And now for something completely different — nothing to do with New York. I started this post long ago and have let it sit for longer than I care to admit, waiting. I ran it by a few friends, worried. I stared at it for about an hour before hitting publish.
I’m entering murky territory, you see. But before we get to the meat-and-potatoes, I want to make a few things clear about this particular post:
- It is in no way meant to denigrate the many awesome sons out there, and the wonderful parents raising those sons.
- It assumes that sex and gender are separate from one another.
- It doesn’t touch on the world of transchildren, where being cisgendered is not a given and where the two-sex model falls short.
I’m not a parent.
I’m beginning with this caveat so we can get the obvious out of the way and move forward amicably. Because I’m about to express an opinion on parenting, even though I’m not one. Non-parents expressing opinions about child rearing can put parents’ shorts in a bunch; you’re not supposed to do that. And while that type of thinking is an ad hominem logical fallacy, just bear with me and I promise that if you’re still angry with me after you’re finished reading, we can work it out over an Orange Mocha Frappuccino.
I’m at that age where most of my friends are either pregnant, already have small children, or are working on their second or third. I myself have thirteen nieces and nephews, and even more children of friends that I consider family. So lots of children, everywhere, all the time. Up with people!
But there’s a trend I’ve noticed lately that gets me as teary as that scene in Neverending Story when Artax drowns in the Swamp of Sadness. (You remember the one: the mournful-looking horse, his white body slipping inch by inch into the muddy water, as Atreyu struggles in vain to save his equine friend… excuse me a minute.) I say this is a “trend” because it’s happened a few times among my friends, and I’ve heard acquaintances describe this phenomenon, too. Each time I hear it, another wrinkle forms in my brain.
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.” They assign qualities of Disney villainess proportions – jealousy, anger, cunning, ability to talk to mirrors – to all female children. Because no male child has ever had these traits. Ever. Because children, little id blobs that they are, only grow to the complexity that the genitals between their legs allow, and no amount of guidance or learning will alter that inexorable course from the moment you know it’s pink or blue. Right?
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. Back the hell away. ABORT MISSION. There’s nothing you can do about it. Not one thing. Let’s hope she comes to her senses one day; maybe after her children have moved away and she starts wearing loose pants from Chico’s and likes chardonnay and goes on yoga retreats, it will dawn on her that all human beings run a gamut of personality traits and yes, she can admit now that her beloved son was a godawful moody kid.
The point is: you shouldn’t wait for this to happen.
#2: “I don’t want a girl because the world is harder for girls.” Surprise! It is! But when we’re not dodging rapists or avoiding math and science, we do like to have some fun (I mean, fun we can afford; our paychecks are only 78% of our male counterparts’ checks). This is the camp that most of my friends agree is a more reasonable one – after all, it is The Truth. It’s hard out there for an XX. 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. This is why women fret over the safety of their future daughters, but not over whether their future sons will be rapists or serial killers. (And if you have had such a worry, I salute you.) By this argument, we worry about having a victim, but don’t change the structure that produces the victimizers. So however sensitive and charitable this latter argument sounds, it is simply neither of those things.
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 wanting a 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.
If you’re one of those people who says she doesn’t want a daughter – I ask you: check your heart. Then hug yourself. And really think about it some more.
May I treat you to an Orange Mocha Frappuccino?