Preventative Chinese Childhood Folkbelief “Genitals on Head”

My informant is second generation Chinese American female student. She grew up in Chongqing, China but moved to America when she was six and a half. After coming to America, she has moved around from Texas to California to Iowa and finally to Missouri. She mentioned the following childhood belief during a group study session when we were discussing our childhoods:

Informant: Ok, so, this was in kindergarten. Like…we had bathrooms where the boys and the girls went to the same bathroom and so like the thing was if you like looked at the other person’s genital area, you’re supposed to grow the thing on your forehead [laughter] and so if girls looked at a guy’s penis [giggles] they’ll have a penis grow on their head [laughter].

Collector (me): So did you believe in this? Where did you learn this?

Informant: No, I was in the bathroom when someone was talking about it and I overheard.

Collector: Why do you think this belief spread?

Informant: Um…I guess…probably parents told their kids not to do it and that’s how they were going to scare them.”

I consider this folklore homeopathic childhood magic in the sense that it carries the quality where “like attracts like”. In this case, looking at genitals of the other sex, causes one to grow said genitals on one’s head. And children, especially little girls (in my informant’s case), believing in this magic and unwilling to grow genitals on their heads, will try not to look at the genitals of the other sex. As my informant believes that Chinese parents told their children this folklore to scare them, this folklore is obvious in its preventive nature–stopping childhood sexual curiosity. In that nature, this folklore reaffirms the perhaps university and global belief that children are meant to be kept innocent, naive and sexless. Moreover, this folklore implies the gender/sex division of children as early as kindergarten, which seems to be an aspect of preventing sexual curiosity.

However, considering how the “scare effect” is achieved, the belief “don’t look or you’ll grow one on your forehead” doesn’t scare one unless that person is relatively familiar with what genitalia looks like. That is to say, the only reason a little girl wouldn’t want the male genitalia growing on her head would be because she knows what it looks like. So, this folklore also implicitly shows us that children might be familiar with or already exposed to the other sex’s characteristics in an period as early as kindergarten (or at least in China where this folklore originated from).

It also begs one to consider, if there was such a focus on sex/gender division and naivety, why were boys and girls made to go to the same bathroom at my informant’s school.