Thursday, January 17, 2013

on being thankful to have children at all

sisters
Love 'em.

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...

16 comments:

Jacquelineand.... said...

Janice, I like the way you think! I agree, there isn't a good reason these days to prefer one gender over another and I hardly think that is the loving attitude we are supposed to take.

As far as last names...I kept my maiden name and gave it to my daughter. The Great Scot is actually thinking of changing his last name.

Sulky Kitten said...

I also find this "boys are best" attitude extremely frustrating. The boys in my family were definitely prized above the girls and I rebelled against this sexism from a very early age. A healthy baby is more important than its gender. I'd just tell people that I don't appreciate their sexist nonsense. If the baby turns out to be even half as adorable as the two girls you already have, you'll be a very lucky woman.

Sara said...

Hi (: So my parents had two girls and they love us both and never talked about having a boy. Funny enough, my older sister always wanted a little brother and there I was, another girl. I am very glad both your girls have fun with each other, you see, when I was growing up me and my sister had the most terrible relationship you could ever imagine; we didn't talked much and when we talked we were always arguing. But, every now and then, there were those moments when we helped each other and were the best of friends. Nowadays I simply love my sister, she is one of my best friends, because you see, when she left home to live with her boyfriend, we realized how much we have in common and now we are closer, and I can't see myself living without my big sister. In the end, I think having two girls is better because there are somethings girls need to talk about and there is nothing better than to have a sister (older or younger) to help you and to talk to.

I hope you all have a Happy Chinese New Year! (:

AntiquityTravelers said...

Such a thoughtful post Janice! And I agree with you completely. I have two girls and they are very close. I can not imagine this would be the case if I had a girl and a boy. I also have a sister and she is my best friend ... no one in the world understands me like she does. But I do agree that a healthy happy baby is really all that is important. Each child is a gift, and I feel lucky to be the mother of my two girls.

I did take my husband's name, and that is for 2 reasons. I wanted to be a family - with a family name. If my maiden name had more meaning to me it might have been a discussion to keep mine. But my grandfather changed our family name when he came to the US, so it really has no meaning.

You are a wonderful mother to your girls, and you can see their happiness. Just keep doing what you're doing and ignore the rest.

Christine Altmiller said...

People really are ignorant. And I am sure a great deal of the comments come from women themselves which is even more of a puzzlement! I have 2 girls. They are so close and have such a tight friendship. I could never wish for anything other that what I have and what they have. When we got married, I agreed to having 2 children and no more. My husband was just fine with that. When the second girl was born, my husband asked for a 3rd. I told him I agreed to 2 and did not agree to keep going until there was a boy. He has never brought it up again and he is deliriously happy with his lovely girls. He just needed the reminder. As for the pointless remarks you are getting/will be getting, I opt for the diatribe ;-)

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

I think we still have a long, LONG way to go before we can pat ourselves on the back and say that we're modern and forward-thinking. We pay lip service to it, but in many ways, we haven't changed much over the years. Over many years.

I have experienced what you've experienced when I had my second girl. Since I had a daughter the first time, I can't tell you how many people would make similar comments to me when I was pregnant the second time. "Oh, maybe you'll get lucky and have a boy this time" or "You must be hoping for a boy." or "It would be great if you had a boy", etc, etc.

When I found out at the second ultrasound that I was having a girl, one woman went so far as sighing and saying "Oh, well, that's okay. Another girl will be nice." when I told her about it. She was acting like I'd just shared some bad news! Honest to goodness, some people need a filter between their brain and their mouth!

I don't care either way. Children are a true blessing, and the most you should wish for is that they're born healthy.

Introverted Art said...

I don't know if the little girls on the photo are yours, but if they are, they are so precious!!!! I hate how people feel they can make certain comments or ask certain things as though it is ok to butt into your personal life like that.

Pizziricco said...

i think less angst if u "just smile & shrug". when my daughter was pregnant with her 1st & then 2nd, it was really amazing how many people were more curious than me wot the gender was. & yes, i "just smile & shrug", easier.

CraveCute said...

It's a shame people still feel that way. Your daughters are a beautiful blessing!

trishie said...

I never understood why people felt that way about sons. It's such an antiquated way of thinking. I'd be happy to be a healthy happy baby, regardless of gender.

Jo N said...

It's such a strange notion. I think it's an embedded thinking in most cultures which is a shame. Your daughters are precious. So is your baby.

Venus-Suburbia Soup said...

Oh man, I totally know where you're you coming from! My husband is the last man in his father's side to carry the last name, so we heard it all. We have three beautiful girls and whenever someone would make a comment about trying for a boy, I just look at them and tell them, " We LOVE having girls".

We are so blessed and if we were to have another girl, both my husband and I would be the happiest people on earth!

Beth said...

I totally understand your irritation at those comments---I felt the same way when I was pregnant for the second time when my first child was a girl. In fact, it happened so much that I learned to let it go when people made those remarks. I'd just smile and say, "All we really care about is that our baby be healthy." Because most of the time, there is no changing that kind of mindset.

Sweet Tea said...

Wonderful post! I am Mom to 2 girls and 2 boys. I have found that once my children were born they were sort of "asexual" to me - with gender being a non-issue. Can't understand how anyone feels any differently, but I know that some do...I am also the grandparent of 3 little granddolls (soon to be 4 granddolls) and I can't imagine being any happier if there were a boy in the mix. Enjoy your sweet girls and ignore the rude remarks - the remarks are based in ignorance!

Libby said...

I've heard this many times over. And so when people draw me into their conversations about if I hope their child is a girl or boy (weird because I have no say in that at all), I just reply that I hope they have a healthy baby whether it be boy or girl. :-)

Interestingly enough, one of my Chinese high school friends' mom had 3 girls and now she (my friend) has 4 girls. And they are just fine. :-)

milupka said...

First of all, congratulations on the news! Whether it's a boy or a girl, it will be a wonderful kid I'm sure and very much cherished. Your both girls are so amazingly beautiful and I wonder - when did they get so big (I wasn't around on flickr for w while).
But anyway, coming back to the boy/girl issue, I know it's not very comforting to know but the case is exactly the same here in Poland. People want to know that once you had a girl you will be compensated with a boy, and it is generally assumed that men who only have daughters are not fulfilled as fathers.

Even my mother, who was evidently waiting for a grandson while already having two granddaughters when inquired by me why it was so important to have a son said "oh you know, boys preserve the family name". I laughed and said - but my daughter got our family name as her last name and really, Mom didn't know what to say to that:)))

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