Since Kiddo and I moved back into my childhood home with my parents, I’ve had to pretty much start my whole entire life over. Most of my friends had moved away and I knew that part of moving on was getting back on the social life horse. But how do you make new friends at 34 years old? Most people already have their social circles and routines pretty much solidified at this point. Do I get a job and ask what my mostly-married coworkers are doing after work? Do I take Kiddo to the park and make small talk with one of the other parents, trying not to appear desperate as I hope it will extend into a future playdate invite? “Hi, your kid is cute, WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING TOMORROW ABOUT THIS TIME?? PLEASE BE OUR NEW FRIENDS. PLEASE.” Oh god, I don’t know what I’m doing.
You tell yourself it’s just a bad day. A bad week. A rough patch. You make excuses. He has a lot going on. He’s stressed. He’s taking it out on me, but I can take it. You rationalize. He had a bad childhood. You’ll prove to him that not everyone leaves. What real love is. You tell yourself that you’re a tough cookie. You’re smart. Smarter than others, maybe. You of all people can make this work.
It doesn’t get better. You find yourself avoiding family and friends so you don’t have to lie. So you don’t have to become That Woman. So you don’t have to say That Word. If The Word is never spoken, by you or anyone else, then maybe it won’t be true. You can still have a handle on it. Have some sort of control of the situation. Continue reading »
Well, that was interesting.
After my post “When Women Don’t Want Daughters” was picked up by Jezebel.com and seen by over 35,000 people, my relatively quiet internet existence ceased. For the most part, the reaction was positive, and readers used the article as a way to share their own desires and the reasons behind them. Several pointed out issues of race and sex preference that enlightened me. Some shared their own dysfunctional relationships with a mother or father, and their stories made my heart turn over in my chest. I enjoyed reading all of them, and I thank everyone who took the time to respond. It’s a thrill for any writer to see their words reach a wider forum, for author and readers alike to react, debate, learn.
There were, of course, a lot of angry comments, too – calling me rude and judgmental of women who wanted a particular sex over another. Some called me stupid. Mothers of sons were particularly offended, thinking that I had somehow targeted them for vitriol. Some mothers who have daughters but had originally wanted sons said I was accusing them of not loving their daughters enough, or at all.
I was called names – on (published and unpublished) comments here and elsewhere across the internet galaxy. People called me a “man hater,” “bitch,” and worse. The insults went downhill from there, becoming more sociopathic, disorganized, and delusional as the days wore on. I kept waiting to be lectured on the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News by someone named patrickbateman1. One person in the Men’s Rights Movement even posted a lengthy video response on YouTube, listing from a prewritten script all the reasons men had a more difficult existence than women, finishing the message with this succinct memo from her sons: “Fuck you.”
(For the record, I can’t at the moment; there’s an aspirin between my knees.)
The Jezebel article published on a Tuesday and exploded over the course of 24 hours both there and here. Because I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with this blog or my writing, I couldn’t chase the article and its comments all over the internet to interject, defend myself, or otherwise smooth ruffled feathers. Truth is, I stand by the original article and its basic tenets – that sex preference in and of itself is problematic, and that not wanting a daughter in a patriarchy is even more so.
I would, however, like to address some of the more vocal criticisms, if only because I’m a writer and writers have a particular addiction to being understood.
So, in no particular order:
- I don’t hate men; I’m married to one. I happen to think he’s the greatest person on the planet. Also: I think the patriarchy hurts men, too.
(By the way, these disclaimers are made anytime a feminist pokes at the patriarchy and the inevitable defensiveness occurs. They are tired refrains. They’re true for me, but they’re also so, so tired. I shouldn’t have to say these things when trying to discuss women’s issues. The “BUT WHAT ABOUT MEN??” hand-wringing is disruptive and can have the effect of closing down conversations. But I’m saying this anyway because there are boys and mothers of those boys in my life who will read this, and I love them.)
- Not wanting a daughter is different than wanting a particular sex. The former is the rejection of an entire sex, regardless of the reason. The latter is a desire for a particular sex due to preconceived ideas of what traits come along with it. To me, this is a fine distinction, but it was worth examining. And to me, the former is worse.
- The world is hard for all human beings. It’s inherently unfair, and people can be cruel. Some readers thought that I indicated the world wasn’t hard for men. I didn’t. I said that people think boys are easier to raise based on their sex. And I said the world was harder for women. Why? Here’s just a partial list:
- Men – almost all White – dominate at every conceivable level of power in this country. Men make up 83% of Congress. Men account for 97% of the chief executives of the 500 biggest U.S. companies; the remaining 3% of women CEOs have pay packages that are only about 85% of their male counterparts’ packages. (Yes, I know there’s a joke in there, but I’m trying to keep a straight face.) Of the 67 people Forbes ranked as the most powerful people in the world, three were women. The ability to be heard depends on having some degree of power. There are simply not enough women’s voices in places that matter. It’s how we got panels on birth control on Capitol Hill that looked like this and politicians sharing their thoughts on “honest rape.” Or why we’re not able to use the word “uterus” in a state legislature. Or my favorite, this WTFery. (As a reminder, it’s 2012.)
- And speaking of: we have yet to have a woman president. People are still asking this ridiculous question.
- Navigating the messages in the media directed at women is maddening and heartbreaking. Here are just a dozen examples of effed-up media messages directed at females. For a wonderful documentary on women’s portrayals within the media, I would recommend watching Missrepresentation. There’s also this, just for good measure.
- Not unrelated: 24 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder; 85-90% of those people are women.
- The wage gap still exists. The percentage points vary based on who interprets the data, but it averages at 78%. The gap is even higher the further up the pay scale you go. When over half of the population is women, and nearly 80% of those women will go on to have children, saying that the wage gap is due to women’s “lifestyle choices” is akin to saying that half of your workforce should be paid less because of their inherent ability to give birth. Even when controlling for certain factors that close up those percentage points to 85-90%, the point is: there shouldn’t be a wage gap.
- Women graduate from college in greater numbers than men. Yet men continue to dominate the majors that translate to the highest-paying fields. So if boys are suffering in school (which should, by all means, be examined and addressed), it hasn’t yet translated to a diminished ability to earn the most money when they do get degrees. In a capitalist culture, that money is power. Compare that to this: Of the 1.5 billion illiterate people in the world, two-thirds are women. UNICEF estimates that approximately 65 million girls are denied access to basic education – more girls than boys. The UN has a number of other startling statistics here that may have you clutching your head.
- The very existence of the word “slut.” Honor killings. Purity balls. The pervasive belief that our sexuality and desires have to be punished or suppressed, that the amount of sex we’ve had – either “too much” or none at all – defines our worth.
- Men are more often victims of crime, although the discrepancy between the sexes has decreased over time (another way to view that is here). However, men are, by far, more likely to be perpetrators of crime. I touched on this in my post, and readers thought I was branding sons criminals before they even leave the womb. Not true. Rather, I posited the question: Why, when a woman doesn’t want a daughter out of fear, is she afraid of raising a potential victim but not a potential victimizer?
- When men are called “girls” or “pussies” to push them to behave in a more “masculine” way, there’s no greater reminder that we’re universally considered the lesser sex.
So, yes, I would say the world is harder for women.
Finally, let me address the one criticism that I felt was most heartfelt and that hurt the most feelings: that women shouldn’t have sex preferences at all. It’s true that I find sex assumptions and preferences problematic, simply for the fact that each child will bring his or her own personality to the table, and expecting them to conform to gender expectations can be limiting or stifling.
However, I’ll end this article on a confession: At one time in the not-so-distant past, I have thought that if I ever had a child, I would want a daughter. Because of my own dysfunctional family dynamic, I thought that I could recreate and improve upon the only model I’ve ever had of a mother-daughter relationship. I would do better. I would love my daughter unconditionally, accept her for who she was, and send her out into the world a strong, capable, intelligent woman. Even before I started the article about women not wanting daughters, but certainly reinforced by it and the comments it received, I have come to realize that any dynamic I hope to create with my child or children can be created regardless of sex. The mother-daughter relationship I want and didn’t get is possible with a son, too; the love and support I desire to give is possible regardless of the 23rd chromosome. Because the common denominator is me.
Thank you for listening, and keep talking.
And now for something completely different — nothing to do with New York. I started this post long ago and have let it sit for longer than I care to admit, waiting. I ran it by a few friends, worried. I stared at it for about an hour before hitting publish.
I’m entering murky territory, you see. But before we get to the meat-and-potatoes, I want to make a few things clear about this particular post:
- It is in no way meant to denigrate the many awesome sons out there, and the wonderful parents raising those sons.
- It assumes that sex and gender are separate from one another.
- It doesn’t touch on the world of transchildren, where being cisgendered is not a given and where the two-sex model falls short.
I’m not a parent.
I’m beginning with this caveat so we can get the obvious out of the way and move forward amicably. Because I’m about to express an opinion on parenting, even though I’m not one. Non-parents expressing opinions about child rearing can put parents’ shorts in a bunch; you’re not supposed to do that. And while that type of thinking is an ad hominem logical fallacy, just bear with me and I promise that if you’re still angry with me after you’re finished reading, we can work it out over an Orange Mocha Frappuccino.
I’m at that age where most of my friends are either pregnant, already have small children, or are working on their second or third. I myself have thirteen nieces and nephews, and even more children of friends that I consider family. So lots of children, everywhere, all the time. Up with people!
But there’s a trend I’ve noticed lately that gets me as teary as that scene in Neverending Story when Artax drowns in the Swamp of Sadness. (You remember the one: the mournful-looking horse, his white body slipping inch by inch into the muddy water, as Atreyu struggles in vain to save his equine friend… excuse me a minute.) I say this is a “trend” because it’s happened a few times among my friends, and I’ve heard acquaintances describe this phenomenon, too. Each time I hear it, another wrinkle forms in my brain.
It’s this: when pregnant women – smart, funny, fierce women I respect – say they don’t want daughters. Some even take to their Facebook pages to rejoice, at approximately 20 weeks, when they find out it’s a boy instead of a girl – or, in the case of one person I know, updates her status to complain specifically about the disappointment of having a girl.
I find these women fall into two camps:
#1: “I don’t want a daughter because girls are harder to raise than boys.” Variations on this: “Girls are so moody and dramatic” or “Girls are manipulative and dangerous” or “Girls are easy when they’re young but watch out when they’re teenagers! Hoo boy!” or the ironic “Girls are too girly. I just can’t get into that stuff.” I cannot explain these women. I’m sorry. The best I can figure is that they dislike themselves, their sister, their mother, or someone else with a vagina, based on past experience, and the thought of producing another creature of the female variety makes their brain short and they say stupid things like, “Girls are just, I don’t know, harder on you emotionally.” They assign qualities of Disney villainess proportions – jealousy, anger, cunning, ability to talk to mirrors – to all female children. Because no male child has ever had these traits. Ever. Because children, little id blobs that they are, only grow to the complexity that the genitals between their legs allow, and no amount of guidance or learning will alter that inexorable course from the moment you know it’s pink or blue. Right?
Really, you should pity these women. Show them kindness. Love them. But do not try to change them; you will not be able to reason with them. Back the hell away. ABORT MISSION. There’s nothing you can do about it. Not one thing. Let’s hope she comes to her senses one day; maybe after her children have moved away and she starts wearing loose pants from Chico’s and likes chardonnay and goes on yoga retreats, it will dawn on her that all human beings run a gamut of personality traits and yes, she can admit now that her beloved son was a godawful moody kid.
The point is: you shouldn’t wait for this to happen.
#2: “I don’t want a girl because the world is harder for girls.” Surprise! It is! But when we’re not dodging rapists or avoiding math and science, we do like to have some fun (I mean, fun we can afford; our paychecks are only 78% of our male counterparts’ checks). This is the camp that most of my friends agree is a more reasonable one – after all, it is The Truth. It’s hard out there for an XX. When women say this, it usually comes from a place of personal experience, and their hope is to avoid being part of a process that inflicts more pain on another human being – that is, giving birth to a girl. I can understand that.
But it’s still problematic. Because when women pull out this old chestnut, they are not only saying that if they could, they would choose not to increase the female population, but that they would rather participate in the status quo because it’s simpler. Let me rephrase: they would rather have a boy because they are complicit in the fact that being a male in our society is easier than being a woman – and, by having a boy, they have no intention of changing this. By having a boy, they can breathe easier. This is why women fret over the safety of their future daughters, but not over whether their future sons will be rapists or serial killers. (And if you have had such a worry, I salute you.) By this argument, we worry about having a victim, but don’t change the structure that produces the victimizers. So however sensitive and charitable this latter argument sounds, it is simply neither of those things.
Sex preference of any kind seems problematic because the reasons behind it fall short. After all, when parents wish for a specific sex, what are they really saying – that they’re hoping for a collection of personality traits? That they’re hoping to have their gender expectations fulfilled? How are they thus limiting their future child? I appreciate that people want to create the families they want. Sometimes, this includes yearning for one specific sex over the other, the result of a long line of societal conditioning about what it means to be “girl” or “boy.” We’ve all been trained well.
But not wanting a specific sex is even more problematic. Why? Because in a bona fide patriarchy — where rape and assault statistics are too high; where sexism runs rampant across all institutions and in media; where sex trafficking and genital mutilation still exist; where we struggle with the wage gap and lackluster maternity leave; where body autonomy and sexual reproduction rights are constantly under fire; and where women fight for basic education and literacy across the world — when you hope you don’t have a daughter, you are one more voice joining millions of others in silencing women.
If you’re one of those people who says she doesn’t want a daughter – I ask you: check your heart. Then hug yourself. And really think about it some more.
May I treat you to an Orange Mocha Frappuccino?