Girls are second class citizens across the globe.
Technology is being monstrously misused around the world to determine a baby's sex and abort female fetuses.
Most men want boys and their wives want what their husbands want.
None of this has changed in 80 years.
Those are the dominant themes of a story in Fast Company this morning, titled "The Case for Girls". Written by Anya Kamenentz, it starts with her announcement that she is due to have a daughter in about three weeks (congratulations Anya) and that while she and her husband are thrilled, she knows that elsewhere in the world, and even in the US, many expectant parents would not consider this to be good news.
The piece goes on to suggest that girls need better "marketing." Fact is, it argues, that girls are actually doing much better in life than boys (in 45 developing countries, more girls than boys are attending secondary school, while three American women graduate from college to every two men, and 40 percent of China's private businesses are run by women.) The problem that these facts are not getting out there, Kamenentz suggests, and if more prospective parents knew how great girls were, we could put an end to all this. Fast Company takes up that cause, commissioning ad mock-ups from a variety of well-known agencies to "sell" parents on girls; the results are shown as illustrations in the article (and you can scroll through a few of them here...)
Scanning through those ads, I wonder: do parents really need to be sold on girls, literally or otherwise? From where I sit, girls are all the rage, and the anti-baby-girl trends Kamenetz refers to are reversing, not accelerating. So yes, technology is still being used, monstrously, to select for gender. But a study out of South Korea last year showed that while 20 years ago such sex based termination had created a ratio of 116.5 boys for every girl, by 2008 that ratio fell to 106.4 boys to every 100 girls, which is within the international norm. And poll results hint at why. The South Korean Institute of Child Care and Education reported when releasing all this data that "38 percent of mothers-to-be wanted a daughter, while 31 percent said they preferred a son," and, even more surprising, "among fathers-to be, 37 percent wanted a daughter and 29 percent a son."
Which is why Kamenetz's most persuasive statistic -- a Gallup poll last year showing that 54 percent of American men between the ages of 18 and 49 would prefer a boy -- seems odd to hang an entire article upon. To start, that means 46 percent would not prefer a boy, and we are getting pretty near a 50/50 split here. And women balance that preference out. More than a decade ago I wrote about how women visiting sperm-sorting clinics, which "guarantee" the gender of an embryos, were overwhelmingly requesting to have girls. Then, just last year, Hanna Rosin visited those same clinics for an article entitled "The End of Men" in The Atlantic, and found the ratio of requests for daughters to sons to be 2 to 1. So maybe men prefer boys by a few percentage points, but when it comes to actually paying for one gender over the other... Nuff said.
As Rosin (who is now writing a book about all this) says in her article:
Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing--and with shocking speed. Cultural and economic changes always reinforce each other. And the global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children, worldwide...American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys. As they imagine the pride of watching a child grow and develop and succeed as an adult, it is more often a girl that they see in their mind's eye.
Nearly every economic and historical trend leads toward a new power for women, she argues, and a corollary new acceptance of the girls who will become those powerful women:
As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest. And because geopolitics and global culture are, ultimately, Darwinian, other societies either follow suit or end up marginalized. In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country's economic success. Aid agencies have started to recognize this relationship and have pushed to institute political quotas in about 100 countries, essentially forcing women into power in an effort to improve those countries' fortunes. In some war-torn states, women are stepping in as a sort of maternal rescue team. Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, portrayed her country as a sick child in need of her care during her campaign five years ago. Postgenocide Rwanda elected to heal itself by becoming the first country with a majority of women in parliament.
Or maybe the reasons aren't so grand as all that. Maybe they are far more personal, and rooted in the realization that it's cool to be the parent of a girl. The comic Louis C.K. says as much in an essay accompanying Kamenetz' article, in which he writes:
I myself have two daughters, a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old, and I've learned from those girls how to be a better man. If I'd had a boy, then there's be two shitty versions of me. The last thing I need to do is fail twice with two different people: me and my son. But I benefit from an uncomplicated relationship with my daughters -- I get to observe how great they are, I'm always learning from them, and they are well-mannered with far better living habits than I have. When I get up in the morning, for instance, they're already dressed, with their teeth brushed and looking nice. I'm not capable of any of that.
Which leads to this question: If I look at the world, and this data, and even this lovely little essay by Louis C.K. and see evidence that girls are doing just fine, then how does Kamenetz look at the same and see an entire gender in need of a good marketing campaign so that parents will appreciate them more?
Could it be that the answer lies not in history, or science, or opinion polls, but in Kamentetz' first sentence, which declares she is about to become the mother of a baby girl. I, in turn, while a former girl, and an advocate for girls, am the mother of two boys. All sweeping, global shifts are really an accumulation of millions of personal, intimate facts like these. Becoming a parent means seeing everything through that lens; becoming the parent of a boy or a girl does too, leaving us forever on alert for those who would slight, or injure, or celebrate them.
No, that doesn't mean that every parent of boys will see the world as favoring girls and vice versa. What I am suggesting is more complicated than that. Or maybe it's very simple: when it comes to how we feel about, well, anything, it is often both the cause and the result of how we feel about our children.
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