Building a Better Bloke

Boy or girl?

Posted in Gender by Sam de Brito on November 13, 2009

By David Delaney

I was talking to a girl in a shop recently, and I mentioned my brother hassling me: “You know what siblings are like” I said.

“No” she said. “I’m from China. There’s a one-child policy.”

After I finished slapping myself for not thinking of that possibility and talked my way out of it by asking about cousins (she has many) I started thinking about the fact that she was a “she” and that it was nice that at least one Chinese female baby survived into adulthood.

Like most non-Chinese all I knew about the one-child policy was that it’s supposed to have led to boys vastly outnumbering girls. I wondered if that was actually the case, since I often find that things that “everybody knows” are, in fact, wrong …

Turns out it’s sort-of wrong. The best figures I could find are 117 boys for every hundred girls born in 2000. That’s a big disparity, but not overwhelming.

And it isn’t quite that simple: the actual figures are not one child per couple, the average is 1.8. People pay the fines, under-report female births, and so on. A female baby isn’t that unusual. In families that have second children, there is a marked preference for females if the first child was a boy. This has reportedly led to males being aborted – it isn’t only female foetuses that are unwanted.

And as the girl in the shop proves, not every couple insists on a son. All this led me to wonder how different things are here in Australia. For an urban society like ours, an extra pair of hands for grunt work on the farm or in the factory isn’t a big factor in the preferred gender of your child. Families here don’t pay dowries. Girls aren’t considered financial liabilities.

So I did my own research and asked the breeders (and intended breeders) that I know what their preference was, and everybody said “girl.” Girls are cleaner, quieter, and easier to deal with. Everybody knows that. The only parents who seemed less keen on girls were the ones who actually had teenage daughters. And not even the majority of them, just the ones with teenage girls who are not clean, quiet, and easy to deal with.

The idea that every family wants a son to carry on the great tradition (or whatever it is that boys are supposed to do) seems well and truly dead in Australia. Every male I asked prefers girls. After, of course, the usual “I don’t mind either way” disclaimers. The teachers I talked to all prefer girls, too.

I admit that this is something I’ve thought about because of my own experience: fourth son of a mother who always wanted a girl and didn’t get one. My maleness never got me preferred or treated as special. Quite the opposite. It makes me wonder how many boys in our society really feel preferred in the way that feminist commentators seem convinced they ought to.

David Delaney is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.

21 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Jim said, on November 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    David, The ‘breeders’ you spoke to talked about gender preferences based on which is ‘cleaner, quieter and easier to deal with’. Were you guys talking about children or types of dog?

    Our culture is becomming increasingly disturbing with how we regard children. They are viewed either as a ‘lifestyle accessory’ for the clock-ticking, thirty-something females – or as an unthinkable, life-destroying burden by 20-somethings desperately trying to prolong their adolesence.

    I just hope the next generation reacts against our selfishness and greed and that their counter-cultural rebellion manifests itself in valuing children, families, committed relationships and building better communities.

    • Delaney said, on November 13, 2009 at 8:42 pm

      “Breeders” is a common nickname for parents, round my way. It’s not an insult, just slang. But I’ll say parent instead from now on, if you prefer.

      I think you’re being a bit judgemental there – not every 30+ new mother sees her baby as a lifestyle accessory, and not every non-parent is trying to hold on to adolescence. There are many reasons why people do or don’t have children.

      The piece above isn’t really about parents or children, anyway, it’s about people’s preconceptions of what boys and girls are like, and how the different genders are valued.

  2. Ella said, on November 14, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I have 2 boys and most people who I talk to, most have a preference for girls and for the above reasons you stated. But more importantly, calling parents ‘breeders’ is so offensive, as if thats the only thing we have done thats of any worth in our lives, that being having had children. We are Individuals wth whole rounded lives before and after we have children. I know that as a mother, im thought of as just a ‘mother’ by society and in the media, but my life is rich with experiences and knowledge and love and family and friends and colleagues. I am not a ‘breeder’!!!

    • Delaney said, on November 14, 2009 at 1:31 pm

      Oh, come on, it’s slang, not an insult. Many of my friends are parents, and I’ve called them “breeders” without giving offence. If anything, it’s a slight against myself for not being part of something that’s normal and natural for human beings. I’m not claiming any superiority to parents.

  3. Eric um-Bist said, on November 14, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    And also the indications are that the less intelligent the person the sooner and the greater number of children they have. Perhaps this is due to the more intelligent striving for greater education, career prospects before embarking on family-hood, or perhaps because they realise that there is more to life than just basal rooting. But ultimately that means that there is a greater proportion of ill-educates out there & we, the elite, just keep getting more elite. Of course this may not be a problem as such: the comfort of a relative pauper these days is greater than that of a king in centuries past (thinking of electricity, travel and all those other worldly comforts) though obviously it says nothing of their relative social standings. Perhaps though it is good that we elites have a plentiful supply of brute labour to do the drudgery for us?

    • Delaney said, on November 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm

      Actually, I think most of what you’re saying there is either debatable or flat out wrong, but I’m a little busy at the moment so I’ll argue it later when I have more time.

    • a halfwit (apparently) said, on November 14, 2009 at 3:44 pm

      Offensive on so many levels.

      May i haev the privilidg of kissin yor edukated @ss suh, aftah I tuckin in mi 4 yungins?

    • Delaney said, on November 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm

      “The less intelligent the person the sooner and the greater number of children they have.”

      Says you. Among my friends, there are a couple of highly intelligent women who were mothers at 19. One of them was a – OMG! – an unemployed single mother. She’s now a teacher at a respected school, and doing pretty well in general. Her daughter has grown up to be a very stable and well-adjusted young woman, and is now studying at university to become a teacher herself. I know of many such stories.

      The idea that education and intelligence are the same thing, or that education creates intellect, is total nonsense. Plenty of great minds came out of impoverished families. Plenty of great thinkers did quite badly in formal education, Einstein being the best-known example. Children are not blank canvases for parents and schools to fill in – sexual reproduction works by mixing up the genes and giving random results.

      People are above or below the average AT RANDOM. If a child has a gift AND has the opportunities to develop that gift, they’ll do well. But smart parents do not always have smart children. Gifted parents are well known for having mediocre children – even with the advantage of a genius parent, it’s MUCH more common for a child to be average than to be outstanding.

      Plenty of people who do come from the “right” background turn out to be stupid, lazy, and – on occasion – criminal. Being a white collar worker simply gives some people the opportunity to commit white-collar crimes.

      Bad parents sometimes produce good children. And sometimes parents who LOOK like bad parents – teenage single mothers, for instance, or poor people who have more than two or three children – sometimes they’re not so bad at all.

      • Eric um-Bist said, on November 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

        Census results in Western countries show that the more highly-educated the woman the later they are having children (often a first child in their 30’s or early 40’s). The reverse is thus that the lower-educated woman has children sooner and therefore also the opportunity to have more.

        Indeed, education and intelligence are different, however I’d say there is a typical correlation between the two, though the causality is that intelligence begats education. How does one measure intellect anyway? For the layman, you’d base it on observable factors: job, conversational ability, educational achievements, quality of decision-making etc, and all these factors tend to be enhanced by education. So in fact the educated person may appear more intelligent because of that education and, since we can’t easily measure intelligence, maybe this appearance of intelligence will have to do as the measure ie. education also begats intelligence.

        There’s also the cultural factors: people born into deprived areas find it harder to succeed (via conventional career paths) than those born into privileged areas. I agree with you that their native intelligence level isn’t affected by their area of birth, however there opportunity to use that intelligence is. Thus, Mosman, for example, has more than its fair share of kids growing up to be lawyers, bankers etc whilst Compton, USA is disproportionally represented by sports and music as formal quality education is harder to get.

        Anyway, I guess we’ve digressed a lot from your original topic but really this is a vast and fascinating area.

      • wally said, on November 19, 2009 at 5:41 am

        I’m not sure why I can’t reply directly to Eric – but buddy, this is aimed squarely at you.

        I don’t usually feel the need to comment, the musings of others are plenty entertaining. But you have to be pulled up (again that is, Delaney did a fine job above).

        Admit it Mr Bist, you had to look intelligence up on wiki didn’t you? Your ‘observable factors’ are a badly disguised paraphrasing of the first sentence on the page. Your justifications for a breathtakingly bigoted view of people and their relative merits are paper-thin. Shred-able. Circular reasoning is FALSE logic my dear.. ‘if you’re intelligent you will be educated so if you’re educated you must be intelligent’.. That’s not an argument, it’s drivel. I am acquainted with more people than I’d care to admit who are educated, and lacking in those qualities you espouse. And vice versa. Socio-economic circumstances are a huge determinant as to whether an individual will have the means, or motivation to pursue higher education. Ever heard of full-fee paying university students? The doors that magically swing open within law and banking firms when one is alumnus to certain private schools?

        Learn to think for yourself, your response really was offensive.

      • a halfwit (apparently) said, on November 19, 2009 at 10:12 am


        Simply, Thank you.

  4. launadoon said, on November 15, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I thought your thoughts were enlightening…especially this one “I often find that things that “everybody knows” are, in fact, wrong … ”

    I have often wondered about how the one child policy would stick, or even eventuate. So all they have to do is pay a fine for each additional child…hmmm – how strange!

    I would like to add though, having bred, that I only ever wanted a son. I was definitely a challenge for my poor single mum raising 4 children – all at private schools – I think I earned every single bad award on offer, as well as all the good ones. What struck me about an all girl school was their preoccupation with well as the nasty peer pressure enlisted by so many. I was never on the receiving end though it was enough for me to imagine a son would inspire a breath of fresh air.

    And he does ! Wow more then enough !! Boys have a beautiful way of seeing the world ..they are inherently poetic, strong, patient, charming, funny, individual, sensitive, compassionate…I could go on and on !!

    Why do the majority prefer girls…and are these the same majority who prefer 4-wheel drives?

    Anyway, enjoyed your view, and not at all offended by “breeders”…I mean, really..

    • Delaney said, on November 15, 2009 at 4:54 pm

      I’m glad you’re happy with your son, launadoon. That’s one of my themes here on this site: that there’s nothing wrong with being male. There’s a lot of anti-male prejudice around, and I think it just deepens the divide between males and females. I don’t think either gender is superior to the other. There are great men and great women, and there are awful people of both genders.

      I’d rather concentrate on the common humanity between the sexes than on the differences, so I’m trying to fight the myth of the savage and brutal male. The great majority of us aren’t anything of the sort, so it’s great to hear you appreciating the good qualities of your boy.

      From what I’ve seen, nieces and nephews, and the children of my friends, and (briefly) working in a primary school, boys aren’t necessarily any rowdier and more troublesome than girls. It’s all about the individual.

      • launadoon said, on November 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm

        I feel fortunate, though a daughter would have been wonderful too. I grew up in a very female dominated world so my son is a true blessing.

        I remember catching up with an old school friend years after finishing school. I vividly remember the moment because it hadn’t occurred to me that through our time at school together, my good friend was gay. Knock me down….We had deeply heated discussions on feminism.

        I couldn’t agree with her on most levels. Essentially I didn’t believe female liberation needed to compromise femininity. It’s a fine line. I grew up with an imaginative, entrepreneurial mum so the idea of female liberation wasn’t a struggle – not even on an academic germaine greer level. I have two gorgeous brothers. I knew a woman’s potential in a very real way….nothing to do with labels…more to do with life in the real world, which applies to all of us…and pretty much a journey described through Love.

        Okay, from time to time I have struggled with raising my son…. a demure male voice on the end of the line may well have put… telstra at bay..

        Is it enough?


        It seems women need time to transit a sense of self that men have never had to face. Do Men really need to keep redefining themselves while a woman journeys through this?

        Will my son inherit your struggle ? Can I avoid it?

  5. Delaney said, on November 15, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Eric – I agree that people born into deprived areas find it harder to succeed (via conventional career paths) than those born into privileged areas. That’s the real issue, to me. I went to a bad school in a bad area, and I know from personal experience that talents and abilities that would be nurtured and encouraged in a good school are often wasted in a bad one.

  6. kazari said, on November 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I’m 34 weeks pregnant, and my partner and I have no idea if we are having a boy or a girl. (Well, he says he’s got an idea, and that I should have been paying more attention at the ultrasound, but I think he’s bluffing. )
    It honestly doesn’t matter to me, as long as it comes out human and as healthy as possible.
    At least we’ve reached a stage where we can acknowledge that raising girls is different to raising boys. I think either can be difficult

  7. Eric um-Bist said, on November 19, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Wally, firstly I didn’t look up the wiki page (though clearly you have). Therefore your accusation of plagiarism is wrong and, infact, comically wrong, when you then go on to plagiarise my third paragraph and pass it off as your own attempt to criticise me: you even include my own examples of lawyers and bankers. Mate, that is rich, especially when followed by a comment of “think for yourself.”

    I think I’m also quite clear in stating that education and intelligence are different: in fact I use those very words! Really, there’s no ambiguity. But what I do ask is how intelligence is defined. To claim, as you do, that you know some educated people who don’t seem intelligent, just doesn’t cut the mustard as a test of intelligence. What I say is that an education gives the appearance of greater intelligence – it doesn’t make the person more naturally intelligent it just often makes them appear to be so, and, without there being any real test of intelligence, this tends to make people think that the educated man is more intelligent.

    Let me give you an extreme example to prove my point: say you were taken back in time to the early days of Cro-Magnon Man and, consequently, you with your knowledge are able to teach them about things like the wheel, how to write, making fire, cultivating plants etc. Now you may be no more intelligent than them but they will think of you as some great genius for teaching them these things. So yes, in the absence of an intelligence test, intelligence is in the eye of the beholder and, consequently, education counts.

    You may not like my views but the fact that you have to resort to dropping insults every few words means that you are likely the bigot. I also come from a humble background and no doors were opened for me: however I used my determination and intelligence to get ahead and that is the real lesson: less whinging, more doing.

  8. Sam in LV said, on November 24, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Eric um-Bist, don’t take it all so personally. It’s all just banter. When you post such a pointed view, people are going to poke back. Think of it as the price of admission.

  9. C.S. Magor said, on December 1, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Education does not equal intellect – case and point is this kid:

    “Breeders” is not an offensive term. Anyone who is offended by that is too thin-skinned to make it in the real world.

    I was over the moon when I had my boy. I would have been happy with a girl but at the end of the day it allows me to relive a bit of my childhood and get him some of the toys that I always wanted. He’s dirty, he’s messy but damn it he has 50% of my DNA and that makes me pleased as punch.

  10. melbgirl said, on December 19, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    You honestly don’t feel like you have experienced any privileges or advantages as a male? You say, “Girls are cleaner, quieter, and easier to deal with. Everybody knows that.” Isn’t that right there one of the stifling expections that are projected onto girls from the day that they are born? To say that “my maleness never got me preferred or treated as special” is like saying being white doesn’t come with any special privileges.

  11. foursquare said, on February 19, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Sorry. Am I the only one that finds this horrifying:

    “The best figures I could find are 117 boys for every hundred girls born in 2000. That’s a big disparity, but not overwhelming.”

    Apparently, 36 million babies were born in China that year. My maths says there were about 3 million more boys than girls born. Natural conclusion…. about 3 million female fetuses aborted for the simple fact of being female.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: