Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's A Boy, It's a Girl

There's no better dumping ground for socialized gender stereotypes than the ears of a pregnant woman. For a womyn like myself, it raises my blood pressure to listen to all the gendered talk and so I see writing about my pregnancy as one of the necessary exercises to stay sane and keep the kid healthy.

Sharing your pregnancy with others is like an invitation for the worst gender assumptions to pass through my ears. There's nothing, I repeat nothing, more annoying to me right now than the comments that sound like misogyny on steroids.

"It's just better to have a boy. You'll worry less."

"I wanted my first born to be a boy. 'Cause after that, you can just relax and not worry about what the others will be."

"Girls just are too much."

"It'll be better if you have a boy. With a girl, it's just, it's so...it's so much more worrying."

What is this equation in birth? Labor + boy = relief
while Labor + girl = stress

Let's go past all the generalizations (all BS in my opinion anyway) about girls spending more money when they grow up, you'll have to deal with more emotional crises, you'll worry more about violence, etc...

I see both boys and girls as precious and vulnerable little things who will look up at me and not know left from right, evil from good, right from wrong...and they'll learn what from me? --> That because she was born female, I will worry more about her being a victim of violence? That the world will treat her less, pay her, view her less because she was born with a vagina? What impact does that have on how she confronts the world? Will she fight it or believe it?

And what will I teach my son? I presumably don't worry about him because he was born with a penis and we all know that the world prizes that much more than if he were born my daughter. Maybe he'll have it tough from time to time, but he'll never worry about his safety or getting raped or drugged because he's a male.

The reality of the world is not hidden from me. I see misogyny, I see the violence, I see who takes the brunt of poverty, brutality, trafficking, and abuse. I understand how the world will treat my child differently based on its genitalia. I get it. But how does knowing how the world mistreats girls and women lead to the thought it's better to parent a boy?

How radical is my mothering if I just walk the stereotyped line and accept the world as it is, not as I want it to be? Am I more of a mother if I protect more, worry more if it's a girl? Or does that make me a coward?

My deepest fear is not in having a girl. I feel like I would know how to raise a girl because I identify womyn. I've never been a boy, I've never been a man. I don't know how to teach masculinity in healthy, loving ways except in what I imagine it SHOULD be. My fear is that I do have a son and he grows up, eating the garbage available from media, peers, and school. And instead of regurgitation, he'll swallow it, whole. And in my naivety of not knowing how to raise a man, he'll grow to eventually be one of those fathers telling a young mother that it's best to first have a son than to ever have a daughter.

That's more terrifying to me than having a daughter.


  1. And then once you give birth, you're still not through it. Because as far as I can tell, it's a radical parenting technique to not dress your infant in pink or blue. It makes people too uncomfortable to not know immediately what sex someone is, even if they're too young to hold their own head up by themselves.

  2. a man once told me that he was afraid to have a daughter, because he 'knows how boys treat girls'. he was referring to himself, and something apparently awful (no details were given) that his female partner had endured from him. i had originally thought he meant being a general male-priveledgy jerk, though later i realized he may have cheated on her or something. regardless, he made it clear he thought that the behavior was inherent in men and that all men would necessarily hurt women in the way he had hurt his partner.

    anyway, i was just struck by how little sense this made. he was afraid he'd have a child who was hurt by a man. but he wasn't afraid of raising a child that would hurt a woman.

    the other thing that gets lost when people talk about the ease of raising boys is that it's 'easy' unless your boy child is feminine. then parents tend not to know what to do, because then the boy is the one getting hurt.

    the really obvious thing to me is that boys and girls, while often treated different, both have to endure pain and humiliation at some point in their lives. i think people just think it's easier to raise boys because they think it's ok to ignore boys pain.

  3. And then there is the very small possibility that when the baby is born you won't be sure right off if it's a boy or a girl.

  4. Anonymous6:23 PM

    I was terrified of having a son when I was pregnant. Like you, I felt I could at least help a daughter from my own experience, but had no idea how to guide a son.
    So, of course, I had a little boy.

    At one year old, I feel as if every day of his life so far has been a battle against blue, trucks and camo print. But they were warm-ups.
    As he gets older, it's becoming more difficult to fight against others' expectations that he will 'play rough' and must be 'independent'.

    I think it's amusing that people will often call him "she" because he is petite and delicately built as was my own father, and always dressed in bright colours rather than the inevitable earth tones and attitude slogans. They're either mortified or strangely hostile - as if I tried to "fool" them deliberately - when I gently correct them.

  5. Anonymous7:05 PM

    It's a shame how quickly children become gendered creatures. I have (almost) brought up two sons (17 and 29) and a daughter( 11) and find that no matter how hard I try there is an undeniable bias towards boys. My mum who had two daughters often had people commiserating with her, which infuriated her.

    I cant stand the assumptions that girls are somehow "bitchier"than boys, that they are incapable of true friendship with each other - these are some of the things my girl's friends' mums have said. That girls are more "difficult"than boys.
    AS acriminologist, I know that boys are OVERWHELMINGLY more likely kill some one , be killed, kill themselves etc.......

    I work with violent men in prison and can assure everyone that there are heaps of boys out there who are enacting their masculinity in destructive and self destructive ways. Bringing up boys is frauhgt with danger!

  6. I find the "Boy or Girl?" question very annoying. My most common answers are "Yes", or "No, a baby". Though "Why the hell are you interested in the genitalia of an 18 month old !?! Just a sec whilst I grab your details and call the police." is tempting.

    "Non-gendered" newborn clothing exists (yellow or green pastels - yawn), but for older babies and toddlers, most stores have a "pink with fairies" section and a "blue/khaki with trucks" section.

    Inigo wears mostly brightly coloured, home-made or dyed clothing.

  7. As a father of a three week old baby girl, I found this post to be wonderful.

  8. Anonymous10:44 PM

    Tt really doesnt occur to some people that their experiences are not universal.
    Most of the gender arguments for children are also recycled and given as arguments to for birth order temperament - or even for horoscopes - or sometimes to dismiss your parenting as inadequate because 'my child doesnt have the same problems as yours.'
    I have two girls and a boy in the middle. the big divide in our family is not gendered at all. The younger two are far more alike than the older one, who was extremely difficult to parent. I really did think because she was a girl I would automatically understand her. I didn't, I don't. I love her so much and sometimes feel shut out by this. We are now building an adult relationship on terms that make her comfortable.It isn't what I 'planned' when she was in utero, but that was another other shock - she came as an individual with her own perception, her own reactions and her own opinions. Her brother and younger sister's perception/reaction are more like mine, hers are pretty unique.(she and her father don't get on either, but he doesnt have a lot to do with her)

    I also think parenting is one of those things you do for better or for worse. Any one of your children might hurt or be hurt, any one of them might break your heart, and anyone who thinks that gender will magically make that road better or worse is indulging in some serious magical thinking.

  9. I too find stereotyped assumptions about gender to be annoying, but I have to admit that I would find it difficult not to fall into the trap that irritates Mark, above. I am one of those people who will invariably ask the gender of a baby (not always as the first question, but often).

    The problem is that if I want to talk about the baby to the parents, or ask any other questions (name, age, etc), I will have to use a pronoun, and non-gendered pronouns aren't exactly in common use in my social circle (although I would be happy to see a day when they were!) And parents often get offended if you refer to their child as "it"! So asking "boy or girl" then gives me the information to be able to talk about the child further, using the correct pronouns.

  10. Anonymous5:10 AM

    Amazing isn't it, this obsession with gender?!

    I delivered of two wonderful human beings who happen to be of different genders amongst 6 miscarriages. I just wanted a live baby.

    My response to the boy/girl question was always 'a human!'. Especially when the assumption was after the first succesful pregnancy that I'd have a request for the other gender.

    It's sick.

    As to raising a boy from a mother's point of view. It is no different to raising a girl. Both are subject to outrageous societal neaderthal expectations regarding themselves and the other gender, so vigilance is necessary for both.

    Both my children have grown into wonderful human beings: respectful feminist/humanist/atheist and comfortable to question anything and everything-even myself and their father!

    Treat your little human being with respect before expecting respect for yourself. Treat others with respect, especially when you disagree-there's nothing like modelling behaviour.

    There are no inherent different challenges between raising a boy child or a girl child, possible challenges are solely related to personality: yours and the little person's.

  11. Thanks for writing this.


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