China’s Gender Bias—and Mine
I’ve learned the gender of my unborn child via ultrasound. If I lived in China or India, such a procedure would be illegal, due to unsuccessful attempts by these governments to curb gender selective abortion and obtain an even ratio of men and women. 1
Naturally, the human population maintains a fairly equal balance of males and females. More boys are born than girls, but women tend to live longer than men. This pattern usually results in slightly more boys than girls in the younger population, more women than men in the elderly population, and a close gender ratio among the population as a whole. 2
However, we can unnaturally affect this balance. China is a prime example of how this can be done. Like several other cultures, the Chinese culture values sons over daughters. In 1979, the Chinese government imposed sanctions on most families that have more than one child. Many Chinese families are highly motivated to ensure that their child is a boy. Through gender selective abortion, giving up female infants for adoption, and abandonment or murder of infant girls, the Chinese population has become more male than female, especially among those born since the one child policy began. 3,4,5
The first cohort of children born since this policy came to be is now a population of young adults. The excessive proportion of males in China is leading to more than general frustration with the inability of many men to find female mates. Too many males has been linked to rising crime rates, particularly human trafficking of women sought as enslaved wives or prostitutes. 3,4,6
Here in the United States, we’re above all that gender preferential nonsense…or are we?
As I mentioned before, I recently learned the gender of my own unborn child. I was disappointed to learn that he is a boy. I was hoping for a girl.
As an American, I am not alone in my preference for a girl. In circumstances where parents can choose the gender of their child, such as through certain kinds of adoption or in vitro fertilization with preimplantation genetic diagnosis, American parents overwhelmingly choose to have a daughter over a son. 7
Mara Hvistendahl, author of Unnatural Selection, raises questions about the ethics of sex selection, even when performed through the comparatively benign, American methods of assisted reproduction:
That said, selecting for sex — or any other quality — is different from a woman’s decision not to carry a pregnancy to term. When parents choose to have a child because he is male, they may do so with the expectation that their son will turn out to be an upstanding heir or that he will carry on the family line. Or, should they want a girl, they may be seeking a child who enjoys wearing pink dresses and playing with dolls. Ethically, this is worlds apart from a woman’s choice not to continue a pregnancy — or not to get pregnant in the first place. One is the decision of a woman considering her own body. The other involves the creation of a new human being — and expectations for how that human being will turn out. 8
I will not criticize parents for using reproductive technology to influence the outcomes of their pregnancies—my husband and I used reproductive technology to prevent passing on some serious chronic illnesses to our children. Moreover, as I work to overcome my disappointment that my unborn child is not a girl, I must confess to feeling some jealousy toward those parents who went a step further than we did and also ensured that their child would be of their preferred gender.
Yet, even though I haven’t done anything to influence the gender of my child, Hvistendahl’s words haunt me. I believe I will get over my disappointment and love my baby even though he isn’t the daughter I had hoped for. Yet I wonder, what are my expectations for my child? What is it that I was hoping to get from a daughter, that I do not believe I can get from a son? Which gender stereotypes am I clinging to, that cause me to have such preferences?