Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gender: I Did Not Want to Have a Son

Did you read my guest post at TouchstoneZ yesterday?

I wrote with honesty and anguish about how disappointed I was when I found out that my 4th babe was a boy. I had 3 daughters; I wanted 4 daughters. I had my reasons.

If you want to invite complete strangers to say completely stupid things to you, here's what you do: go out in public accompanied by your three girlie-girl daughters while you're visibly pregnant. Every comment is a variation on the same theme.

Is this one a boy?
Not another girl, I hope.
Still trying for a boy?
It's a boy, right?
I hope you get your boy this time!

Good grief. It made me want to scream.

First of all, there was the fact that it was none of their business. Even if I had  known the gender of my baby, why would I have shared that information with every passing stranger? But the entire issue is so much bigger than people who stick their noses in where it doesn't belong.

To start with, in my opinion, the only reason for any couple to have another child is because they genuinely want to nurture, love and enjoy a new person in their family. Period. Trying for one gender or the other is a pretty negative way to create new life, because no matter what people say, they are likely to be disappointed if they don't get what they want.

But this issue of BOYS is really frustrating to me. I don't understand how we can live in the 21st century where discrimination on the basis of gender is supposed to be a thing of the past, and yet Joe Q. Public still thinks that any family with 3 girls is incomplete without adding a boy. Frankly, I'm aghast. Isn't the entire notion of gender completely old fashioned? Shouldn't people feel as stupid about wishing me a boy as they would about wishing me a new washboard? And it's not just that people wanted me to have a boy--they wanted me to want a boy. Even people who I consider to be friends said that I needed to experience a boy. What does that even mean? I can't think of anything about raising a boy that I would do differently from the way we are raising our girls.

I can't even begin to explain how much gender does not matter to Partner-Guy and I. Every child born into this family is raised with the same values and expectations. Gender is so irrelevant. The experts agree that there is much more variation within the sexes than between them. Further to that, all fetuses begin as females and at about 8 weeks gestation the presence of testosterone determines whether or not the tiny sacs in the pelvis descend and become testicles or ascend and become ovaries. So what I've always said is actually true: a boy is just a girl who's a boy.

It bears repeating: a boy is just a girl who's a boy. It is primarily parents who create gender associations in children, which is to say that parents tend to ascribe what they consider to be 'boy attributes' to boys and 'girl attributes' to girls. Where parental stereotypes leave off, society and the culture of schools fill in the gaps to make sure that boys are boys and girls are girls. Just try to buy clothing for a boy toddler that doesn't have a truck or a superhero or an aggressive animal like a dinosaur on it.

I've noticed for years that almost every mother of a son under the age of 12 calls him 'Bud' or 'Buddy' as a term of endearment yet I've never heard a mother call her daughter 'Girlfriend' or 'Gal Pal'. Why? What is there about the way mothers relate to sons that makes 'Buddy' an appropriate nickname? I think if parents expect a boy to be different from a girl, he will be. I expect each of my children to be unique and to desire to individuate. Why would I look for ways that my son was different from my daughters any more than I look for ways that my daughters differ from each other? And why do people assume that Partner-Guy naturally desires a son? Does a Dad need a son to feel fulfilled? Not the dad at our house!

The result of all this attention and pressure on us to want a boy is that we actually became hostile to the idea of having a son. I didn't even want to compose a birth announcement that said "It's a boy!" because it seemed to imply that we were somehow more delighted with a son than with another daughter. I was actaully terrified of the stupid comments I got when I went out in public with my infant son. "Oh, you finally got your boy!" some idiot would say, and I'd be forced to come up with an answer that doesn't insult my son while also standing up for my daughters. Nothing comes to mind except "Your comment offends me on behalf of my daughters. My desire for another child has never had anything to do with gender."

Is that too rude?

Well, consider the lady up the street who told me after Holly was born, "Oh, well. Maybe next time you'll have a boy." Or the total stranger who asked if the baby was a boy. I answered, "Yup1  Not that it matters!" and the man said, "Oh be nice! You're lucky to have a boy!"  Talk about RUDE!

People are NOT just making idle conversation. They are making a judgement about gender. They are completely rude and mean and I don't care if they don't know any better or come from a generation or a culture that values boys over girls. Similar comments about race would not be tolerated or acceptable and I should not have to acquiesce just because people are stupid.

And it's not that I care that strangers, neighbours and friends think having a son is really important. It's that I care about my daughters (especially #2 and #3) being viewed by society as if they were just placeholders until the all-important male joined the fold.

I'm pro-girl, not anti-male, and having a son did not change that.

my son Julian at his first birthday (photo credit:  my friend Julie)


  1. I completely understand your irritation on this issue. Let me tell you, as the mom of two little boys, I get the same comments -- only about whether or not we'll try for a girl. Hell, I got those comments when I was pregnant with my second child! "Maybe this one will be a GIRL!!!" or "Are you trying for a girl, now?" -- as if having a baby were a card game and we were trying to achieve the "perfect" hand. When we tell people we're done, they'll sometimes look a little shocked -- like, how could we stop at two of the same gender?? The comments drove (and drive) me nuts. Like you said, (a) it's none of anyone's business, and (b) I feel like it indicates that the kid(s) I do have are somehow not good enough? That our family isn't complete until all genders are represented? I get a lot of comments indicating that, because I'm female, I should want a daughter! Or there must be something strange about me! All women dream of having daughters! What's my problem?! I adore baby boys. If we'd had a third, I'd have been THRILLED with another boy -- like you with girls, I feel like I know boys. They're familiar and just... wonderful. That said, we would've been thrilled either way. I don't think about gender all that much, honestly. But wow, it seems like the rest of the world can't STOP thinking about gender. My boys really throw people off, because they don't dress like "boys" -- I try to just buy (and make) clothes for people, not clothes for a certain gender. My oldest son enjoys leggings -- they're very comfortable. So, we buy them in the girl section. And their hair is slightly longer, so they get called girls constantly. Because if a kid doesn't have their hair cropped short short short, they must be a girl!

    I could go on and on. This issue is hugely annoying to me. I can't believe how obsessed people are with gender. It's insane.

    P.S. One last thing because I can't shut up on this issue -- I also get comments constantly like, "Oh, two boys, huh. Your house must be BUSY!" As if boys are all just constantly running amuck, whilst girls sit quietly with their hands folded. Actually, my house often looks pretty quiet -- my 6 year old reads for hours every day, and my 4 year old also loves books and other quiet activities. They don't play sports. They love dress-up, actually! They perform a lot. And sing. And the little one loves to draw. Sure, they get loud and run around, too, but don't most kids? Not just boys? They're unique humans, not carbon copy representations of what people think boys should be. GRRR. Sorry for the rant on top of your rant, but this is (obviously) a hot-button issue for me! :)

  2. @ Anonymous
    THANKYOU so much for your comment. Yes, the stereotypes about boys drive me crazy and I'm sure that as the mother of 2 boys, they drive you just as crazy, especially since your sons don't conform to the stereotype.

    Your comment really validates my thinking about this topic. I DO REALLY REALLY LOVE my son, but there is NO WAY he is going to grow up to be aggressive and rambunctious and destructive--at least not any more so than his sisters are! :-) I SO SO SO admire that you are letting your sons simply BE, without forcing gender stereotypes onto them.

    Much, much love to you! You obviously value Joy and Freedom as much as I do.

  3. Thank you for the sweet reply to my crazy long comment. :)

    And thank you for writing about this issue! I'm blown away daily by how MOST people enforce gender stereotypes with their kids -- people who I like and who I hang out with do this regularly. It's a force that can't be stopped, apparently. Just another in a long line of reasons why we're living our own lives, freely, rather than tossing our kids into school.

    Thank you again!

  4. I always wanted girls. I got two boys. Everyone tells me I should be glad because "girls are harder." This infuriates me. I'm not raising a girl, but I'm pretty sure she couldn't be whinier than my 6 year old son. I'm pretty sure my too boys do produce quite a bit of drama. I hate how women constantly say that they want a boy because they are "easier" or that their daughter is so much more difficult than their son. What is wrong with women?

  5. With my first, I decided to find out the sex because I feared having a boy. I didn't want to be disappointed when he was born. He was, in fact, a boy. We had an awful, awful time trying to name him! But, I got over my disappointment before his birth. Do you know how happy people were for me, though?! Sheesh.

    I, too, did not want to tell people - they were all too excited. Seriously, come on now - I'M A GIRL. Would y'all prefer me be a boy too?

    This time 'round - yep, people want to know I'm having a GIRL. Apparently the deal is - you should have a boy first, then a girl. Then you're good and you don't need another. ??? People are odd. :)

  6. So much of what you both said is so true for me. I never found out the sex of any of my children. Not that it mattered. They were all going to be loved the same. Quite frankly I expected my youngest to be a girl and wanted a third girl. I was not ready for a boy. But a boy I got. As for boys being busier than girls so not true. My middle daughter is our extrovert and always on the go. She has to have somewhere to go every day. Boys are not any busier or louder than girls. Now that my son is 7, he has grown into a sweet caring young boy. He is thoughtful and compassionate. Not to mention talkative. I wouldn't trade him for anyone now.