Saturday, June 9, 2012

“Everybody wants a boy”

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)

Selected for BlogAdda's Spicy Saturday Picks! Thank you BlogAdda!



roopz said...

Well said! Thanks for sharing

village girl

Anonymous said...

Long time huh? I dn't knw hw to say it, bt i too am the mujrim of being gender biased...only catch- towards a girl child...v are three sisters n hav been thru- oh ho! Bhai nahi hai? Tch tch. Whn i conceived my 1st baby, i's so convinced tht it'll b a gurl tht i shortlisted female names n wat nt. Ws caught totally off guard whn it ws a boy. Kind of god's way of tellng me-c'mmon boy child is fun too! Nw v r planng our 2nd kid n m all into chinese calanders n wat nt(no, no Thailand)...i am desperate fr a baby gurl! Dn't knw wher i stand. I am defntly a culprit, bt in my opinion....everybdy needs a girl ;-)

Aarthy said...

Hi Manasi,

My parents would vehemently shake their heads in agreement to what you have written .. Two girls they wanted and two girls they have :)

Good to see you back in this space .. Its been really loooong!!
Missed your writing .. Do write more often ..

Booky Buddies said...

Roopz...Hi there and thanks!

Anonymous...Lol, that's a first:)Do these Chinese calendars really work? I was quite zapped when I first heard about them.

Aarthy...Hi there, yes I know I am consistently inconsistent in updating this blog! Now that the summer vacay is over and the child is back in school, hopefully will be more regular.

Priya Sreeram said...

well penned and straight from the heart ! growing up with my sister - she being the perfect partner in crime et al, I can understand all your emotions. I fervently hoped my first child be a girl and was more than delighted to see my angel. Like u say the society educated and so called broad minded has never left its cloak of 5th century thoughts and still caught up in all the associated limiting handles that come with it. Equipping a girl to stand on her own legs and make up her own mind is more than the need of the hour !

Booky Buddies said...

Priya...Couldn't agree with you more! A close friend recently gave birth to a baby girl and ever since 'friends' and 'well wishers' have been advising her not to give up hope and keep trying and the second time round wish for a boy! They don't even seem to hear her when she tells them she wanted a girl.

confessions of a confused being said...

Since this is the first time I am commenting on your blog,a big hello to you. About a year back,sheer boredom forced me to Google all the names of my acquaintances and then when that list came to a naught, I finally Googled mine. While I was anticipating a barrage of hits on some TV actress, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was another Manasi Vaidya out there, and even more happy to note that she was a published author. However according to me , what was ultimately ironical was the fact my namesake chose not to write some mystery thriller or worse, a high brow philosophical treatise but instead about how there isn't a deadline for love! That was the day a perpetually single 22 year old understood the true meaning of Irony.

As I have discovered over the last year or so, having a published author as your namesake can be a whole lot of fun.Trips to Landmark, since then, with unsuspecting friends have been great sources of amusement. One of my most treasured gifts ever, is a copy of your book given to me by my best friend.

Coming back to this particular post, as one half of a middle-class-upbringing-convent-educated sister duo, I have faced the exact "we are so sorry about your bad luck" expression since the start.
Worse still, since I am the younger of the two of us, few people even follow it up with, "So your parents didn't try for again for a little brother". Earlier, such things used to anger me to no end, but of late I have understood its just the ignorance of these people about the kind of strong bond that two sisters can share and how it cannot be compared/replaced with any other. My mom, who growing up,had two brothers and no sister, was the happiest at my birth as she thought now my elder sister would not have not miss out on this bond, like she did, and that I would always have my first best friend, my partner in crime and my guide, with me always. I am glad she was right.