China’s Gender Bias—and Mine

China Sex and Age Distribution

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Database, 2010 Estimates

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

World Sex and Age Distribution

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Database, 2010 Estimates

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?

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at

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15 Responses

  1. MJK says:

    If it helps, I *very* much wanted our first to be a boy, as did my husband. And he was. I felt a little guilty about having a strong preference, but in the end I knew that regardless of what I thought, Heavenly Father would send me a spirit I would love wholeheartedly. It’s not like I would have loved a daughter any less than a son. And since it wasn’t my choice, I didn’t think it hurt anything to have an opinion.

    Now we’re contemplating #2, and I’m not sure what I feel this time. I could easily go either way.

  2. If/When we get to adopting, we’re likely to get a girl. Not because we prefer girls, but because we have 4 boys and 1 girl in our family now. Granted, its going to be a few years yet, but now I’m thinking that a “few years” isn’t all that far away. I think, no matter what the timing, the ultimate decision on the gender of the child we adopt will be from prayer by both of us, individually.

    I think its ok to have a preference. Most of us do. The hard part is letting go of our own preference when something else is telling us it should be different.

    Glad the pregnancy is going well – dealing with infertility can be tough.

  3. PrivacyYay! says:

    “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?”

    To be fair to you, I’ve read research reports that say that in America, as adults, daughters are more likely to emotionally/financially support a mother in distress (or just plain have a relationship with her) than sons. So maybe without even thinking it all the way through, you are aware that in our culture girls are more of a sound investment.

    • Mhana says:

      That was along the lines of what I was thinking. When my grandma was dying she clutched at my sister-in-law (who has two sons) and informed her how important it is to have daughters, because they take care of you. And it was true. My grandma lived with my aunt for the last 15 years of her life, and my aunt oversaw and helped finance around-the-clock care for her for the last six months. My mother frequently flies to care for her ailing mother. I call my mother several times a week to check in and see how she is doing, and I write to my grandmother. While my father, my uncle and my brother made some gestures in these care-for-your-elders relationships, they were not (and are not) carrying most of the burden, nor are they terribly proactive about it. I know this is anecdotal, and I also know that it is selfish and not really something you can count on, but I’ve often thought I want a daughter so that when I am old I’ll still have those close family relationships I crave, that I am quite certain my brother will not fill.

      The question for me is why? Is it just a cultural assumption that girls will do the caring? Do boys not see male models doing that? Why do we assume (and it is often the case though by no means always) that women will care for the elderly?

      I sort of dread the point when my parents and parents-in-law hit that “can’t do it alone” stage. My husband has only brothers, none of whom are married. I’m not sure I can take care of everyone.

      I also want girls. But am becoming reconciled to how much fun boys can be.

  4. Jessawhy says:

    Oh this is just such good (or bad) timing.

    I’ve finally realized I’m not having any more kids and having 3 boys is hard for me. I wanted each of them to be a girl. When the last was a boy it took me a good year to accept that he was a boy and by okay with it. I know it sounds horrible, he was my first baby with out hemophilia, so I was grateful for that, but I was still disappointed. My dad is the youngest of 4 boys and they do not take good care of their mom (and neither does their dad, maybe that’s part of the problem). We considered sperm sorting and got part way through the process before we lost interest. I’m concerned about passing my status as carrier of hemophilia to a potential daughter. It’s hard to deal with carrying a chronic disease and I wouldn’t want her to deal with that as I have. That’s really the why I decided to not try for another girl.

  5. LovelyLauren says:

    I’m a few years away from having any children and I am already feeling guilty about wanting a girl. I am an oldest daughter and so is my mother and we have a really close relationship. I always wanted that with my own daughter. I also know that my grandma was there for all of my mom’s births and my mom will be there for all of mine and I want to be there to help my own daughter through that process. That’s just not something I can envision with a son.

    I just have always wanted a girl first because then I would know and not have to be hoping during subsequent pregnancies. None of this will happen until a few years down the road, but I’m already twitchy about my gender preference.

  6. jks says:

    Many things might go into your personal gender bias. If you already have a few children, your previous experiences can factor in. If you have a difficult child, you might want the other gender because you think they are less likely to have the disease/disability/disorder/personality quirks. If you have a child who is unusually amazing or who you bonded with easily you might want another just like that child vs. if you had a child you didn’t bond with easily. If you feel one of your other children needs a buddy it can influence you. If you don’t want other people comparing your children to each other you can wish for a different gender. If you have plenty of one gender and are missing the other you might really want one of the other. If you don’t want other people comparing your child to your husband you might not want a boy. If you think your husband has higher expectations of a certain gender you might want to avoid that. In unique situations like yours you might feel more comfortable with the idea of daughters for your own sake or for your husband’s sake.
    I am very happy I have both genders. I would have felt a loss if I hadn’t had at least one of each. I did really hope my third wasn’t a boy because I worried about the comparison between my 2nd and 3rd, I also worried about having another child with the same issues (boys are more likely to have learning disorders). I was pretty much holding my breath and we waited to find out until birth and I was so happy to know it was a girl. With our 4th we only had room in the house to put him in with big brother so we thought we’d be up a creek if it turned out to be a girl. Kind of funny when bedroom space is the issue but seriously, we couldn’t put three girls in the girls room so it would have been difficult if we had had another girl.
    I’m glad I have two girls but part of me worried about having them because I knew they would be 6 feet tall, and I worried that they might look like football players. Boys with those genes–not a problem. Girls with those genes–its a problem. My son is 12 and he is enjoying being tall. Such a foreign concept to me. Age 12 is when my daughter starting slumping and having poor posture. It is normal to imagine certain futures for your children and not want them to have to deal with difficult stuff.

  7. Emily U says:

    I think it’s pretty common to have a preference for one sex or the other, then to find out at the ultrasound and be a bit disappointed. I think it’s equally common to be happy with the baby’s sex once s/he is born, and wonder how you could ever have wanted anything else.

  8. Caroline says:

    Great post, April. I totally understand where you are coming from. 6 months ago or so, I was disappointed to learn that I was having a boy. A few factors went into this — I didn’t want to fight with my husband about the circumcision. I wanted a little sister friend for my daughter. My daughter was easier than my son, so I figured I’d have a better chance of having an easier time with another girl. And so on. But now that he’s here, I’m totally in love, of course. He’s absolutely perfect and proving to be the best, easiest baby I could ever have imagined. I imagine there’s a good chance you’ll similarly fall in love and have no feelings of disappointment when you meet him.

    I think your last few questions are great ones. There probably is a part of me that does assume that I’ll have a better chance at having a close relationship with an adult daughter than son. Also, in my family, almost all the unpaid care work is done by women, so I might be harboring some belief that my daughter will come visit me more when I’m super old than my sons. I think Mormon culture contributes to this dynamic. With women encouraged to be stay at home moms and men the bread winners, of course women often take on the majority of unpaid care work.

  9. Miri says:

    I love the questions you’re asking about this. Maybe this is naive of me, but I can’t help thinking that this is another way eradicating gender stereotypes/roles would make life happier for people. What are you hoping to get from a daughter that you don’t think you can get from a son? Painting nails and “girl talk” and shopping and sharing clothes? Well, the sharing clothes, maybe. But all those other things you could do if your son were raised in an environment that doesn’t tell him what he is and isn’t allowed to like, what traits he can and cannot exhibit.

    Maybe girls are more likely on a large scale to take care of their parents, but whether or not your son will do it is totally dependent on your relationship with him and the circumstances in his own life. Maybe mothers and daughters can generally have a different relationship than mothers and sons, but that isn’t always the case and it doesn’t have to be for you. Maybe if we could let people be who they are, instead of putting them into molds, people would be able to value others equally. We wouldn’t need to look at gender first to figure out on what basis we’re going to relate to people.

    (And I’m not at all condemning you for these feelings—I think everyone probably has them given the way we separate our expectations based on gender. I used to desperately want a son first, because I’m an oldest child and always wished I’d had a big brother, and I wanted my daughters to have that. To have someone looking out for them, a guy who could get upset when other guys disrespected her and make her feel special. Now I’m not sure what I’ll want, but that’s a very recent development.)

  10. Me says:

    After my mother had four boys, when I was born (female), my mother said; “I would have taken a boy!”

  11. MJK says:

    Wow am I the only one who is terrified to raise a girl? Give me boys!

  12. Anthony Zarat says:

    “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. ”

    I admire your courage in dealing with your problem openly and honestly. Feminist inspired dehumanization of men, boys, and fathers has become such an integral part of the Western identity that feelings of rejection for boys are nearly universal. This probably playes a role in the declining personal and professional outcomes faced by boys.

    I advise you to adhere strictly to a pseudonym for this important discussion. Your son will read your words sooner than you think, and it will have a devastating impact on him.

    • April says:

      It is because I am a feminist, or in other words, a gender equity advocate, that I actively seek to identify and eliminate any gender biases (male and female) that I may have. Feminism is about gender equity. It is not about dehumanization of men. The only professional and personal outcomes that feminists seeks to reduce for men are those that come about by means of prejudice against and subjugation of women.

  13. Rachel says:

    My mother first gave birth to a son, and then another son. It was the days before people found out the sex beforehand, and when he came out she cried and cried, thinking she would never have daughters. Luckily for her, she then had four girls in a row (of which I am the last). But, of course by that time, she wanted another boy. When my younger brother was born, instead of the doctor announcing, “It’s a boy!” he announced, “It’s Sam!” (the name he knew my mother planned to name a son).

    For many years I have stated that I would like more boys than girls, partially because I assume boys are easier than girls in the high school/prom years, but my assumptions could be grossly misled. Now I would like to have girls (but really both), mostly because my husband is expected to name his first son a name that I don’t particularly care for.

    I trust with Caroline that when the baby comes, you will fall in love, and he will be yours.

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