"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Gender Essentialism of 'Wanting a Boy'

If you haven't read Kameron Hurley's blog--which recently moved--you should. She's got what I would call a very practical feminism going on in her life which I think is fascinating; I'm not sure if she would call it that, but that's how it strikes me. In one of her recent posts, she describes a situation where she takes some coworkers to task for making disparaging remarks centered around another coworker's attempts to have a boy baby after having two girl babies:
They have two daughters, and this would be their third child. They didn't want to know the sex of the child, mainly because it seems they've been really hoping for a boy, and didn't want to be "disappointed." And there's been some murmuring around the office.

"Poor guy's been shooting blanks," Mr. T said this morning at the roundtable office meeting.

I rankled.

"Wow, Mr. T.," I said, "that was only marginally demeaning to every woman in this room."

First of all, I love that Kameron said something, 'even' in a workplace situation. This is exactly the sort of day-to-day fight that it is sometimes hard to fight as a feminist. But I think it cuts to the heart of the disingenuousness of people who say that they're not being sexist, exactly, but that they'd be disappointed if they had a girl. And I think a lot can be understood as you start to figure out why you want a child of a particular sex, whether you desire a boy or you desire a girl.

So, when one of the commentors says:
That said, if Karin and I have another kid, I'd like it to be a girl. I won't be disappointed if it's a boy -- as you said, I won't love them any less -- but it would be nice to, you know, get to see what it's like to raise a girl, too...

I immediately begin to wonder--why is it that it's different 'raising a girl'? Certainly doesn't seem like it should be different because of the sex of the baby--but it's different because of the gender that will get created around that sex. And I think it's interesting that there's a deeply-seeded idea (no pun intended) that raising a girl ought to be different--not just is different--than raising a boy. Seems to me that the similarities between the two ought to fundamentally outweigh the differences, though I know in practice it doesn't work out that way, partially because of the self-fulfilling prophecy nature of 'wanting a girl'.

The very act of wanting a boy or wanting a girl smacks of a kind of gender essentialism that bugs me. It would be like wanting an engineer or wanting a basketball player--certainly it would be a different experience raising one or the other, but why ought one have a higher value at the outset? Wouldn't it just be great to have a kid, have the kid be happy?

And what's with the idea that one can want to have a girl, but not be disappointed at having a boy (or vice versa)? Do people have a different sense of wanting than I do? When I want something, and I don't get it, there simply is dissapointment, isn't there? Sure, it may be offset in the case of children by the joy of having a kid, but that doesn't mean there isn't disappointment--and I think ignoring that fact, or trying to weasel out of it by saying "I want 'x' but I won't be disappointed if I don't get it," really points to the fact that people do see different genders as having more or less worth than other genders, which, y'know, just doesn't wash with me--it smacks of a gender essentialism that flies in the face of the various kinds of feminism I embarace.
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