers who shattered my idea of
what can and can't be said aloud between friends.
"The way you kiss, it's terrible," my first girlfriend told me. (I always
fall for the direct type.) She was French, so I knew she must know what she
was talking about. She gave me kissing lessons and explained the way she
wanted me to caress her mouth. I was very grateful after the initial burn
of embarrassment. Another of my early boyfriends flat-out asked me, "Why
don't you come with me? I don't like it as much if you don't. You
masturbate, don't you? Show me!"
Well now, there he had me ... if I was to please him, then I would
have to come. It wasn't a matter of being self-centered.
Since I started writing so prolifically about sex, many readers have
imagined me to be an erotic Catwoman -- on the prowl, taking what I want
with grace, style and endless nerve. I think I'm more like a mouse who
encountered some radical manifestos and was inspired to roar, overcoming my
original character and training.
Is my daughter a tiger because of her feisty DNA or has my encouraging her
to be strong and direct worked, miraculously? I've deliberately given her
opportunities to do unladylike things. I've tolerated and defended her
aggressiveness in speech and in movement. I never wrestled on the floor
when I was a girl, but she loves it, and now asks for boxing gloves, too. I
never talked back, but Aretha thinks nothing of arguing if she believes
she's in the right. Perhaps it's the other girls around her. She's in some
ways the prissiest of her friends, surfers and skateboarders who'd rather
play soccer than Barbie.
What sexual advice have I given her? I've left it very open as to what sex
is -- that it's any two (or more, I'm so PC) people touching each other all
over with their hands or mouths or genitals. She really doesn't know yet
that when most people say "sex" they only mean penis-vagina intercourse. I
can only hope that things change before she gets that message.
I've given her a few words about bodily fluids and STDs, but I don't want
to harp on that. That's what she's going to hear from everyone else --
about how adult sex is so dirty and disease-ridden and dangerous that it's
amazing that anyone would want to go through puberty and attempt it. I tell
her sex is supposed to feel good, really good, and that if it doesn't, stop
what you're doing. I told her, "Don't worry about hurting the other
person's feelings if you don't like the way it feels, because it's your
body, after all."
She gives me a puzzled look, as if to say, "DUH, Mom! Why would I do
anything that made me feel bad?" I hope she feels this much confidence as
long as she lives -- because honestly, whose life is worth a penny without