On gender preference: boy… girl… does it matter?

With 95% of expectant parents opting to find out the sex of their baby during the 20-week scan, it seems we’re fixated on whether we’re having a girl or a boy. But does it really matter? And when does gender preference become a feminist issue?

The discovery of a wanted pregnancy is potentially one of life’s most joyful moments; you’re growing a baby, which is profound and gives you new purpose and direction. So really, what does it matter whether it’s a male or female foetus?

Well, to expectant parents it matters a lot, according to midwife Heather Trice. She says that around 95% of the women she looks after during pregnancy choose to find out the sex of their baby during the 20-week ultrasound scan.

Gender preference: a sign of pre-birth assumptions?

“Parents want to know because it might determine the colour of the clothes they buy or the general preparations they make,” she says. But is this indicative of an organised nation, or a sign that gender assumptions begin before the baby is even born?

When I was pregnant with my first baby I had a deep desire for a daughter. I couldn’t rationalise it but it was perhaps down to my relationship with my own mother, and longing for a child I could emulate this with.

I never told anyone about my preference – not even my husband – as there was a 50% chance it would be a boy and in that event, I was sure I’d love him just as much. But mostly, I would never have wanted my son to find out that I’d actually wanted a girl.

However, I was concerned throughout the pregnancy that I might experience gender disappointment so when they said: “It’s a girl!” – I was delighted. But then I spent more time with my three nephews and realised that my expectations about what a girl would be are based on nothing but sexist stereotypes.

In countries such as China, girl children are sometimes so undesirable that pregnancies are aborted if the foetus is female

Corinna Gray, 35, was also desperate for a daughter and spent a month mourning the girl she’d hoped for after discovering, at 20 weeks pregnant, that it was to be a boy. “It’s ridiculous, really” says Gray, “because as a feminist, I know that a girl won’t necessarily be passive and emotional, and not all boys will be insensitive and constantly tearing about the place.”

But she couldn’t shake off this desire to have a girl. Until her son arrived. “He is sensitive and kind,” she says, “just like his dad. He enjoys sitting and pondering things, reading books and he loves cuddling. It’s down to his genetics and upbringing”.

It was the opposite for Jaz White, 30, whose firstborn was a girl. She experienced acute gender disappointment so decided to ask the sex during the 20-week scan when pregnant with her second baby. Again, it was a girl. “My husband said the colour drained from my face,” she says. “I really thought I was going to get a boy this time round.”

She can’t work out why it is that she wants a boy – it’s just an internal longing. But she wonders if following a lifetime of experiences with our siblings, friends and then colleagues, we all internalise gender differences and perhaps it is this that feeds into our desire for either a daughter or a son.

Gender expectation and preference is no new phenomenon. Traditionally, parents might have hoped for a boy who would carry on the family name. He could continue the family business, and provide for ageing parents – while a woman would need to be married off, deeming her a burden.

Are boy and girl babies are so very different that only one, and not the other, can bring us happiness?

This line of thinking, while no longer common in the UK, continues to be a major issue in countries such as China, where girl children are sometimes so undesirable that pregnancies are aborted if the foetus is female.

And not just that – high levels of infanticide and the abandonment of baby girls means that 35 million women in China are “missing”. This has led to a much higher population of men who now can’t find partners to settle down with as there simply aren’t enough women to couple up with.

There are similar problems in India. The dowry required to secure a marriage for your daughters – illegal since 1961, though still largely in operation – leaves parents-to-be hoping for boy babies. It’s for this reason that there are allegedly 2000 baby girls killed before or just after birth every single day in India.

Gender-selective abortion and the abandonment of girl babies may seem medieval and unimaginably cruel – and is barely in existence in the UK, due to pregnancies and new babies being closely monitored – but we still harbour a desire for one sex over the other.

Emily Hall, 37, has a daughter and hopes for a boy next time round. In order to achieve this, she plans on altering her diet – eating more calories around conception – and having sex only on the day of ovulation.

Is this a harmless attempt to manipulate nature, or symptomatic of the deep-rooted beliefs – buried into the psyche of each and every one of us, through years of societal pressure to conform to gender roles – that boy and girl babies are so very different that only one, and not the other, can bring us happiness?

I’m now pregnant with my second child and while I have fleeting thoughts about whether it will be a girl or a boy and which I’d prefer (a sister would be nice for my daughter; a boy would be nice as we already have a girl) I’m reminding myself that it is the individual, not the sex, that matters.

* Some names have been changed

What are your thoughts on gender preference? Did you want a boy, a girl – or did you not mind either way? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below…