Of weakness and disappointment; for what woman
wants a girl for her first-born? They took the child from
me. Kali said: “Never mind. There will be many later
On. You have plenty of time”
To our modern sensibility, the ancient Greeks understanding of procreation is as far reaching as say Nordstrom’s may be to any dollar store. To the Greeks, men’s testicles had a particular function or job to fulfill: the left one produced girls with the right one producing boys. For Aristotle, if you were willing to “man-up” and take the pain, tie off your left testicle during intercourse in order to insure the birth of a son. In this formula, if something were to go wrong, even though you followed the correct game plan and a girl was born instead of the hope for son, something obviously went wrong at conception, thus the term “The Misbegotten Male,”i.e. a daughter, as the misbegotten.
In her recent article, “Where Have All the Girls Gone?” science journalist Mara Hvistendahl questions how more than 160 million women go missing from Asia? In 2008, the AIDS virus claimed 25 million worldwide, while the HIV virus garnered one-fourth of global spending on health with its own UN agency. Sex selection alone has claimed over 160 million potential girls/women in Asia alone. To date, 160 million is more than the entire female population in the U.S. This data is a reflection of the past 30 years of research into the sex-selection and abortion of females.
The culprit for this large imbalance of boys to girls ration, claims French demographer Christophe Guilmoto is technology, or rather the use of an inexpensive ultrasound used by pregnant women as a means of sex determination. Women are, in record numbers, aborting female fetuses. In Hvistendahl’s initial research for her book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World full of Men, she relied on her initial thesis that gender discrimination was by and large due to a lack opportunity, “The best way to convince couples to have girls,” argued Hvistendahl, “is to improve the status of women by boosting opportunities for education and career advancement.” While this is part of the solution, this does not complete the picture.
As countries gain wealth, social scientist believed the status of girls and women would improve as their country moved farther along the economic grid of development. But this has not necessarily proven to be true. Geographical variations have given some insight. For example, the following countries have abnormal sex birth ratios: East Asia (China, Taiwan,Singapore and Vietnam), South Asia (India and Pakistan), and West Asia (Armenia,Azerbaijan, and Georgia). Sex selection occurred among Hindus, Muslims and Christians; “among ethnic and political rivals; in economic powerhouses and in countries just on the cusp of development.” In other words, while parents in nearly all cultures say they prefer boys, not all countries participate in sex selection. Demographer Guilmoto has arrived at three common threads that unite countries with gender imbalances:
1. The countries where sex selection is occurring are developing rapidly with sophisticated health care systems making use of prenatal screening.
2. The practice of abortion is pervasive, with high use of it as a contraception method.
3. Most affected countries have recently experienced a drop in fertility.
Additionally, Guilmoto found sex selection highest among urban, educated couples. This makes sense given the cost of accessing prenatal screening with the option of an ultrasound.
Coercive use of abortion by men does exist, but in comparatively smaller numbers. By and large the abortions are the desire of the pregnant woman or her mother-in-law as a means of up grading her sons status. According to Reproductive Health Matters, “For women attempting to have a son and experiencing pressure to fulfill their ‘womanly duty’ by having a male child, sex-selection abortion an be extremely empowering.” Having a son increases a couples street cred, “A son is crucial to keeping up appearances” explains a woman who has aborted two females, “If you don’t have a boy, you lose face.”
I find the tension between pro-choice and anti-abortion presented here by Hivistendahl to be compelling. On the one hand, Western rhetoric (while politically adrift) has supported a woman’s right to choose, to have self-determination over her own body when it comes to reproductive rights. By objecting to sex-selection abortion, has Hvistendahl wanted it both ways? Do we (those under Western eyes), deny the same right to our transnational sisters or do we qualify the particulars under which women may seek abortion? Or, as Mary Daly would argue, have these women been co-opted by patriarchy into believing maleness trumps femaleness by a disproportionate abortion rate of females? States Daly,
Women are [also] spooked by other women who act as instrumental
agents for patriarchal males, concurring, with varying degrees of
conscious complicity, [in all of the above tactics.]*
I am always saddened when I hear the desire of a pregnant woman to have a son before a daughter. Why is this? Even in those developing countries where the birth of a daughter will be an expense due to her dowry, by-and-large it will be the daughter who cares for the aged parents, not the sons. While our understanding of reproductive biology informs the scientific explanation for sex determination, why is it the desire for maleness first seems to capture our sensibilities? If, as the proverb states, Women Hold Up Half the Sky, then the last thirty year trajectory of male sex-selection, has, as Hvistendahl argues, the sky sagging.
*Mary Daly: GynEcology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, p. 317.
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