April
5th 2012
Sex preferences among expectant parents: are they antifeminist?

Posted under: childhood, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, race, women's history

Via Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Profs, we learn of a trend observed by Erin KLG at 5 Cities, 6 Women

[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.

Erin KLG concludes her post with some thoughts about sex preferences generally:

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.)

57 Comments »

57 Responses to “Sex preferences among expectant parents: are they antifeminist?”

  1. jas on 05 Apr 2012 at 9:58 am #

    my wife didn’t (and doesn’t) want a girl because of the hardship that she had with her own mother growing up (a hardship that is ongoing). my mother was the same way (yeah, yeah, i married my mom. thanks freud…).

    i know of several women who are in the same boat, and this seems to be the big reason behind their voicings of preferring a boy. they really didn’t get along with their mothers, and they don’t want to repeat their mother’s mistakes.

    personally, i think that a woman’s relationship with her own mother can create much more bias than a man and his relationship with his father. at least that’s been my experience.

    it would be really interesting to see the dynamics of the gender-preference of children via the parents’ upbringing: divorced, raised by mother, raised by father, presence of a step parent, sibling of the same sex, sibling of the opposite sex, older siblings, younger siblings, younger siblings of the opposite sex, step-siblings, income levels….

    i bet there is a pretty good correlation between all of that and the parent’s gender preference of their kids.

  2. Anonymous on 05 Apr 2012 at 10:08 am #

    I find strongly-held gender preferences of any kind profoundly depressing. And as far as which is easier? It really depends on the kid, the parents, and how they interact.

  3. annajcook on 05 Apr 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Apart from all of the complicated issues you’ve raised already, Historiann, I’d add to this the suggestion that in expressing a *sex* preference (the only thing you can really assess immediately after a birth, and even that isn’t always what it appears), parents are implicitly assuming that sex and gender, and probably to some extent orientation, will all fall into alignment. When someone says “boys are easier to raise,” what they’re usually picturing in their mind is a (white, middle-class) heteronormative boychild.

    In other words, a child who is identified as male at birth may not, in fact, grow up to be male-identified, may be male but gender-nonconforming (and thus experience some measure of our culture’s misogyny), and obviously could fall anywhere along the spectrum of sexual identity/desire/behavior.

    So when parents express sex preferences around an un-born child, they’re weighting those preferences with a shit-ton of cultural assumptions about how that child’s body will relate to their interaction with the world. And while I understand how it happens, I don’t think that’s very realistic. If you go in to parenthood expecting that having a child of X sex will mean your family life will look like Y, that’s laying a LOT of responsibility on the child to act according to your understanding of how female or male bodied persons will act.

  4. Bardiac on 05 Apr 2012 at 10:14 am #

    I sort of have two responses. Patriarchy sucks, and I can totally understand not wanting to have a female child who will be subject to patriarchy (since it’s not exactly looking like things are improving for women these days).

    On the other hand, patriarchy sucks for all, so if you’re not optimistic about the future of your child, why choose (assuming it’s a choice for most of your readers, but recognizing that’s not the case always) to reproduce at all?

    I don’t really recall my friends or colleagues expressing much gender desire one way or the other. I have seen friends who are parenting try very hard to help their children not be hurt by gender norming, and I agree that it seems easier to avoid that with female children while young, but I’m guessing the patriarchy is especially damaging to female children as they near puberty.

  5. Historiann on 05 Apr 2012 at 10:18 am #

    That’s a really great point you make, annajcook. You are exactly right that all of these assumptions depend on heteronormative assumptions as well as gender stereotypes.

    Anonymous is right: these assumptions only make sense if we assume that all boy children and all girl children are identical, rather than individual.

    jas, I’m sorry to hear about your wife. I’ve heard this story before (about the mother-daughter relationship making the daughters averse to having daughters of their own.) But again, that kind of thinking only makes sense if you assume that all women and all girls are identical rather than individual.

    The great thing about having children is that you can avoid all of the mistakes your parents made in raising you, and make mistakes that are all your own.

  6. ej on 05 Apr 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Well now I feel guilty for openly wanting a girl with both of my pregnancies. I think it was a combination of thinking I could relate better to a girl and worrying that I would encourage any boy I had to really resist conforming to gender norms in ways that might make his life harder. I was less concerned with that with a daughter for the reasons you express above. And I have to admit, knowing there was teeny, tiny penis inside of for 9 months was kinda freaky, but I found the experience of sharing a body generally pretty freaky.

    But now that I have a boy and a girl, I see that all of that was nonsense. So far, I really haven’t seen gender influence my relationship with either of them. They are who they are, and that is how I relate to them.

  7. truffula on 05 Apr 2012 at 10:37 am #

    a trend I’ve noticed lately

    I am unable to resist the aphorism (or adage?): The plural of anecdote is not data.

    I know a couple who used to talk about having kids as an opportunity to do better by somebody than was done by them. That was before they actually had the children. I think they are doing just fine but you wouldn’t get that impression from the stories of hardship and woe.

  8. Ruth on 05 Apr 2012 at 11:11 am #

    My view has always been that anyone who has a preference had best keep their mouth shut about it, because someone, sometime, will tell the child.

    I have to say, although I wasn’t aware of a preference either time I was pregnant, I experienced a sense of relief when I found out that the second child was going to be a girl like the first. The first one was 5 by the time I was pregnant with the second, and I guess I felt like I was in known territory. Of course, that turned out not to be the case: amazingly, although of the same sex, they are two different people!

  9. Indyanna on 05 Apr 2012 at 11:22 am #

    Too dumbfounded to do anything more than sign onto annajcook’s opinion, especially the third paragraph, and more especially the exquisite sentence beginning “If you go into parenthood expecting…” I’ve always intuitively thought that daughters were the crown of creation, but–to paraphrase a lamentable late secretary of something–in the actual world, “you go to war with the kids you have, not the ones you design to have.”

  10. Historiann on 05 Apr 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Ah, yes: Rummy as the first among the “Lords of Creation!”

  11. Janice on 05 Apr 2012 at 11:43 am #

    A kid’s a kid – just be grateful if you have one that lives and is healthy and grows up to not be majorly messed-up.

    Youngest is autistic – she will never be ‘normal’ even though she’s wicked smart. I admit to a boatload of gratitude that she’s female because her size is smaller than what she’d likely have been as a male. Smaller = easier to manage and less backlash when we take her out in public. I see some of her male classmates get the eye from onlookers because they’re big teens who clearly aren’t normal. That said, we would still love our kid just as much whatever sex, gender and situation we all ended up managing.

    Unless you have a sex-linked genetic disorder you’re trying to avoid, being worried about a child’s sex is a very weird attitude in my mind. Then again, I was raised in an academic family so compared to the rest of the world, I’m probably profoundly strange!

  12. Historiann on 05 Apr 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Janice, you make a great point about sex and disability. I think you’re right that it’s somehow seen as more normative and less threatening to have a teenage girl with a disability than an older boy. The girls will on average be smaller, but also they might be seen as more appropriate to remain under your family’s tutelage/guidance longer than a young man.

  13. Tenured Radical on 05 Apr 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    It doesn’t get better. I can’t tell you how many “feminist” colleagues I have who (prefacing this statement with the insistence that they aren’t homophobic) have told me how “hard” life will be for my gay nephew, who was gender nonconforming (still is) and came out when he was 14. And I think, well, his life will be less hard if dooshbags like you stay away from him.

    Last week, when we were discussing the genderless baby Storm, I had a student who burst into tears at the thought that she might give birth to an intersexed child. I mean, she’s not even pregnant, but the specter of it overwhelmed her because life would be so “horrible” for such a child.

  14. koshembos on 05 Apr 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Have three boys and two grandsons. Always wanted a girl too. Never understood discrimination, racism, sex preference, etc.

    More than anything wanting one sex is narrow minded, insecurity and flawed reasoning.

  15. albe on 05 Apr 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    My former doctoral student (now graduated) and his partner just had a baby this past August, and they’ve gone the Storm route. Their baby has a gender-neutral name and they’re not sharing the sex at this time. At first, there was a fair amount of resistance to that from some of their family members, and it was a little odd working around the pronouns and such, but it was easy to get used to. Now I just think of their kid as [kid's name], and it feels pretty normal.

    I have girl/boy twins. I didn’t care what sex they’d be as I was basically concerned with their being born alive and not too early. Now they’re 4 and they identify so strongly with one another rather than with their peers or us that neither kid conforms wholly to gendered expectations. Fortunately, they go to a crunchy accepting preschool so nobody has, so far, teased my son for wearing so-called girly colors or teased my daughter for wearing a boy’s bathing suit. It’s amazing to me how similar they are to one another in terms of their preferences for colors, toys, and play activities, which suggests the power of socialization over any innate gendered behavior.

  16. polarbearfan on 05 Apr 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    @jas: That is a very good point. While boys do have conflict with their fathers, there seems to be a ritualized and socially acceptable way to deal with it. Assuming that the boy is heterosexual(and that’s a big assumption) they will get along fine once he reaches adulthood. No such thing exists with girls and their mothers. Feminism has only made things worse by telling girls that they are not allowed to criticize their mothers, and that they are not allowed to complain in any way about the numerous problems associated with being biologically female. Everything is supposed to be the fault of “the patriarchy” when in fact a lot of it is the fault of other women.

  17. Nicoleandmaggie on 05 Apr 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Kid #1 I had a preference for. It was a known/fear of the unknown thing (and men in my family tend to be of one type, including the ones who marry in and women in my family tend to be another type, including the ones who marry in). I got the opposite of what I’d expected.

    And it turns out that you can raise a kid of one gender exactly the same way you can a kid of the other gender. Even my ultra-feminist mom made some comments about gender-appropriate toys and books, but really turns out boys and girls can play with and read the same thing if you don’t make a big deal out of it. Though I will say the gifts we get are largely gendered.

    So for kid #2, no preference.

  18. Historiann on 05 Apr 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    polarbear fan writes, “Feminism has only made things worse by telling girls that they are not allowed to criticize their mothers, and that they are not allowed to complain in any way about the numerous problems associated with being biologically female. Everything is supposed to be the fault of “the patriarchy” when in fact a lot of it is the fault of other women.

    You don’t really know very much about the history of feminism, do you?

    Feminism has been all about killing/rejecting the mother. (Look up Katie Roiphe’s and Rebecca Walker’s writings on their mothers Anne Roiphe and Alice Walker, for example.) And it’s not just among individual mother-daughter pairs, it’s a movement-wide phenomenon in which the younger generation ridicules the feminism of the older generation. So, we see the flapper generation put down the old suffragists in their bloomers and sashes; miniskirted second-wavers put down their dowdy mothers and grandmothers; Waxed and plucked Gen-Xers put down the hippy-dippy second-wavers, etc.

  19. polarbearfan on 05 Apr 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Historiann: there is a grain of truth to what you say, but only a grain. The whole third-wave feminism business did rely on some notion of “real” feminism, as opposed to what their elders represented, but once you looked into it, the differences were really not that great.

    I once heard Katie Roiphe speak at Undergrad U., and the amount of aggression she was subjected to was pretty amazing, even by the standards of this very left-leaning university. All of it was from women. The implications were obvious: “Don’t you dare criticize teh girlz, or imply that we might have any problems that are not imposed on us by people with penises!!”

  20. undine on 05 Apr 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    It’d be interesting to see just how many expectant parents DO have a preference and how those preferences change over decades. Back in the day, all I wanted was a healthy baby (seriously), and that’s what others around me said, too, about their pregnancies. Was that an anomalous blip in the statistics, or have things changed over time?

  21. Nicoleandmaggie on 05 Apr 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    undine: My mom wanted girls, knew she was going to have girls, and got girls. That’s the 70s and 80s (just in the case of my sister) before u/s. N = 1.

    And of course, if anybody IRL ever asked I would say I just wanted a healthy baby, because that really was true to a large extent (especially after a year and a half of infertility treatment and a loss). On the internet in anonymity I can say that I thought my first kid was going to be a different gender. Still thought it for about two weeks after the birth.

  22. tony grafton on 05 Apr 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Have a boy and a girl, both grown, both awesome, both had their problems and have overcome them so far. Incredibly grateful to have them both.

  23. nicolec on 05 Apr 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    As I was waiting to board an airplane with my then 6 month old son, a mother, sitting with her 4yr old daughter, announced to me, “boys are the best”. Shocked and horrified that she just said that in front of her daughter (or at all), I said, “I imagine they are all wonderful regardless” to which she said, “boys love their moms more”. WTF?

    I’ll echo the general sentiment here, kids are kids. They all go through rough stages and they all have super cute, fun stages. I will say that I hear your thoughts on why a daughter might be easier to raise as a feminist. My husband and I are trying hard even now (he is only 15 months) to teach him that he has a right to establish physical boundaries in an attempt to teach him to respect them generally. I also worry that if he carries a doll and/or wears pink, for example, he will suffer teasing more than if he were a sporty girl etc. Blah.

  24. Historiann on 05 Apr 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    nicolec: eeewww! No wonder that particular boy might love his mom “more” than the daughter she dissed as part of her weird performance of her family for a complete stranger. I might hold it against my mother if she said stuff like that to complete strangers right in front of me. How sad, and unfair to a very little girl.

    (I woulnd’t have had the guts to point this out to said complete stranger myself, mind you. I probably would have smiled and nodded and looked away quickly, hoping that I was seated nowhere near this family.)

  25. Susan on 05 Apr 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    I’ve known several people who have — when children were older — admitted that they expected to have a child of a different sex (one woman said to me, “I am a woman, I assumed I would have daughters; then I had a son, and I thought, I have sons”. Her second child was also, in fact, a boy.) I always assumed that thinking this way — especially before widespread use of scans that would identify sex — was a way of trying to stay in control when you manifestly are not. All the people who have said this have also said they could not now imagine anything other than the child(ren) they had.

    @polarbearfan: When women express hostility to other women, isn’t that a manifestation of patriarchy? Women are raised in a patriarchal society, and are not free of patriarchal thinking.

  26. truffula on 05 Apr 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    the numerous problems associated with being biologically female.

    Problems?

  27. cellocat on 06 Apr 2012 at 12:53 am #

    I have a 3-year-old daughter, and am currently expecting twin girls in June. While my husband and I are horrified that we are going to be numerically outnumbered, we are even more horrified by the number of people who express pity for my husband, since the poor guy will be living in a household innundated by the X chromosome.

    When I was pregnant the first time I said, truthfully, that I didn’t care whether it was a girl or boy. I was already 40, and was just happy have a healthy pregnancy and child. Having had some fertility treatments this time, and having conceived without too much intervention despite pretty high odds against, I have felt even more gratitude for just simply being pregnant. The only gender-related thought I had was that the experience of being a mom to a boy was something I wouldn’t have, but that was less a real regret than just a recognition.

    I feel in my heart, soul, and mind the pain that girls and women can experience in our messed-up patriarchy, and I am sad that my daughters will inevitably run up against some of what I did. Indeed, having grown up in a liberal town in the 70′s, I think that their roads may be harder than mine was in certain ways. But it takes a determined blinder-wearing person, I think, to have a child and expect to avoid life’s risks by having a child of a certain sex. Pain comes to us all, regardless.

    I have also been shocked (though I shouldn’t have been surprised) by how early (at weeks old, if not prenatally) babies are stuck into narrow gender boxes by their parents, who never think about the harm they might be doing their kids when/if they don’t fit those boxes later.

  28. kimbrulee on 06 Apr 2012 at 6:27 am #

    I love that diagram – especially the “incorrect” way to nurse a baby!

    I’ve been thinking about these sorts of questions a lot lately and I have to say that I’m the same page as annajcook, cellocat, and others. Sex preferences seem anti-feminist and heteronormative precisely because they assume sex/gender/sexuality while the individual is still in the womb! It doesn’t help that I’m doing field research in a place where the 3rd, 4th, 5th girl in a family is actually _named_ something akin to “hope for a boy.” How’s that for being reminded of the patriarchy/feeling inadequate your whole life? (Especially if the child born after you is not a boy.) As my language teacher said, “But people would never name their 3rd or 4th boy something like ‘hope for a girl.’ Isn’t that interesting?”

    So far, it seems as if everyone has discussed biological children.. I’d be curious to know what role sex preferences play in adoption, especially domestic v. international.

  29. kimbrulee on 06 Apr 2012 at 6:32 am #

    That should read “they assume congruence between sex/gender/sexuality.” Oy.

  30. Perpetua on 06 Apr 2012 at 6:38 am #

    As @Susan’s friend commented – I assumed that I would have girls because I was a woman. The idea of sex-gender essentialism and the role of acculturization is powerful and subconscious. What I mean is that I assumed that I’d prefer a girl because I’m a woman and I could relate to a girl better. It’s amazing how deeply we can essentialize sex and gender. Of course in our patriarchal culture there IS a difference between boys and girls, in how they are treated and expected to behave. While I agree with H’ann’s point about non-conforming girls versus boys, I think that is *less* true than it used to be, with this insidious and dangerous princess-ification and pr0nification of increasingly young girls.

    In any event, I had a son, and I learned a lesson that I can’t believe I had to learn – that he was first and foremost a *human being* and his own self (meaning he was born with a unique selfhood and personality that had nothing to do with me). I remember in those early days of new motherhood being blissfully overwhelmed with the joy of his separate self-ness, and thinking he was absolutely perfect just as he was. Perfectly himself.

    When we found out that #2 was male as well, I did feel some sadness at not having the opportunity to experience a mother-daughter relationship. (I also had a brother and think of families as having two children, one boy one girl because that’s how I was raised.) But by then of course I knew better, that it didn’t really matter at all, that he would be perfectly himself just like his brother.

    But there is a profound assumption in our society that boys are like X and girls are like Y. I didn’t realize how deeply that strain went until I became the mother of same sex children and people assumed that my kids were the SAME because they both have penises. And was I going to try for a third to have a girl?

    I have to admit, I tend to be more troubled by men who proclaim, insist, demand, that they have sons. I’ve seen it a lot more than women expressing a preference, and I find it much creepier.

  31. Perpetua on 06 Apr 2012 at 6:43 am #

    Oh, and I just want to go back to @annajcook’s comment, because it was so wise (and much more articulate than mine), especially the last paragraph where she talks about laying assumptions for behavior on baby, especially this:

    “If you go in to parenthood expecting that having a child of X sex will mean your family life will look like Y, that’s laying a LOT of responsibility on the child to act according to your understanding of how female or male bodied persons will act.”

    Yes, yes, yes. Whenever a parent lays some gender essentializing bullsh*t comment on me (people often act stunned how boys turn out acting like “boys” and girls turn out acting like “girls” and attribute this to *biology* – they’re just different, I hear a lot), I think along @annajcook’s lines and how that child, probably from before it was born, was already being overwhelmed with messages about how it needed to behave in order to conform the family’s expectations.

  32. ntbw on 06 Apr 2012 at 7:24 am #

    I have two boys, and I love being their mom. Each time I was pregnant, though, all I wanted was a healthy kid, since we know almost no genetic history for my adopted husband and since I was considered an “elderly primagravida” (and by the time I had the second, I was 6 years more “elderly,” with some reproductive medical issues in my history to boot!).

    I think the point about gender nonconformity being easier with girls versus boys is right on. My older son was all about the princess dresses when he was in preschool and kindergarten, and luckily he was in a sweet group of kids in a very progressive school. But I lived in fear he would get teased mercilessly. Now he is looking at starting a public junior high in a place where football rules the world, and masculinity is defined in attendant terms. My son is a serious and dedicated gymnast, and gymnastics is typically seen as a “sport for girls” around here. I am really afraid he is looking at trouble with his public school peers. The only upside is he trains nearly 20 hours a week and so is probably stronger, and certainly faster, than most of the football players.

  33. TheoMaria on 06 Apr 2012 at 8:47 am #

    I have two lovely boys, and they’re now old enough that it’s clear I’m not going to have any more children . . . and I’ve been quite sad lately that I’ll never have a daughter. During both my pregnancies, I mostly wanted just-a-baby–but the dream of my heart was a girl I could name after my late mother. There’s been talk about mother-daughter relationships influencing whether women want girls, but it would be interesting to throw that dynamic (is mom living or dead?) into the works: I had a completely terrible relationship with my mom, mostly because she was horrifically ill (both physically and mentally) for most of my life, but because she was dead, I very much wanted to be able to continue the female line in our family. I have a photograph of my mother as a toddler, with her mother, her mother’s mother, and her great-grandmother–it’s an amazing picture. My grandmother died before I was born, and so once my mother died I was the oldest woman in my family–I suppose it’s not surprising that I wanted to not be “the end of the line,” so to speak . . .

  34. ej on 06 Apr 2012 at 9:19 am #

    It is interesting to me that so many of people who admitted to a preference pre-birth based that view on the relationship they expected to have with their child, a relationship the expected to be determined largely by gender. I have a boy and a girl, and my relationship with each is very, very different. But I don’t think it has anything to do with sex or gender. It is so much more contingent upon circumstances. Mu husband and I basically split child care with our first, and in times of distress, he is her go to person. I stayed home for 6 months with my second, which is why I think I am his go to person. And that just isolates one major difference which influences my relationship with each of them. I can’t imagine how many other factors play in, distinct from gender and biology.

  35. Comradde PhysioProffe on 06 Apr 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Erin KLG sounds like a judgmental meddlesome fucken assehole who should mind her own fucken business about other people’s preferences. And who gives a fucken shitte anyway what sex/gender child other parents prefer? It’s not like they can do anything about it once they have the child, and unless they are evil motherfuckers, they are gonna love their child regardless of its sex/gender.

  36. Historiann on 06 Apr 2012 at 11:57 am #

    I don’t think that’s fair. If people are so free to express their relief at not having a daughter, then why shouldn’t she express her concerns about how this looks from a feminist viewpoint?

    If expectant parents don’t want to hear opinions about their preferences, perhaps they should keep their preferences to themselves instead of going on the fB with their ideas.

  37. Dr. Virago on 06 Apr 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Back when I was younger and I thought about having children (I married someone who was emphatically too pessimistic about the world to want *any* children, and I was always on the fence anyway), I thought I wanted at least one boy because I wanted to raise a feminist man, and thought the world needed more of those. But as @annajcook points out, “that’s laying a LOT of responsibility on the child.” Perhaps it’s a good thing I didn’t have kids after all.

  38. Comradde PhysioProffe on 06 Apr 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Oh, I didn’t realize this was a facebooke thing. I thought she was referring to people who are just expressing a preference in personal conversation.

  39. Historiann on 06 Apr 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    No–she wrote a meta-analysis/commentary about the preferences she sees among her fB friends for having boys, and critiqueing their reasons for not wanting daughters.

    Dr. Virago: I don’t think it’s laying too much of a trip on a child to raise hir as a feminist. That seems to me to be integral to raising a good and thoughtful child. (That is, we can go too far down the road of “let the child be whomever ze wants to be!” Virtues like patience and sharing are very much learned virtues rather than innate.)

    At least, *I* think it’s perfectly fine to beat feminist civilization into children. Others will disagree!

  40. Emily on 06 Apr 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    In families with several children (3 or more) that I know, when they are having their 3rd or 4th, etc. they sometimes families with only one of one gender (say 1 boy and 2 girls) would wish for a boy so that their boy can have a brother — they want that type of relationship for their son. Or vice versa — want their daughter to have the opportunity to have a sister.

    Like other commenters have pointed out — this type of reasoning does somewhat subscribe to the idea that all girls/sisters or boys/brothers are identical and not individual. But, I find this type of reasoning less problematic.

  41. Sarabeth on 06 Apr 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    I mostly find this interesting because it’s exactly the opposite of what I see around me. All of my female friends seem to want girls. I’ll admit to having this feeling as well, though I then also feel guilty for the desire. For me, it’s mostly that I think that any child is going to have to deal with messed-up gender expectations, but I have a better sense of what those issues are likely to look like for a girl, and so I feel better equipped to help a hypothetical daughter navigate them.

  42. wrs on 07 Apr 2012 at 9:38 am #

    My partner and I adopted our child 15 months ago, domestically We were told by our social worker when we were going through the paperwork that many more potential adoptive parents prefer girls (to the point of saying they only want girls). Given that most adoptions through this particular program are transracial adoptions–white parents of kids of color– I assumed it might be skewed that way, given society’s racist outlook on men of color. But the social worker insisted this is true in almost every adoptive situation and that it is much harder to place boys…

    I find the whole sex preference thing disturbing for all the reasons outlined above.

  43. Historiann on 07 Apr 2012 at 10:08 am #

    wrs: the adoptive preference for girls you report is so interesting. I wonder if that rests on a lot of gendered assumptions about girls being more pliable/trainable/malleable/tractable than boys?

    From the elementary school set ’round these parts:
    Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider
    Girls go to college to get more knowledge

  44. Indyanna on 07 Apr 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Is that a skip-rope classic now?!? How ’bout: “Boys go to Pluto to get more u-know.” (Sorry, can’t do the eye-talics part).

    Correction (way) upthread: “…you go to {life} with the kids you have…” And yea, invoking D. Rumsfeld in refined precincts like these is pretty declasse and more stupider. We have a saying ’round here: “brain dead by April.” I even forgot to go to a *class* on Thursday!

  45. rustonite on 07 Apr 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    two thoughts.

    (1) I thank the great sky demon every day that I was born white and male, but curse him for not giving me blue eyes. It has made my life infinitely easier (and also much more difficult, stupid brown eyes.)

    (2) Acknowledging that the world sucks for people who are darker and less penis-y, and wishing our children who lack light skin and penises would have easier times, is ok- as long as it’s not an excuse for not fighting for more opportunity for the un-penised and not white.

  46. Canuck Down South on 07 Apr 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    I’m coming late to this conversation, but I found it very interesting, largely because (and I kid you not), I presently know over half a dozen people who are having kids this year, and for most of them it’s their first child…2012 must be a baby boom year. I wanted to draw out the parenthesis in Perpetua’s 6:38 am comment: every pregnant women with whom I’ve had the “So, do you know what you’re having?” conversation has commented that what she thinks she’ll have is the same as the family she grew up with–that is, women who grew up in a family with a girl first initially assume they’ll have a girl first, whether or not that actually happens. From these few anecdotes, a lot of people do seem to assume that their children will be a recreation of their parents’ family structure. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because that structure is familiar and therefore comfortable.

  47. m Andrea on 08 Apr 2012 at 6:53 am #

    This was an amazingly thoughtful post, thank you, and yet it makes me loath humanity more than ever. This is 2012, after all. Because I was afraid of the answers for all of the reasons Historianne outlined above, I’ve never asked if anybody wanted a boy or a girl but this post has inspired me to start AND to be more precise:

    “Ah, so you’re preggies, congratulations! Do you want a dominator or a submissive gender conforming child?”

  48. Ruth on 08 Apr 2012 at 11:01 am #

    When my kids were little it was:

    “Girls go to Mars, to be super stars;
    Boys go to Jupiter, to get more stupider.”

    Let’s not think about what they get if they go to Venus.

    In fact, CDS, this is going to be a very big baby boom year globally. It’s the Year of the Dragon, which is a very auspicious year to have children for those who pay attention to the Chinese calendar; there have been news stories about the marriage rate being way up in China last year so that they could have a dragon baby. And given what a high percentage of the global population is Chinese . . .

    Finally, an article from the NYT this morning, about a new trend, the “gender-reveal party.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/fashion/at-parties-revealing-a-babys-gender.html?_r=1&ref=style I have not heard of this happening and this may be one of those bogus Times trend stories, but anyway, what they say is that people get the results of their prenatal test in a sealed envelope and give it to a baker, who then bakes a pink or blue cake, and the couple has a big party and when they cut the cake they find out what they’re having. Combine the public reveal with a preference for one gender over the other and this could get really toxic, really quickly.

  49. Indyanna on 08 Apr 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    I hope it’s one of those aptly-named “bogus Times trend stories.” Pretty soon they’ll announce a wacky “Talk to the Reporters Event” in the auditorium at the Times building for $100 a head, with a VIP room premium price to have brunch with a “Real-Reveal” ™ couple. Do people *really* “live-post their ride to the hospital via Instagram?” This almost seems like a parody of the embrace-of-dramaturgy by the social media generation. Can you become “mayor of gender reveal” if you check in from twenty or thirty of these things in a given year? I’m sure this stuff is no weirder than some of the low tech but equally narcissitic customs prevalent during the baby boom years, but it gets a big “ugh” from me.

  50. truffula on 08 Apr 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Ha! My kids and I saw that gender reveal story-it was hanging on the wall at the pizza place, along with the other sections of the paper. We moved on to a discussion of assassinations ( JFK was the illustration for some stupid Ross Douthat column). Going anywhere with my kids turns into a test of my history fact knowledge.

  51. Perpetua on 09 Apr 2012 at 6:12 am #

    @ Ruth and @Indyana – alas no! I have actually seen these “gender reveal!” parties showing up on my facebook thread. There were cupcakes with the reveal inside somehow. I don’t know. They make me throw up in my mouth a little bit. First of, sex not gender, folks! But mostly, how creepy is it to make such a big deal out of a fetus’s sex organs? We found out our babies’ sex, mostly to help us decide a name and because we couldn’t think of any compelling reason to wait but I can’t imagine trying to make people excited about a faux reveal! (Also, dear facebook acquaintances who also made a huge deal out of your big fat heteronormative wedding, you are really not that important.) The whole thing is super disturbing.

  52. Historiann on 09 Apr 2012 at 8:06 am #

    But mostly, how creepy is it to make such a big deal out of a fetus’s sex organs?

    I agree with you that it shouldn’t matter, but it matters a great deal. Sex identity is intrinsic to our notions of humanity, so of course it’s a big deal. I’m sure many if not most of you who have lived in big cities have been on subways or public spaces in which trans people have been ridiculed. I remember one incident distinctly, in which some young men were trying to humiliate/intimidate a transwoman by asking in loud stage voices, “What is IT? Is IT a man or a woman?” Pronouns make us persons rather than objects, and those young men were clearly objectifying her by calling her an IT.

    I think too that for a lot of expectant parents, knowing the sex of the fetus is important for imagining more about the child. Again, yes, children are individuals and most probably won’t live up to their parents’ wild sex-specific fantasies, but still: it’s difficult to individualize a child (for example, by choosing a name) if you don’t know the sex, as most (although not all) names in our culture tend to be sex-specific.

  53. comparatrice on 10 Apr 2012 at 8:10 am #

    People around me seem to be much more like Historiann’s friends in the OP than like the boy-preferrers. When I was pregnant, I told people only that I was irrationally afraid of having a boy, because he would kick me in the shins and tell me girls are stupid and vindicate every bit of self-hating misogyny that I possess; alternately, he would just be Stewie from Family Guy. I hadn’t spent a lot of time around babies, so Stewie seemed plausible. I also had marginally more confidence that I could navigate the gender-role minefield with a girl than with a boy. My family was full of girls, so I had more sense of them as differentiated individuals than I did with boys — masculinity was super-mystified for me. The idea of stating any of this as a rational preference, with pride and composure, on Facebook, is completely alien to me. Are other people more likely to transmute fears and fantasies into “positive preference” than I was? I mean, the main thing we “preferred” was that our kid would not have needs that it would be practically and emotionally difficult for us to meet, all things being equal. Most gender-related needs, other than “profound misogyny/misandry,” seem like things we can probably handle. A really extroverted, hyperactive, insomniac kid who is indifferent to books would be a bigger challenge, but that’s all it would be — a challenge.

    Fundamentally, though, I don’t understand what it is that women who prefer to have boys are preferring. That is, I know what they say, but I don’t understand how the fantasy is *experienced*.

  54. Historiann on 10 Apr 2012 at 8:15 am #

    I wonder if the women that Erin KLG discusses are the type who instinctively look for male approval, and will do so even from their infant and toddler sons.

    Creepy. But at least we have confirmation as to where male supremacy comes from, I suppose. It’s all in the training.

  55. comparatrice on 10 Apr 2012 at 9:22 am #

    the type who instinctively look for male approval, and will do so even from their infant and toddler sons.

    Yeah, my vague theory was some expression of extreme heterosexuality. I kinda wish they offered classes in Straightness Studies, because there is a lot that I just don’t get…

  56. MsMcD on 12 Apr 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    So I’m really late to this post, and don’t know if anyone will see it, but I wanted to add my two cents to the conversation.

    I’m currently pregnant with my first, due in 3 weeks (!) and do not know the sex of the baby. I decided not to find out because I wanted to get to know my child without imposing too many gender-specific expectations on hir before ze was even born. Most of my friends have been impressed that I went this route- many respond “I could never have done that.” No idea why not.

    I am part of a pregnancy board. It’s one of the most democratic experiences of my life. There are women and some men from every walk of life and all over the world. They range from very wealthy to very poor, from age 13(!) to mid-40s. All colors, religious persuasions and general life situations. The only thing we have in common is that we are expecting a child in May 2012. From conversations with them (which has been incredibly eye-opening) I have discovered that many women don’t care about the sex of their baby, but that SOME do. They are often criticized for their preference; other women remind them that they should be grateful to have a healthy child. Other women offer solace and a reminder that they will learn to love that child no matter what. So, I can surmise that sex-preference is a real thing, but not generally acceptable. Most women seemed thrilled about the sex of their baby. However you can find support groups for those women who are unhappy with it. AND there is a large market for those who want to pre-determine the sex of their next baby.

    Oh, and gender-reveal parties are a real thing, although not common.

    On a side note, I have successfully introduced hir and ze into my university’s Faculty Senate Constitution.

  57. Tuesday Teasers: Stuff I’ve Been Reading [#7] - The Pursuit of Harpyness on 17 Apr 2012 at 5:00 am #

    [...] | Sex preferences among expectant parents: are they antifeminist? Interesting conversation in the comment [...]

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