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"Sex selection defies culture, nationality and creed."
June 10, 2011 7:36 AM   Subscribe

"Over the past few decades, 160 million women have vanished from East and South Asia — or, to be more accurate, they were never born at all. Throughout the region, the practice of sex selection — prenatal sex screening followed by selective termination of pregnancies — has yielded a generation packed with boys. From a normal level of 105 boys to 100 girls, the ratio has shifted to 120, 150, and, in some cases, nearly 200 boys born for every 100 girls. In some countries, like South Korea, ratios spiked and are now returning to normal. But sex selection is on the rise in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East." American journalist Mara Hvistendahl's new book: "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men," examines and tries to predict the actual and potential effects of unequal sex ratios on men, women and the social economies of the affected regions, including the recent spike in sex trafficking and bride-buying across Asia. More.

Ms. Hvistendahl has been a science and/or Asian culture writer for many publications, including Scientific American, The Chronicle for Higher Education, Popular Science and Science. This book grew out of a seemingly-simple magazine article assignment from the Virginia Quarterly Review to examine gender imbalance in China. When she examined the results of academic research studies for clues as to why and to what extent sex-selective abortion had become common in Asia, more questions arose than answers. See her essay in the Chronicle: A Plea for Real-World Research for more.

Mentioned in the Chronicle essay: Amartya Sen's 1990 groundbreaking piece: More than 100 million women are missing. Also see his essay from May 12 of this year: Quality of Life: India vs. China

Additional research: The UNFPA has some documents available on "Sex-Ratio Imbalance in Asia: Trends, Consequences and Policy Responses" They analyze trends in China, India and Nepal.
posted by zarq (65 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well when you give women reproductive choice they do not always make the choice "society" wants. Get over it.
posted by three blind mice at 7:41 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I wouldn't be so sure the women are actually making that choice, rather than having that choice made for them by their community.
posted by aramaic at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2011 [34 favorites]


Uh. I think they're clearly making the choice "society" wants.
posted by cheap paper at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I realize this is both overly simplistic and ideologically problematic in like five different ways, but I'd like to live in a world composed of more women than men by a 1.5-1 ratio if not more.
posted by clockzero at 7:46 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Depends which society you mean. If you live in a society that values having sons over daughters, and in which daughters join their husband's family, then each individual woman who is having a sex-selective abortion is making the choice that their society wants, though as a whole, they are not doing what society wants.
posted by jeather at 7:47 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have friends who are currently working on assignment in Chennai, India. She's currently pregnant with twins and although she could get (cheap!) ultrasounds in India, they would not divulge the sex of the babies. They had to come to the US to find that out. This is why.
posted by tommasz at 7:51 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Clearly, these cultures have not seen Dr. Strangelove, where it is made clear that we need 10 women for every man.

On a serious note, I don't think this is a choice being made by women to do the opposite of what society wants. I think they're doing exactly what their society wants, since giving birth to a female is considered generally undesirable in those societies.
posted by King Bee at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


three blind mice: "Well when you give women reproductive choice they do not always make the choice "society" wants. Get over it."

Here's the problem: when a society devalues women, it shows up in more aspects than birthrate demographics. A level of inequality and neglect of women becomes perpetuated. From the Sen essay, linked above:
At birth, boys outnumber girls everywhere in the world, by much the same proportion—there are around 105 or 106 male children for every 100 female children. Just why the biology of reproduction leads to this result remains a subject of debate. But after conception, biology seems on the whole to favor women. Considerable research has shown that if men and women receive similar nutritional and medical attention and general health care, women tend to live noticeably longer than men. Women seem to be, on the whole, more resistant to disease and in general hardier than men, an advantage they enjoy not only after they are forty years old but also at the beginning of life, especially during the months immediately following birth, and even in the womb. When given the same care as males, females tend to have better survival rates than males.
...
The fate of women is quite different in most of Asia and North Africa. In these places the failure to give women medical care similar to what men get and to provide them with comparable food and social services results in fewer women surviving than would be the case if they had equal care. In India, for example, except in the period immediately following birth, the death rate is higher for women than for men fairly consistently in all age groups until the late thirties. This relates to higher rates of disease from which women suffer, and ultimately to the relative neglect of females, especially in health care and medical attention. Similar neglect of women vis-à-vis men can be seen also in many other parts of the world. The result is a lower proportion of women than would be the case if they had equal care—in most of Asia and North Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America.
So no, "getting over it" really isn't a good idea. Not if you give a damn about human welfare.
posted by zarq at 7:55 AM on June 10, 2011 [24 favorites]


I've heard stories of local hospitals (local being in the Toronto area) refusing to divulge the sex of the baby during early ultrasounds, due to an apparent rash of female babies being aborted. Of course, this is just rumour running through pregnancy circles - my wife and I didn't want to know the sex of our first, so it wasn't something that we encountered.
posted by antifuse at 7:57 AM on June 10, 2011


It's a free-rider problem. Society as a whole benefits from an equal male-female ratio, but in cultures where daughters are seen as a bad thing, or where there are substantial extra costs to raising a girl (less or no income contributed to the family, having to provide a dowry, etc), it becomes a bad choice for any "rational" individual to carry a female child to term instead of letting "other people" do it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:59 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


With the caveat the evolutionary psychology is, at best, hand-wavey pseudoscience - I can't help but wonder to what degree biological imperative is playing a role here.

Basically: men and women are not playing the same game from a reproductive standpoint. A man's son has a clone of his Y chromosome, because the mother will contribute nothing to it. Any other genes, including all of a woman's, it's a 50/50 shot whose get passed on.

Because male DNA reproduces asexually in some small part, it seems plausible that the all-or-nothing nature of that fact has some manifestation in cultural moires regarding procreation.
posted by Ryvar at 8:03 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Previously
posted by shothotbot at 8:04 AM on June 10, 2011


antifuse, I've heard of that happening in Canada as well. Heresy from someone in another internet hangout is that she drove an hour and a half to a non-local hospital to get her 20-weekish ultrasound from a place that would tell them the sex, but was refused based on a relatively new policy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:06 AM on June 10, 2011


I am a liberal. This is a horrible thing to do. But abortion is ok with me.
posted by Postroad at 8:07 AM on June 10, 2011


Well when you give women reproductive choice they do not always make the choice "society" wants. Get over it.

Wow. Way to totally misrepresent the information for political spin effect. You get this month's Newt Gingrich Award for Despicable Rhetoric.
posted by aught at 8:08 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Holy crap. If there's been a more simplistic, wrong-headed, party-pooping opening comment of a fascinating and complex topic, I haven't seen it.
posted by ORthey at 8:09 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's another issue. Society values males over females, takes acts to select for same. Time passes. You know have a society filled with men, who often can't get work or a girl.

Traditional answer to this problem: Invade someone else. You'll either take their jobs and women, or kill off your excess males.

Repeat...well, judging by history, forever.
posted by eriko at 8:11 AM on June 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


The funny thing is (or not so funny) is that society mostly valued boys so that they could invade other tribes/countries. Chicken or egg?
posted by spicynuts at 8:14 AM on June 10, 2011


We have already begun to see the impact; despite Western quips about it raising the status of women, all it does is raise their value as property, with an ironic lowering of their status as people. In other words, you're going to restrict the movements of valuable property even more than that of non-valuable property.

So: kidnapping, rape, imprisonment, forced childbearing--not like these things were rare before.
posted by emjaybee at 8:24 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Way to totally misrepresent the information for political spin effect. You get this month's
> Newt Gingrich Award for Despicable Rhetoric.

There are two ways to understand three blind mice's comment, one pro- and one anti-choice.

1. Anti: we told you reproductive choice was a bad idea but you demanded it anyway. Well you got it, so sleep in the bed you made, STFU.

2. Pro: women's reproductive choice is so much more important than any other reproductive consideration that your even mentioning some unpleasant unintended side effect makes me suspect you're anti-choice, STFU.

I can't tell which message was intended. Can you? And if so, how?
posted by jfuller at 8:30 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The good news is that, since girls rule and boys drool, the U.S. will dominate the 21st century after all!
posted by msalt at 8:31 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not just culture - it's also economics. In China, women are still paid less than men - even if a family has a daughter, she won't make as much as her brother would have and can't support them in their old age.

I had a professor who argued that China's one-child policy would never work until they had a functioning social safety net (all through "communism" there was no
welfare/protection for rural people).

I would add to this income equality.
If you want a culture to value women, then pay them as much as men.
posted by jb at 8:32 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


With the caveat the evolutionary psychology is, at best, hand-wavey pseudoscience - I can't help but wonder to what degree biological imperative is playing a role here.

Basically: men and women are not playing the same game from a reproductive standpoint. A man's son has a clone of his Y chromosome, because the mother will contribute nothing to it. Any other genes, including all of a woman's, it's a 50/50 shot whose get passed on.

Because male DNA reproduces asexually in some small part, it seems plausible that the all-or-nothing nature of that fact has some manifestation in cultural moires regarding procreation.


I'm not entirely sure what you're saying here, but it seems to be confused if not simply wrong. The sex chromosomes (X or Y) are only 1 of the 23 pairs of chromosomes each human being possesses, and in all 23 cases, the zygote receives one chromosome of each pair from each parent, and thus the zygote is exactly 50% one parent and 50% the other parent.

The only thing that I can think of that even resembles what you are saying is that, for most chromosomes, there will be some "crossing over" as the chromosomes are copied before the sex cells are formed within the parent, such that, in general, one does not simply possess a chromosome that is identical to one of the parental chromosomes, but more likely a combination of the genetic material from each individual parent's chromosomes. In other words, you don't get a direct copy of grandma's chromosome 14 or grandpa's chromosome 14 as possessed by your parent, but most likely a combination of the two. However, this crossing over doesn't happen between the male parent's X and Y, although it does happen between the female parent's two X s, so you do get grandpa's Y, "undiluted" by any of grandma's X, whereas the X chromosome from either parent is more likely to be a combination of the two grandparents' X's.

If that was what you were referring to, it still isn't a very good "evolutionary psych" argument, since the "dilution" is still of the grandparents' chromosomes, rather than of the parents'--a truly strange argument for selection.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:38 AM on June 10, 2011 [14 favorites]


In China, women are still paid less than men

Pretty sure that's not limited to China.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:39 AM on June 10, 2011 [13 favorites]


We have already begun to see the impact; despite Western quips about it raising the status of women, all it does is raise their value as property, with an ironic lowering of their status as people.

All jokes aside, when I became aware of this problem twenty years ago, I had hoped it would force Chinese and Indian societies to value girls more. Sadly, of course, this is not the case. And a generation of very angry young men are left to deal with a problem not of their making.
posted by orange swan at 8:39 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's not just culture - it's also economics. In China, women are still paid less than men - even if a family has a daughter, she won't make as much as her brother would have and can't support them in their old age.

The economics are far more concretely repressive than that. Our driver in South India had about five sisters to generate dowries for, in order to marry them off before he could get married. He had basically been reduced to a slave, sentenced to driving around rich, fat Americans because he had had the bad luck of having sisters rather than brothers.
posted by goethean at 8:48 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Guess it's time to cite Gunnar Heinsohn's Youth Bulge theory as a predictor of war, an casually mention that China now has 32 million more males than females under the age of twenty.
posted by likeso at 8:52 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Exactly, goethean. This isn't about people who think that it's bad in some nebulous sense to have girls instead of boys. Many cultures penalize families with daughters in very real, sometimes very crippling ways.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:55 AM on June 10, 2011


The Weather Girls never had it so good.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:13 AM on June 10, 2011


Well when you give women reproductive choice they do not always make the choice "society" wants. Get over it.

When a woman can't make the decision to marry who she wants or to not marry at all, I seriously doubt she is the one calling the shots over her reproductive rights.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, that classic has a line in the chorus that mr.likeso misheard, and infected me. Forevermore, I will hear them singing the crescendo "Rubber ducky, strong and mean".
posted by likeso at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2011


Pretty sure that's not limited to China.

You're right - but it's more extreme in China (and other places, but it was China I was studying) than in many first world countries, and we aren't as likely to be solely dependent on our children's earning power for our basic old age security as Chinese people.

I just wanted to point out that culture and economics are in a terrible feedback loop - women are less valued, so paid less, so even less valued, etc - and that one way to change culture is to change the economics - which is a lot easier to do by fiat. Mandate equal pay for equal work to start with.
posted by jb at 9:38 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I must be living in a time warp. Where are the feminists? No woman will ever achieve equality uf she does not first have absolute control over her own body. Control over her thoughts and motivations come long in second place.
posted by three blind mice at 9:59 AM on June 10, 2011


WSJ: No Room for Girls in India’s City of Dreams? Mumbai's Surprising Sex Ratio Drop.
“It has been seen that whenever total fertility rates have fallen, there has been a visible impact on the sex ratio” said A.L. Sharada, the director of Mumbai’s Population First non-profit, which works on population and health issues, and runs campaigns against sex selection. “The preference for the son is so strong in the mindsets that naturally when they want a smaller family, people prefer sons.”

posted by zarq at 10:11 AM on June 10, 2011


I am a liberal. This is a horrible thing to do. But abortion is ok with me.
* Not sure if serious... or possibly just succinct? *

If anything, this the perfect argument for creating as 'perfect' an environment for reproductive choice as the world can make - a society can compel births _or_ terminations against a woman's wishes.

It would be great if the choice was made with a minimum of bullshit where and whenever the choice is made. But, that must be quite rare. Health status, age, finances, cultural pressure, proximity to services, etc, etc.

It occurs to me that most pro-choice people would also vote with votes, dollars, etc to prevent forced or coerced termination. A lot of them have kids themselves, just judging from the stickers on minivans.
posted by drowsy at 10:11 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ugly tho it might be, the thought occurs to me that this is a very rough-and-tumble form of population control.

O'course, so's war...
posted by tspae at 10:12 AM on June 10, 2011


Where are the feminists?

Sitting over here, pissed off that once again another right has been re-engineered into a dirty tool to block our progress.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:14 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm reminded of a quote, which I am doubtless mangling horribly, so my apologies for that. Nevertheless, broadly speaking it was:

"The most dangerous thing in the world is a young, unmarried, unemployed male. China has twenty million of them"

...this is why my bets are on a catastrophic war in the next fifteen years. Sort of a cascading nightmare, where one thing goes wrong, people in neighboring countries react poorly, and the next thing you know tanks are rolling through Kashmir, India has just nuked Pakistan, and Chinese divisions are making suicide charges down to the Mekong.
posted by aramaic at 10:25 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not That the Actual Forbidden Knowledge is as Interesting as That There Is Forbidden Knowledge

Not only do mothers sometimes kill their own children, they are almost never insane when they do so. On the contrary, for a mother to murder her own child is an evolutionary adaptation without which our species would not have survived some of the environmental and social disasters of the past. What's more, the actual reasoning behind this is so simple that a straightforward simple equation in four variables is sufficient to provide a reliable estimate of the probability that any particular mother will murder any particular infant: the age of the mother, whether or not this child is the gender that the mother wanted (which, itself, turns out to be easily and universally predicted based on only two variables, the mother's social status and the predicted reliability of the food supply), the child's birth weight (and to a lesser extent other indicators of long-term viability), and her estimate of whether or not attempting to nurture this particular child will only get both her and the child killed.

(Boldface mine)
posted by dragonsi55 at 10:31 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I must be living in a time warp. Where are the feminists? No woman will ever achieve equality uf she does not first have absolute control over her own body. Control over her thoughts and motivations come long in second place.

Well, you know, you might a: try Google and b: stop assuming that "sexism persists" results from "feminists sitting on their asses."

Given that women in Saudi Arabia can still be arrested for driving a fucking car, maybe it might be good to acknowledge the enormity of the task of unseating several thousand years of discrimination based on gender worldwide.
posted by emjaybee at 10:32 AM on June 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm a feminist, so, hi. This is a very complex issue that is occurring in cultures that I know next to nothing about. I think that feminists in those cultures are the best people to listen to.

Obviously, forcing women to give birth is not okay. Forcing them to abort is not okay. I don't even know to what extent women are being forced or coerced to abort, versus willingly choosing to abort. I don't know what the pressures are on any individual woman, how those pressures vary by class, ethnicity, education level...

Applying my principles and positions to a situation that is incredibly far removed from my own is not something I'm willing to do. I could knee-jerk comment about it but what's the point? What would it add?
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:33 AM on June 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


I wonder, purely academically, if in addition to sex selection, prenatal tests are commonly done to determine other factors? Or Is the sex of the fetus such a major concern that other factors don't even come into play?

Like, once that Y chromosome is identified it's basically, "Whew! It's a boy, we'll keep him."

I guess I am basically wondering whether even a sickly boy is preferable to any girl at all.

This is just so sad to me, that a sincere concern for the future of generations threatened by over-population has led not to responsible population control but this twisted rationalizion condoning widespread gender genocide.
posted by misha at 10:34 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically: men and women are not playing the same game from a reproductive standpoint. A man's son has a clone of his Y chromosome, because the mother will contribute nothing to it. Any other genes, including all of a woman's, it's a 50/50 shot whose get passed on.

Dude, seriously, it's more complicated than this.

@three blind mice. They aren't aborting girls just because they want to. They are forced to do it.
Where are the feminists?. Ammm, in the fucking suction bucket? Geesh..
posted by c13 at 10:34 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


All the sociobiologists expect any overly male society will seek out war, tspae. Twofer!
posted by jeffburdges at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2011


Three blind mice: what do you think are the motivations behind sex-selective abortions? Who do you think is making those decisions? Do you believe those decisions are those of the pregnant woman, alone?

IOW, where are the feminists? We're trying to swallow our nausea and dread for long enough to point out, once again, that abortion is not in and of itself an advancement to women. Free and unfettered access to reproductive choice and freedom is, and access to abortion services is part of that. But abortion can be coercive and repressive as well, and there's strong evidence to believe that that's what's going on here.

I mean, for fuck's sake. In what way is it "feminist" or "choice" for a woman to be told she'll be divorced or beaten if she gives birth to a daughter?
posted by KathrynT at 11:38 AM on June 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


"Traditional answer to this problem: Invade someone else. You'll either take their jobs and women, or kill off your excess males."

And "The most dangerous thing in the world is a young, unmarried, unemployed male. China has twenty million of them"


Yes ... political scientists will tell you a HUGE predictor of terrorism, fundamentalism, and war-mongering is a large group of unemployed young men (15-35 or so) without access to wives. (Which may be because they're unemployed and therefore can't afford to start a family and settle down, or may be because access to women is restricted by multiple wives for the rich or by lack of women generally.) Any time you see a youth bump in society coming, it should make you nervous if that economy isn't healthy, or if women aren't available.

I remember when I was in school pundits were saying "Japan will take over the world! The next decade will be the Japanese decade!" but my poli sci profs were saying, "No, look at this coming youth bulge in struggling economies in the Arab world -- we need to be a lot more worried about that." QED.

(Although I suppose the Arab Spring is also the result of the large, disenfranchised youth bulge in the Arab world, and that's a good thing. So clearly it's not a plainly simple this-leads-to-that.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:50 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, it's not as simple as "youth bulge leads to Bad Stuff," but unrest is unrest, whether it supports improvements or backslides.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


the young rope-rider writes "I've heard of that happening in Canada as well."

In BC hospitals will only reveal the sex of a baby after 20 weeks (and the cost isn't covered by MSP). You have to go to a private clinic for sex determination before 20 weeks.
posted by Mitheral at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


When several of us Americans were in China to adopt children (15 families, 14 girls and one boy, to a Chinese-American immigrant family), we oh so gently asked our guide what they thought would happen in the future with so many girls leaving the country. Like who were the men supposed to marry? His answer was that the girls would go to other countries, thrive, get great educations and return to China to find husbands. While that seemed ridiculous, I do suspect that part of China's goal was to shrink the growth of the population a bit. Not sure it would work.
posted by etaoin at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with Orange Swan. When I first heard about this 20 years ago I was hoping that a scarcity of women would make them more valuable but I figured out for myself that was just wishful thinking. A scarce commodity is one that people will lie, cheat and steal for and in this case the commodity itself becomes more of a Thing and less of a Person. My heart breaks for all those Chinese women who would have loved to have a daughter but were not allowed to.

On a sidenote I was intrigued by this: Considerable research has shown that if men and women receive similar nutritional and medical attention and general health care, women tend to live noticeably longer than men. Women seem to be, on the whole, more resistant to disease and in general hardier than men, an advantage they enjoy not only after they are forty years old but also at the beginning of life, especially during the months immediately following birth, and even in the womb.

While I knew they generally lived longer, I did not know women were more resistant to disease. I wonder if it has something to do with survival of the fittest during our very long stone age existence? In most primitive tribal cultures women were usually given less access to the best food so the women who survived and passed on their genes were the ones thriving on this second class diet. Give their female descendants a first class diet and they out live men. Just an idea. Or maybe it is something to do with the Y chromosome.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:43 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like, once that Y chromosome is identified it's basically, "Whew! It's a boy, we'll keep him."

I guess I am basically wondering whether even a sickly boy is preferable to any girl at all.


Seemed to satisfy Henry VIII.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:46 PM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


KathrynT: where are the feminists? We're trying to swallow our nausea and dread for long enough to point out, once again, that abortion is not in and of itself an advancement to women. Free and unfettered access to reproductive choice and freedom is, and access to abortion services is part of that. But abortion can be coercive and repressive as well, and there's strong evidence to believe that that's what's going on here.

Well put. As a feminist myself, I believe that reproductive choice and freedom are part of a larger, interlocking web of ways to help women achieve equality. At base, of course, is universal acceptance of the idea that women are of equal value to men. Ensuring access to abortion is only one step along that road.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:47 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you want a culture to value women, then pay them as much as men.

Culture doesn't sign paychecks. Culture != money.
posted by gjc at 5:03 PM on June 10, 2011


In most primitive tribal cultures women were usually given less access to the best food so the women who survived and passed on their genes were the ones thriving on this second class diet.

Where did you hear that?
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 5:51 PM on June 10, 2011


It's not like favoritism toward sons over daughters is exclusive to Asia, either is it, O extra daughters of lords who were placed in nunneries, or who lost their right to inherit because the estate was entailed away and who died in poverty?
posted by jfwlucy at 7:12 PM on June 10, 2011


Funny timing, as this very topic is on the cover of the latest issue of Maclean's that I received in the mail today.
posted by aclevername at 7:47 PM on June 10, 2011


jfwlucy -- actually, English families in the pre-modern period tended to provide just as well for their daughters as for their sons. it's true that primogeniture among the upper classes meant that the eldest got the lion's share, but younger sons were in the same position as their sisters. And studies of middling sort families have found that while farms, etc, were usually left to the eldest son, there were usually quite significant disbursements (compared to the size of the estate) to his sisters and younger brothers which he would have to then pay out of the estate -- sometimes worth 1/5-1/3 of his yearly income (fortunately usually payable in installments). Unlike contemporary India, there's no evidence that girls were shorted on food so that their brothers could eat more. In families struggling to feed themselves in c1900, English mothers would short themselves to keep the working father healthy, but employed girls would get more food than unemployed boys.

the relationships between families also differed. One of the reasons why there didn't seem to be strong preferential treatment of boys even in patriarchial pre-modern England may be because kin-ties were bilateral. There was no concept that you were raising a daughter for another family; she would always remain in your family and might take care of you. Older people were just as likely to have a daughter look after them as a son -- so investing in her future was investing in your own.

Indeed, one of the reasons that Austen writes about families having entailed estates and forgetting (or refusing) to put away money for the girls is that those families were, by their culture, doing it wrong. They were supposed to provide for their sisters and female relatives out of the revenues of the entailed estate. But if they'd done the right thing, there would be no story. (And even their poverty was only genteel poverty -- in Sense and Sensibility they had £500 a year at a time when a farmer might make between £50-100/year. A hundred years later, lower working class men in London made about 25 shillings/week or £62/year, of which their wives might get £52 to pay rent and buy food -- as detailed in Round about a pound a week.
posted by jb at 8:06 PM on June 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Secret Life of Gravy, I think it's more that women have to be healthier to reproduce than men.
A man can be on deaths door, but as long as they can get their sperm into a women, technically they've done all they need to, too reproduce.
A women has to be in good enough shape that she's fertile in the first place, then remain in good enough health for ~3/4 of a year to carry the child to term, let alone all the child raising stuff.
Hence women have very strong selection for any and all genes that keep them in good health, men have some selection, but as it's not so fundamental to reproduction for them, the selection pressure is not as strong.
posted by fido~depravo at 8:56 PM on June 10, 2011


three blind mice said: Well when you give women reproductive choice they do not always make the choice "society" wants. Get over it.

and: Where are the feminists?

I'm a pro-choice feminist and a mother. Even though I've never chosen abortion, I certainly could see myself doing so if I lived in one of the countries in question. If I knew that my daughter would be short-changed on food, medical care, and education; if I knew that her life would be one of subservience and repression; if I knew that she would be unlikely to ever have agency over her own body, I would probably choose to abort her as an act of mercy.

But that angle is really not applicable or relevant as anything more than a thought experiment, because the kind of reproductive choice I have as a woman living in America (if it doesn't regress any further than it already has) is not even remotely related to the kind of sex-selective pregnancy terminations being discussed in the articles and studies in the post.

When a woman lives in a culture where her lack of freedom affects every significant aspect of her life, and where her personal safety and welfare are often uncertain, then her reproductive choices are not truly her own.
posted by amyms at 11:31 PM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


What kind of choice is it when you can't afford a daughter's dowry, and you need a son to work, and, eventually, to support you. Plenty of women will abort that daughter, out of dire necessity. And it's a little better than leaving the infant daughter out to die.

The social issue comes into play when the pressures that force many individuals into the same choice have a huge effect on the culture. The effect is very hard to predict. It's worth discussing, and paying attention to.
posted by theora55 at 8:25 AM on June 12, 2011


There was a very good segment on CBC's The Current this morning that included an interview with Mara Hvistendahl. The first part of the program focused on the missing girls problem in India and the Indian government's attempts to address this with "cash for girls" programs. The problem is that sex-selective abortion of females is more prevalent in urban families with higher income and education levels. Therefore, cash incentives from the government encouraging families to keep the second girl aren't necessarily effective, because the money being offered isn't enough to convince people who are already financially well-off. One of the interviewees suggested that the Indian government would be better off addressing India's lack of old age security programs, because sons care for their parents, while daughters care for their in-laws. Apparently, as the saying goes, "Why water the neighbour's garden?" Sigh.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:25 AM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can understand the over population issue but selecting boys over girls..? Doesn't make much sense to me.
posted by tailgatorz at 7:36 PM on June 16, 2011


Shanghai Scrap did a Q&A with the author last week:
ShanghaiScrap: ...you provided readers with one of the book’s most jarring conclusions: “Reproductive rights activists often blame men for sex selection … [A]cross China and India, across South Korea and Vietnam and Azerbaijan, the decision to abort is most often made by a woman – either the pregnant woman herself or her mother-in-law, who has a vested interest in her son’s offspring … ” As a feminist, I wonder if you could describe the process by which you came to that conclusion, and why it – the female mediated discrimination against female children – hasn’t become a feminist issue.

Hvistendahl: To some extent I think it’s just easier to blame domineering men —or the one-child policy, or any other number of external factors that have been named as causes of the sex ratio imbalance. Acknowledging that women are making these decisions themselves is much more complex.

Again it comes back to that notion of choice. Reproductive rights organizations tend to argue that sex selection exists because of entrenched gender discrimination, and the way to prevent it and balance out the sex ratio at birth in China and other countries is to focus on discrimination as the root cause—and funnel resources toward things like education and job opportunities for women. Well, it turns out that the sex ratio at birth is very skewed among educated women in India, while among illiterate women is close to balanced.

The same holds true for China to some degree: sex selection is happening not in poor western provinces but in booming second-tier cities in the east. Liao Li, the Suining women who took me to the church service, had aborted two female fetuses, and at some point she said, look, this is about gaining face—about earning respect from other people in the community.

I’m sure there are men who pressure their wives into aborting female fetuses, but my conversations with women revolved much more around things like face and social standing. On some level, sex selection abortion is prompted by a basic human craving for status—a craving to which women are just as susceptible as men.

...
My personal take (as it pertains to China) is that the skewed sex ratio is not as simple as reducing it to the product of a male dominated society controlling women's bodies, rural infanticide or even the one-child policy. It's more nuanced that that.
posted by tksh at 2:48 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


In some countries, like South Korea, ratios spiked and are now returning to normal.

Abortion is mostly illegal in South Korea and the government recently began cracking down on it after years of letting it slide. Perhaps this has contributed to the ratio returning to normal.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:50 PM on July 5, 2011


Well when you give women reproductive choice they do not always make the choice "society" wants. Get over it.

Well thats just lazy.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:12 PM on July 6, 2011


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