My sister and I were often partners in crime during our growing up years and back then I often thought that if I ever had kids of my own I would want two girls, just like my sister and me. It was a girlish notion, long before motherhood brought with it the realization that bringing a child into this world is nothing short of a miracle and it truly doesn’t matter whether it is a girl or a boy, but I happened to mention this childhood fancy to a colleague during a chance conversation many years later when the topic veered around to that of raising children.“Two girls?” my colleague asked, raising a sardonic eyebrow “You must mean two boys right?”I politely assured her that I had indeed meant two girls and she gave me a wondering look, the kind one normally reserves for a particularly slow-on-the-uptake, half-wit and shook her head.A few weeks ago I was attending a function when I was subjected to the same look, this time by someone I know. At most functions I attend these days people consider it perfectly normal to come up to me and ask when I am planning to “have the second one” in a rather proprietorial fashion. By this naturally they mean to ask when I plan to have a second child since my first born, my daughter, is now considered old enough to have a sibling and something must be seriously wrong with me if I am not contemplating having a second child. Not so long ago this question used to irk me enough to either retort in a rather rude fashion or display my sometimes unfortunate sense of humour depending on my mood. These days though it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did (I like to think it’s the maturity that comes with motherhood) and I waver between mumbling something vague into my glass, if I have one handy, or just smiling in a benign fashion, which usually gets rid of the person asking the question. I was not so lucky at this particular function though, because the question was followed with the fervent wish that hopefully I would have a boy the second time so that my family would be ‘complete’.“What’s the problem if it’s a girl instead” I asked politely, secretly marveling at the maturity that comes with motherhood which had ensured that my glass was still in my hand rather than having its contents dumped on the head of the pestilential question- asker.That was when I received The Look again. “What a silly question” the pestilential QA, let’s call her X, sneered “Everyone wants a boy.” The motley group of women that happened to be hanging around as this conversation happened looked on in silence, some nodded knowingly, almost as a sign of tacit approval. What I found most disappointing was the fact that X was of my own generation and profile; an educated, financially independent woman with children of her own and enough opportunity and resources to broaden her thinking. And yet she believed that a woman cannot be truly happy unless she has given birth to a boy. The sad part is that she is not alone. There are many women out there who believe that a family is incomplete unless there is a male ‘heir’ in it and will go to great lengths to ensure that they get one, from consulting the Chinese calendar which offers pre-conception advice guaranteed to produce a male child to the infamous sex selection clinics in Thailand. I come from a family of fierce feminists, where nobody bats an eyelid when a girl rides a horse while her brother bakes a cake, and to that extent I was fairly sheltered from the followers of the Chinese calendar when I was growing up, so it came as a bit of a culture shock when I first encountered them. And encounter them I did, in hordes. Women, who think only a boy can carry the name of the family forward, financially support his ageing parents, and for whom they will not have to shell out a substantial dowry when time comes to get him married, only to send him away to live with strangers. Women who dolefully shake their heads when informed that I have only one sister and no brother and who assure me that they will pray that there is a boy in the family soon. These women I speak of are not from the economically weaker sections of society. They are women from financially affluent homes, educated and superficially broad minded. Women from my generation; born in the late seventies, or early eighties. You politely point out to them that girls from our generation are increasingly keeping their maiden names post marriage, thereby debunking the ‘ghar ka chirag’ myth, are financially independent and perfectly capable of looking after their families, often chose their partners themselves, who like them do not subscribe to the concept of dowry and are supportive of their partners’ decision to continue being financially independent and supporting their families if need be. Yes all that is true, is the response you get, accompanied by more doleful head shaking, but a girl’s life is so tough. Girls are always unsafe, subject to the prying eyes of men, girls have to leave their homes and go to another family, girls have to go through the physical trauma of giving birth and then they have to give up these careers you speak of to raise their children. Girls are cursed from the day they are born so naturally, everyone wants a boy. At this point if you have the tenacity to continue the conversation, you could ask these women, that given that we have arrived at the morbid conclusion that girls indeed are cursed, what could we possibly do about it? Can we ensure that our daughters are equipped to protect themselves by educating them about safety, self preservation and perhaps teaching them some form of self defense? Should we not talk to them (and their brothers) about sex education from an early age, keep clear and open lines of communication with them as they grow up so that they are equipped to make the right choices in future? Can we give them the best possible resources so that they in turn can realize their full potential? At this point I usually realize that I am engaged in a rather futile rant because these women are just doing the doleful head shake all over again and muttering that all this is too much trouble. Why not just consult the Chinese calendar instead? And if all else fails there is always that trip to Thailand. Further probing often reveals that they find it too embarrassing to discuss the ‘S-Word’ with their kids, leaving that instead to the vast knowledge they will surely gain from their peer group, and are inordinately proud of having had normal, epidural free childbirths, because you are not really a woman until you have lived through that kind of pain. And of course if you have to endure that kind of pain you may as well have given birth to a boy, because at the end of the day everyone….you know the drill.This is the point where I end the conversation abruptly because it is usually the precursor to the gory birth story, and also because I have a raging headache by then. I did the same with X after she mournfully informed me that she and her husband had both been very disappointed when my daughter was born and they would continue hoping that I would someday be blessed with a son. She then went on to add that whenever someone in their social circle is expecting a child, they always hope that it is a boy because there should always be one boy in the family, and after that having a girl is not so bad, because they are like add-ons (!).I found myself wondering what would have happened if X had herself had no sons. Would she have continued consulting the Chinese calendar or pinning her hopes on the Thai clinic with the latest technology in the senseless quest for a boy? Would she have brought up her daughters resenting them, always longing for a boy? Would she have kept reminding them how they had been a disappointment to their parents by coming into the world? I can’t help feeling a little glad that X doesn’t have any daughters.
Originally written for 'The Punekar' (March '12)
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