We need a global overhaul of the way we value girls and women.
By Jessica Mack
July 11, 2011
If you were to have only one child, and could choose its sex, would you prefer a boy or a girl? If you secretly thought “boy,” or had the guts to say it out loud, then you’re not alone.
A recent Gallup poll showed that Americans prefer boys over girls, by about 40 percent to 28 percent, while about one-quarter had no preference. Perhaps not surprisingly, women reported a greater preference for girls while more men preferred boys, but men did so to a much higher degree. Age, education level and political leanings of respondents were also recorded, with a curious result: young, lesser educated men were the biggest champions of baby boys.
But what does it all mean? Sometimes a poll is just a poll, but sometimes it’s more. This same poll was taken 10 times since 1941 with nearly identical results each time. The lives of women have changed tremendously over the past 60 years, yet there seems to be something fundamentally askew. Are boys “easier” to raise? Do prospective parents want to shield their hypothetical daughters from a life of cat calls and glass ceilings? Is it a safety net thing? Sheer whim?
I think the cause for alarm here is not necessarily in the varying gender preferences of men and women, but the extremes to which those preferences can manifest. While sex-selective abortion is not a major issue in the US (yet, or that we know of), the line between theoretical preference and active discrimination is fine.
Since Amartya Sen framed the issue of “100 million missing girls” more than two decades ago, it has gathered momentum as a shocking, shameful and somehow unstoppable epidemic. Sex-selective abortion in India, neglect and abandonment of baby girls in South Korea, female infanticide in China — the stories are sad and gruesome, with very real demographic effects. The issue is once again very much on the radar with Mara Hvistendahl’s new book on sex-selective abortion, adding a spark to the kindling of abortion issues in the US.