My brother-in-law and his wife are expecting a baby in June. After they had the 20 week ultrasound, he called to tell me it was a girl. I asked him how they felt about that. "Actually, we are excited because we both hoped for a girl," he said.
The fact that they would be excited to have a girl is unheard of in some places around the world. BlogHer CE Snigdha Sen wrote about India's missing girls in 2008, noting that, "Gender-based abortions in India... [are] such a pervasive practice that it probably doesn't outrage us enough to tackle it on a war footing." This same practice has left millions of Chinese men unable to find a wife because so many female babies were aborted or abandoned.
I've wondered for years what this unnatural imbalance between the sexes would mean. I pondered the laws of supply and demand that I learned in my grad school economics class: if supply of a good is less than the demand for that good, then the value of that good will increase. It's a basic concept in economics. Since the past/current value of girls was negative (or zero) caused the current/future shortage of women, it seemed reasonable to me that suddenly girls could become very valuable.
I liked this idea a lot. It sucked that a crisis would cause the "value" of girls to increase, but at least it would change how girls were viewed as worthless. My husband was skeptical. "Women will probably be kidnapped from other regions to make up for the deficit. It's hard to change ingrained cultural notions like that," he told me.
Of course, he was right. It turns out that areas of the world that don't have enough women instead "import" them from other areas. The value of girls has not increased at all in parts of the world in which they always had very low to no value.
When I later thought about my exchange with my brother-in-law, I felt lucky to live in a country that, for the most part, values girls as much as boys. The United States has many, many problems with gender double standards (see: Scott Brown's ability to win a Senate race despite old nude photos, which would likely have destroyed a female candidate for public office), but the best evidence that I have that as a nation, we do care about girls is that we pay for both girls and boys to attend public school until at least the age of 16. This is not true in many parts of the world. We may not necessarily treat boys and girls equally in school and afterward, but at least we see girls as worth educating, which means that we see inherent value or we wouldn't bother with the investment.
Still, my conversation with my brother-in-law reminded me of the problems we create by insisting that we raised children in strict gender binaries and "cute" stereotypes. After he told me how happy he was to have a daughter, he announced that he was already buying a baseball bat to fend off all the boys.
"Do not start that shit," I told him.
"What do you mean?"
I sighed. "If you were having a boy, would you joke about running off to get a baseball bat to fend off all the girls?"
"Exactly. Do not start this gender double standard stuff already."
"Yeah, good point," he replied. He was probably humoring me, though. (I'm pretty excited to be the crazy feminist aunt.)
At the end of the day, members of Western society can pat ourselves on the backs for valuing girls as well as boys. But we have a long way to go before we abandon our own ridiculous concepts how girl and boy babies differ and other gender stereotypes. That's when we'll really value girls as people.