One of the hardest questions to answer: “Which is better, a son or a daughter?” The question alone comes across as insensitive, despite that it’s unavoidable that for some people, there is that preference to have a child of one gender over the other. Just the idea of gender is a whole can of complexities when it’s applied to a child and the expectations and hopes that a parent might have for a son or daughter.
I can’t speak for everyone and can only go by my own experiences with feeling like I am treated differently by people, like my parents, my extended family, because I’m a girl/woman instead of a boy/man. That being said, I have also witnessed the same people treat my older brother differently, in both positive and negative ways, because of his gender.
I think the problem lies in the expectations some people have depending on someone’s gender. Or even the expectations a person can have for oneself. On a cultural level, I struggle with the perception I have of myself because I’m not only a woman but it’s the gender I identify with. The first few things that pop into my head now when I think of womanhood is femininity, motherliness, and maternity. This shows the ridiculousness of the conditioning I have gained from the culture around me, both in American and Asian cultures, that a woman’s role is demoted to bearing children and being tender-hearted. I don’t want this to be my immediate thought process but it seems I cannot help being influenced despite that childbearing and marriage are the two things I can’t ever see myself wanting. I’m sure there are women who desire children and are more softspoken, but those traits don’t have to be the idealized traits of a specific gender. Anyone can wish for children and have a gentle personality; man or woman.
Just the other day, my mom was talking to a relative on the phone. She was replying to a question about my brother, who she stated hasn’t been home in weeks. This is no fault of his own because he lives with his girlfriend and is very busy with work, in addition to doing his own thing on the weekends if he’s seeing friends or whatnot. But it seems she was disappointed by his absence. Next thing I know, she says, “Having a daughter is better.” I frowned at her comment. What exactly did she mean by that? It could be that I have personality traits in me which she finds favorable over some of the personality traits my brother has, but when my gender is being directly referenced, I feel sensitive about whether I’m being seen for me or if I’m being relegated to my gender role.
Like, am good because I act in a way that she finds becoming for a daughter? What about the times I’ve not lived up to some of her expectations? One such instance where I felt I was being pushed into a gender role was in childhood. I was going through that “I don’t want anything to do with my parents” phase of teen life. My mom was commenting on the fact that when she was a girl, she often helped her mother a lot and spent a lot of time with her. In that moment, I really felt like she was pressuring me to give her something just because I was a girl and not a boy. Perhaps I took her words in the wrong way because of how she said it, and maybe she just meant she wanted a closer relationship with me, but the comparison of what she did with her own mother just made me assume she expected the same from me because of my gender. I mean, I don’t know if she had a similar conversation with my brother, but I doubt it because of the gender thing.
Coming from a Chinese background, I’ve heard sons are usually preferred over daughters. I have not really experienced it though. Maybe because I grew up in America instead of a predominantly Asian country and was influenced by culture outside of my parents’ culture. Or maybe because my parents didn’t really hold those kinds of values for some reason. I know about some things, like when my mom was pregnant with my brother, she and my dad didn’t do a gender check and just thought they were having a girl as their first child. My dad’s mother seemed to be fine with this, but when my brother was born, she said to my mom, “A firstborn should be a son, of course.” Of the little memories I have of my grandmother before she passed away unexpectedly, I never felt like she treated me differently because I was not a boy, however, if my mom had never told me this story, I wouldn’t have known that despite how much someone can try not to care what gender a firstborn is, this can still fall at the waysides because of culture and tradition. Another example is one I am still shocked by even now. One of my dad’s paternal male cousins has two daughters, but he apparently begrudges his wife on a regular basis for only giving him girls instead of boys. I’m appalled that gender matters so much to him, especially considering he is blaming his wife as if she had any control over their children’s genders. And for the record, it’s the sperm’s chromosome that determines an embryo’s gender, so if he wants to blame someone instead of accepting how wrong his bias is, he should blame himself.
My mom used to say that she was her mother’s favorite child because she was the only daughter out of three sons. My dad has told me many times since I was a child that he prefers a daughter to a son because a man’s life is more difficult than a woman’s. That is just his opinion, but I disagree with his generic view. Why does there have to be preconceived notions of how a woman or man’s life is going to be even before it happens in real life?
Then there’s the disapproval that sometimes happens when a person doesn’t act accordingly to what other people believe he/she should be based on their gender. I had a male cousin who liked the color pink, and while I never heard of either of his parents having a problem with this, my dad once commented to me how “unmanly” it was and his implication that he seemed like a sissy for it. At the time, I was a teenager and felt confused by his statement. I didn’t exactly see how it could be wrong for a boy to like the color pink, yet I was uncertain if he was right to think pink was a “girly” color. All my life up until then, I still had a very narrow view of gender roles because I didn’t have the exposure to understand that pink wasn’t a color exclusive to girls/women. For the same cousin, he was once bullied by girls so badly that he cried. I felt awful for him, but both my parents reacted to the incident as if he was a wimp for crying. Boy/man or girl/woman, no matter who is the offender and who is the victim, it’s never okay to harass or bully someone. Crying is a universal reaction all people are capable of having when they are in pain and no one should have to feel as if they are less of a person for expressing themselves that way.