Thursday, October 20, 2011

Do you want a girl or a boy?

It is the inevitable question posed to those who are visibly pregnant by close friends and random strangers alike. The pregnant woman smiles beatifically and, almost invariably answers, (say it with me) "all I care about is having a healthy baby." Awwww. Such is the politically correct veneer we swathe over the true answer to a question that would perhaps be better unasked. The truth, as is the case with almost all human truths, lies in our actions not our words. The real truth, that rings out from all four corners of the globe is: boy please!

I came across this recently while perusing the ultimate source of ALL truths - wikipedia:

My naive little brain was floored on several fronts. First, globally, whenever there is a gender preference it is for males. There is, apparently, NO COUNTRY ON THE PLANET that prefers female offspring. Second, do you SEE the colour of Canada on this map? Apparently we are practicing gender selection here at significant enough levels to result in abnormal childhood sex ratios.

How do people go about choosing the gender of their offspring? There are various ways and inevitably they are unreliable OR of questionable ethics AND/OR illegal AND/OR just plain wrong. There are various theories on timing intercourse. The Shettles method, for example, relies on the fact that Y-bearing sperm swim faster and X-bearing sperm live longer to suggest that a couple can increase the odds of a female baby by having intercourse several days before ovulation and then abstaining while intercourse very near ovulation can increase the odds of a male baby. According to studies I have read, this method barely has a measurable effect. In the category of more effective but ethically questionable - the rise of fertility clinics has lead to more possibilities for pre-conception gender screening. As I understand it, sperm which is being used for inseminations or for IVF procedures can be sorted by molecular weight in order to select X or Y-bearing sperm. As I said, ethically questionable ( to say the very least) and, illegal in Canada. Then we get to the really ugly... selective abortion after early gender determination. This is clearly a problem in Canada, so much so that it is actually illegal to reveal gender in an ultrasound until AFTER the legal cut-off time for an abortion in the province of British Columbia (contrast Quebec where I nervously told my OB at least three times during my 20 week ultrasound today that I did NOT want to know the gender as she was more than willing, and legally able, to tell me). This law has not stopped people however as mail order kits from various companies are easily available which can be used to provide a maternal blood sample from which they can somehow determine fetal gender. The means of gender selection get even uglier than there...

Why do people care? I mean apart from a whimsical desire to have one of each gender in the mistaken belief that boys and girls are really so different... why do people care? I would argue that people who REALLY care about gender, and by really care, I don't mean a slight preference, curiosity, whimsical desire, I mean people who care enough to take ugly actions are probably having children for the wrong reasons. Or is it simply that my socio-economic reality is so far removed from needing to have a child of a certain gender that I have the luxury not to care??  What are the reasons? Ability to inherit? Desire to carry on the family name? Desire for an offspring with good earning potential? Not having to pay a dowry? I suppose in certain societies the gender of one's offspring can have HUGE bearing on one's well-being and quality of life. But I would hope that Canada is not one of those societies. Why are people in Canada practicing gender selection?

And speaking of differences between girls and boys, do they really exist? Ok, obviously they do. But everyone and their cousin seems to have their own pet theory regarding whether boys or girls are easier to raise. These theories are usually based on one or two difficult children of a given gender that the theorist happens to know. Given individual variability, are the between-gender differences in behaviour and personality really large enough to be significant in the face of within-gender variability? I question whether it is really possible to state definitively whether one gender is "easier" to raise than the other. In fact, I feel certain it is not. As I stood on the sidewalk in the cold, October rain earlier this week watching la cocotte rolling on the ground, pulling off her shoes and coat screaming "No manteau! No manteau! No manteau!" (translation: la cocotte did not wish to wear her coat on that cold, rainy day) I was sure of several two things - this had nothing to do with her being a her and everything to do with her being la cocotte at 2 years of age.


  1. Wow, selective abortion??? That's crazy. I think that people must have a very good reason to do something like that that we just do not know about.
    I think that it similar to what you said in your blog about "Relativism". Some people might see reasons for selective abortion completely injustifiable but those reasons might be quite reasonable in minds/living situation/etc of people who do that.

    I think that people should be given an option to choose before the artificial impregnation (that expression is little weird) occurs since as you mentioned it is possible without any harm. I do not understad why it is illegal.

  2. I'm not too sure about the validity of that, even given the air of authority of Wikipedia (there's not an emoticon that quite captures the smirk that goes with that). Interestingly, there are about 105 boys born for every 100 girls, regardless of place or time - the numbers equalize within a month or two, as gender-biased inherited diseases eliminate some boys.

  3. I was going to write what Steve said about it always being more likely one will have a boy. But it definitely does not even out in the first few months as fatal inherited diseases are MUCH rarer than 1/20! I wanted so badly to have a girl, but have subsequently realized that what everyone says is true - whatever you end up with, you realize there is absolutely no way you could love them more and that they are simply perfection (I say this as I can hear he is about to start crying and I am annoyed). Really interesting post. I had no idea the gender preference for a boy was a worldwide phenomenon. By the way, boys must be more difficult to raise when they are young, but as they get into adulthood may become easier than girls (I'm hoping).

  4. Oops, SLG caught me; fatal inherited diseases run about 1/50000, I think. But, even without having kids of my own, I can say boys are about twice as hard as girls to raise up to about the age of 10; then girls are about 500 times harder.