Girls, Girls, Girls, Girls, It's Girls I Do Adore

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by Oliver Wang

I have to be kind of hit and run with my guest post today (3,000 word essay nearing deadline-related) but I suspect the comments is where the richer content will take place anyway.

Don't mean to revisit "old news" (i.e. more than 48 hours old) but I wanted to roll back to Hanna Rosin's The End of Men cover story in the ATL from earlier this summer. I don't recall if TNC actually discussed this essay at the time so I hope I'm not retreading here but I did want to query the excellent peanut gallery here over one of the first—and to me, most interesting—parts of Rosin's essay: are new parents really preferring girls over boys?

Rosin's article opens by talking about a pioneer in "sex selection," which increases the odds that parents trying to get pregnant can pre-select the sex of that baby. That specialist, Ronald Ericsson, shares that, in his experience, the trend over the last 20 years has been to favor girls over boys, possibly as high as two to one. Ericsson's theory: "mothers look at their lives and think their daughters will have a bright future their mother and grandmother didn't have, brighter than their sons, even, so why wouldn't you choose a girl?"

When I reached this point of the essay the first time I read it through, I took a long pause.

Flashback to the 1980s. One of my classmates in junior high and high school was the oldest daughter of four girls. This was at a time where four was kind of a big number; most of the kids I knew were more classically nuclear—two kids, maybe three. But four was an outlier, especially four girls. This classmate happened to be Chinese American and the theory that began to circulate was, "oh, they must have been trying for a boy and just never got there."

This idea didn't just seem plausible; it seemed reasonable insofar as we were old enough to understand the influence of patriarchy and how it was conceivable that a Chinese couple would keep on having kids, trying for a boy. (God forbid we ever crossed paths with an Asian family that consisted of two or more older girls with the son being the youngest child: that was irrefutably damning evidence of the "keep trying" thesis). Of course, this was all fanciful, armchair theorizing—we had no intimate knowledge if my classmates' parents were trying for a boy: maybe they just liked the number four (but again, being Chinese, maybe not).

Regardless, at this point in time in the '80s, we just assumed that people wanted boys. And even decades later, when news reports about sex selection in China and India (either via pre-fertilization techniques or gender-selective abortion) began to roll out, this simply confirmed what we thought we already knew.

BUT, when it came time for us (i.e., my circle of friends) to have kids? We wanted girls.

I can't confess to explain why this was the case for anyone, perhaps not even for my wife and I. We hadn't planned on getting pregnant (oops!) but we quickly embraced what was going to happen (and parenthood has been a profoundly enriching and wonderful experience, blah blah blah[1]). However, our main anxiety then switched over to what sex the baby would be. We both wanted a girl but our rationale was never well-formed. It was more of a gut desire and since we were in synch about it, we never had to articulate why we felt the way we did.

Regardless of the reasons, for most—though not necessarily all—of my friends, girls are what they wanted too. Maybe this was a subtle push back against patriarchy. Maybe we agreed, in some way, with Ericsson's theory. Maybe we thought they'd smell better. Any which way, yeah, we wanted girls. But I never assumed this was some national trend beyond of my circle of post-3rd wave feminist-raised lefties.

So here's my question...and yes, I'm asking for (dun dun dun!) anecdotal evidence. Is the preference for girls real or imagined based on your personal/social experience?

And if so, why (if you care to share)? Do you buy Ericsson's thesis? Is it because mothers want reflections of themselves (a friend's thesis)?

In the interests of parity, I'll mull over my own amorphous rationale and try to add it later to the comments.



Notes:

[1] Most of the time.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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