A friend of mine recently found out she was pregnant. When I asked her if she was going to find out the sex of the baby she said no. It didn’t matter to her whether she was having a boy or girl and she wanted to be surprised.
For other women, the desire for a boy or girl is so overwhelming that they will go to great measures to ensure their deserved sex is conceived. If mother nature has other plans for the couple, some women are so disappointed and unhappy with their child’s sex that they are unable to recover.
This new trend among expectant mothers has been coined “gender disappointment.” Elle magazine recently ran an article on the issue that is sprinkled with anecdotes of women whose desperation for girls is so strong that they go to great measures to ensure a baby girl is conceived. These women use a range of sex selection methods from folk remedies like douching with vinegar and sleeping with a lime-soaked tampon to lower vaginal pH levels to favor girls, or sperm-sorting and spinning methods to separate faster-swimming boy-producing sperm from slower-swimming girl-producing sperm, and even in vitro fertilization of sex determined embryos. If these methods fail some women are so disappointed that they consider terminating their pregnancies or giving their children up for adoption.
MicroSort and the Ericsson method are two popular sperm-sorting and spinning methods that couples turn to for conceiving a girl. Seventy-one percent of families who use MicroSort want a daughter. For the Ericsson the ratio of girl-to-boy requests is as high as two to one at licensed clinics.
Why the greater preference for girls over boys? Elle’s explanation is puzzling:
“Women envision a brighter future for their daughters than they do for their sons. Boys are practically the underdogs these days, having fallen behind girls on nearly every measure of academic achievement, from college attendance to high school graduation rates. According to books such as The War Against Boys and Boys Adrift, they are in danger of becoming, as Christina Hoff Sommers has written, ‘tomorrow’s second sex.’”
With women still suffering from pay inequity, rape, domestic violence, etc. this assessment gives me pause. Do mothers really prefer girls because they “envision a brighter future for their daughters?”
This is a difficult question to answer, especially because the mothers interviewed for Elle’s story don’t talk about their potential daughter’s brighter future as a reason for their preference (or at least the author doesn’t include this information). The women in the article talk about ballet recitals, tea parties, doll houses, manicures and, of course, pink paraphernalia of all sorts – pink, pink, pink! When their daughters don’t live up to this ultra feminine ideal, which was the case for one of the women in the story, some mothers find themselves severely disappointed all over again. They may have a daughter, but not the daughter they envisioned.
The obsession for girls that these women experience stems from our culture’s socially constructed definition of what it means to be a girl. When mothers hope for a daughter – one that lives up to our culture’s gender stereotypes – it puts pressure on little girls to conform to this ideal. If and when they don’t, “gender disappointment” rears its ugly head. What if the little girl they dreamed about turns out to be a tomboy or ends up being a lesbian? How will mother’s react to this news? What if the mother has a boy? Will she be able to get past her preference for a girl?
I am not a mother, but I understand the desire to have both boys and girls. I’ve always thought that I would have a boy and a girl so I could experience both the mother / daughter and mother / son relationship. I’m sure many women have a preference one way or another, but it’s the extent to which this preference affects a mother’s relationship with their child that is most important. I am sure the women in this article love their children, but am worried about the negative consequences of “gender disappointment” on their children.
Sex selection is a controversial issue in and of itself and the new trend of “gender disappointment” only further complicates matters. We need to learn more about “gender disappointment” so that mothers can learn to accept their children regardless of their sex and children – both girls and boys – can grow up to be who they want to be regardless of their gender.