If there's one thing about being pregnant, in my corner of the world at least, it's being subject to this preoccupation with, or emphasis on, the importance of having sons. Every single person who's spoken to me -- outside of my immediate family -- has said something along the lines of, "Hope this time it's a boy!" Yesterday evening I had to bring Ro to the GP, and the nurse there went, "If it's a boy, it'll be perfect!" Which of course it would be, but not any more than if it were a girl. Yet the distinct implication was that it would be rather a blow if we did have another daughter.
I'll never forget how, when I was pregnant with Ro, this lady came up and asked if the baby were a boy or a girl. When I said (with a smile, mind) that it was a girl, she actually stroked my back comfortingly, saying, "Never mind, you can still try for a boy next time". I was so incredulous that I could only stammer out, "But we're perfectly fine that it's a girl!" It probably sounded like a pathetic attempt to make the best of an unfortunate situation. And then, on learning I have two daughters, people would feel free, perhaps even justified, to tell me, nay, admonish me, to "try for a boy".
Well obviously, I would never dream of ever being disappointed in my girls, and, as it turns out, Rebecca loves having a sister; the girls share and do things together that I don't think could happen in quite the same way between a boy and girl. I have friends and relatives whose children are one of each, and they don't seem to have quite the same dynamism in their relationships. I guess in some ways there is truth to that "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" idea -- boy and girls are perhaps fundamentally different; they're interested in different things; they communicate differently and approach the world in different ways. And then of course, if you were one of those girls who had sexist parents who always preferred your brother...
Clearly, we are fine with either a boy or a girl -- they are both blessings from God, good and perfect gifts from above -- but I must admit to being a little tired of people everywhere making these senseless sexist remarks. Even people in their 20s and 30s -- whom I consider young and therefore somehow above these archaic, prejudiced notions -- tell me that "hopefully, it's a boy this time!"; they even tell me that I must be hoping it's a boy. Like, ??!
My husband tried to explain that it has something to do with the Chinese character for "good", which looks like it is made up of the characters for "girl" and "boy", or "female" and "male". So it's something about how, together, they bring happiness and good fortune, but then you know how I feel about superstition!
Of course, I know it also has to do with the fact that boys are historically seen to be of more use on the family farm, or in the family business -- an idea I can appreciate if we were still labouring on our plantation, but which I'm not so sure about now in a developed society where women outpace men in college degrees and perform equally well in management.
Then, there's the perpetuation of the family name, that prevention of the extinction of the family line. To me this just seems to be another weird sexist attitude which has somehow prevailed -- the idea that a man's family and name simply must be preserved -- and that through another man -- as though they were somehow inherently superior. Many women have as much reason to be proud of their historical and cultural backgrounds, which I suppose is one reason there is increasing social acceptance of women keeping their maiden names and even passing them on to their children. We don't seem to have quite shed the doctrine of coverture, in force in the 19th century and much of the 20th, under which a married woman did not have a separate legal existence from her husband.
Funnily enough, it seems that perhaps this predilection for boys may not necessarily be a Chinese or even an Asian thing (sex-selective abortion in India, for instance) -- I remember reading an article last year about a Gallup poll finding that more Americans would prefer a boy rather than a girl if they were only allowed to have one child (it goes without saying what most Chinese would say!). What was especially interesting to me was that the results of that survey were very similar to those found when the same question was asked of Americans in 1941, and that those results stayed pretty much the same over the intervening years (the same poll was taken 10 times since 1941).
I'm no expert, but I can't help wondering about the discrimination and sexism that this sort of thinking reflects, even in our so-called modern, forward-thinking society. The fact is, gender preference does reflect an active depreciation of women, does it not? I recently got through all the episodes of The Tudors, and couldn't help marvelling at how we haven't come very far from Natalie Dormer's Anne Boleyn sobbing when she learnt that she'd delivered a girl, or Jonathan Rhys Meyers' Henry's ecstatic exclamation of, "I have a son!"
Well, the Chinese New Year is fast approaching, and the traditional get-togethers are prime occasions for more of these pointless remarks -- I'll either launch into a diatribe on sexism and the oppression of women, or just smile and shrug. Hm...