[T]here’s a trend I’ve noticed lately that gets me as teary …. It’s this: when pregnant women – smart, funny, fierce women I respect – say they don’t want daughters. Some even take to their Facebook pages to rejoice, at approximately 20 weeks, when they find out it’s a boy instead of a girl – or, in the case of one person I know, updates her status to complain specifically about the disappointment of having a girl.
I find these women fall into two camps:
#1: “I don’t want a daughter because girls are harder to raise than boys.” Variations on this: “Girls are so moody and dramatic” or “Girls are manipulative and dangerous” or “Girls are easy when they’re young but watch out when they’re teenagers! Hoo boy!” or the ironic “Girls are too girly. I just can’t get into that stuff.” I cannot explain these women. I’m sorry. The best I can figure is that they dislike themselves, their sister, their mother, or someone else with a vagina, based on past experience, and the thought of producing another creature of the female variety makes their brain short and they say stupid things like, “Girls are just, I don’t know, harder on you emotionally.”. . . Really, you should pity these women. Show them kindness. Love them. But do not try to change them; you will not be able to reason with them. . . .
#2: “I don’t want a girl because the world is harder for girls.”. . . When women say this, it usually comes from a place of personal experience, and their hope is to avoid being part of a process that inflicts more pain on another human being – that is, giving birth to a girl. I can understand that.
But it’s still problematic. Because when women pull out this old chestnut, they are not only saying that if they could, they would choose not to increase the female population, but that they would rather participate in the status quo because it’s simpler. Let me rephrase: they would rather have a boy because they are complicit in the fact that being a male in our society is easier than being a woman – and, by having a boy, they have no intention of changing this. By having a boy, they can breathe easier.
Have any of you observed a similar trend? (Is it because I resist the fB that I have no idea what pregnant women are thinking these days? Most of my friends and family have the families they want–some of which include children, some of which don’t–so I’m just not a part of these conversations the way I was a decade ago.)
I find Erin KLG’s comments interesting because a decade ago or so, everyone in my circle wanted girls. “My circle” is mostly other academics, women and men alike, and it seemed to me that having a daughter was the preference of most people–again, men and women alike. I assumed it was because it’s easier to raise a feminist daughter than it is to raise a feminist son–most of the people I know are just more comfortable raising someone to engage in resistance than to raise a member of the privileged group and train him to critique and reject that privilege. (What can I say? Most humanists I know identify with and cheer for the underdogs in history, myself included.)
Also, gender nonconformity is less of an issue with little girls than it is with little boys, in that boys get teased and bullied a lot younger than girls do for non-conformity. Having a girl who plays dressup AND soccer AND wears jeans and tee-shirts WITH ruby slippers if she feels like it–well, it’s just easier to let girls wear and do whatever the hell they want to than it is to have to explain to your preschooler son why people are teasing him or refusing to play with him because he’s wearing a princess dress and fuchsia pumps. More lesbian and/or butch little girls can take enjoy this greater gender performance flexibility, at least until late grade-school or the onset of adolescence, when these conversations are probably a little easier than they are with three or four year-olds.
Sex preference of any kind seems problematic because the reasons behind it fall short. After all, when parents wish for a specific sex, what are they really saying – that they’re hoping for a collection of personality traits? That they’re hoping to have their gender expectations fulfilled? How are they thus limiting their future child? I appreciate that people want to create the families they want. Sometimes, this includes yearning for one specific sex over the other, the result of a long line of societal conditioning about what it means to be “girl” or “boy.” We’ve all been trained well.
But not wantinga specific sex is even more problematic. Why? Because in a bona fide patriarchy — where rape and assault statistics are too high; where sexism runs rampant across all institutions and in media; where sex trafficking and genital mutilation still exist; where we struggle with the wage gap and lackluster maternity leave; where body autonomy and sexual reproduction rights are constantly under fire; and where women fight for basic education and literacy across the world — when you hope you don’t have a daughter, you are one more voice joining millions of others in silencing women.
I know a lot of people who specifically didn’t want boys, and were happy expressing their preference for girls. Most expectant parents have a preference for one sex over the other, but Erin raises an interesting question: are sex preferences essentially antifeminist? Is it OK to prefer a girl and not a boy, but not OK to prefer a boy to a girl? (This is a question I’m sure many feminists of color ask themselves, given the danger of being an African American or Latino teenage boy and young adult versus being a white adolescent or young adult.)