“Does every woman secretly crave a daughter?” Well top marks for an attention-grabbing title for this recent opinion piece in one of our Sunday magazines. My personal and very articulate response which may or may not have been uttered out loud was – “Ummmm, no, that would be a no”. But as a mother to one son, I was not really the target market as the women about whom she was writing “had at least two boys but yearned for a daughter”. You can’t seek gender-selection treatment in either Britain or Australia unless it’s for medical reasons so couples are apparently flocking to US fertility clinics to guarantee that female embryo. The author cited a UK doctor working in one of America’s largest fertility clinics who admitted to treating 10 British IVF patients a month, all undergoing the procedure solely to select the sex of their baby with 80% opting for a girl. Even if this were true for every State, I wouldn’t exactly call that “flocking” but with a stated increase of 20% per annum, it’s still a substantial number.
So, this is obviously a ‘thing’ but the more I read of the article, the more and more dismayed I became at the proffered explanations. First and foremost was the idea that girls are more likely to look after us in our old age so, as the parents of a sole male child, my husband and I are utterly screwed…left starving and incontinent because “it’s the girls who will eventually bring around a lasagne and book your medical appointments”. And you know what – on the whole, this may be true. But as a reason for wanting a daughter, is quite repugnant. It also involves an assumption about the future that’s hopeful, at best. What if she moves overseas? Interstate? What if you become totally estranged? I know a woman who didn’t even find out her mother had died until three years after the fact. Some women actively dislike their mothers and just the other day at a BBQ, one of my friends commented she wouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep if she never saw her mother again. Another friend, whose mother’s mental illness is being successfully managed with medication admits her brother visits their mother more often than she does. And as a mother of both an adult girl and teenage boy, it’s her son who’s always re-assuring her with “Don’t worry Mum. I’ll look after you.” No-one relishes the prospect of getting old – and less so old and sick – but engineering a daughter on the premise of a guaranteed carer? While you’re at it, why not try for another in case you ever need a kidney.
Moving on, it’s suggested that baby dolls on department store shelves with long hair and pink dresses (reminding us of the dolls we played with as children) are such a potent “cultural influence” that they may be “hardwiring us to crave a soft little girl to nurture”. Is this woman on crack? The only two dolls I can remember from my childhood were a baby boy dressed in some shade of blue and bald as a badger and a girl with short brown hair and a multi-coloured dress. Her language makes me think of the little girls of the 50s with poufy dresses and bows and ribbons in their long, wavy hair. It may be just me but “soft little girl” is just redolent with other adjectives like “demure, quiet, weak, malleable”. All the things you don’t want your daughter to be. And what if she doesn’t want to be nurtured? What if she’s Miss Independent from her first vehement “No!!” or wants to be a tom-boy or refuses to wear anything with zippers or buttons for a year which is what happened to one of the mums from my son’s pre-school? And obviously society has more than a little in common with the author because I remember all the tutt-tutting and disapproval when Angelina Jolie’s and Brad Pitt’s daughter Shiloh only wanted to wear boy’s clothes and have her hair cut short.
And so we continue the downward spiral: Girls are easier to reason with. I laughed so hard I nearly choked on my muffin. Meeting other new mothers for coffee, toddler boys destroy the Café whilst girls “crowd around a colouring book for a quiet half-hour”. I know, right? S-o-o-o inconvenient. Next time grab a take-away and let them all run riot in the nearest park so you don’t have to worry about your son up-ending “a shelf of neatly stacked bottled water”. Mothers can relate to how girls play. I, surely, am not the only mother who would much rather have a Nerf battle than sit down for a tea-party with Barbie, Baby Boo-Boo and Dorothy the Dinosaur. My son was a “Star Wars” fan (legend) and our light sabre battles were EPIC!! This gender distinction in play is so stifling. I remember my son’s pre-school teacher telling me how much the boys loved the dress-up box, donning anything with a bit of bling. My son was Ariel, the Little Mermaid for a good 6 months when he was 3 or 4 – even donning a mermaid tail although this vision of loveliness was never bestowed upon the general public! One of my friends has a young daughter obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; another a daughter who rotates her Spiderman costume and Batman cape and there must be thousands more “out there” like them.
Just when you thought this paean to gender divide couldn’t get any worse, we get a paragraph that plays into every sitcom depiction of males as simple-minded, clueless, distracted boofheads: “There can be an unspoken understanding that develops between a mother and daughter that manifests in eye-rolling each time their brother leaps into the house with a half-dead frog or Dad leaves the milk out to warm again.” Us vs them. That’s precisely why I would want a girl – so I could share my supercilious attitude to the men in my life.
And finally, the kicker. Girls are useful in the kitchen. They want to help, as opposed to their brother who just wants to kick a football around. Well who could blame him – I’d rather be doing that than being in the kitchen too. The author describes her son as “funny, adventurous, brave, kind and insightful” – wonderful characteristics by anyone’s reckoning. But what is she thankful for? “…for daughters when you’re a harried mother just trying to get through each week with everyone fed, watered and alive.” because they set the table and help prepare dinner without being nagged.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be a generational thing. I did a quick survey of my friends who are all in their 40s or 50s. Those with all boys (one with four, another with five), never ‘craved’ a girl; another said it would have been ‘nice’ but didn’t really care; those of us with sole boys actually wanted boys and had we had more children, would have wanted another boy; another said she wouldn’t know what to do with a girl – a common reaction and one that puts paid to the idea we want girls because we “understand” them. The general consensus was that girls are much harder to raise than boys and that the relationship between a mother and son is much less fraught and complicated but just as deep and satisfying.
Even though I am an only child and had a wonderful, loving relationship with my mother, I never saw myself having a daughter. My son has yet to “turn”. At almost-15, he is garrulous, funny, smart, kind, lazy and occasionally, argumentative. I am still an acceptable companion in public so we go to shows, museums and movies together. Somehow we managed to avoid the “terrible twos” and yes, he was an active toddler but I never felt “clueless, furious or upset”, as the author would have us believe of mothers of a “male toddler”. As though the “terrible twos” are restricted to boys. Tantrums, whining, stubbornness and general envelope-pushing are just as much the preserve of girls and I have several friends who can send videos as proof.
I don’t doubt that a great many women have a deep-seated desire for a daughter but as for every woman craving a daughter? Nah. Our sons will do us just fine, thanks.