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I was called names – on (published and unpublished) comments here and elsewhere across the internet galaxy.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.