Hello, ladies. I am guest blogging over here, as I normally blog from When Did Life Get So Complicated? (jdmarriedtomd.blogspot.com). I love reading The Brown Girl Chronicles, and learning about the authors’ post-grad challenges and triumphs. It is nice to read about other people’s existential issues for a change.
Growing up Indian, I always knew what was expected of me. Make good grades in high school, do well in college, go to medical school, marry a Desi boy, be a perfect Desi wife, and have numerous Desi children. My life plan digressed slightly from this scheme. I went to law school instead of medical school and then married a White boy. But all was okay because I did it by the ripe old age of 25. My Mother was glad I was back on track. Within a year of being married, my Mom started the baby questions. She started gently at first, with small questions here and there. Then she got my Dad in on it, who assured me it would help me bond with my husband. What the heck? I chose my husband because I love him, and that love is definitely enough. Then came my Grandmother, my dear Dadima, asking when oh when would she be able to see her grandchild, because her days are numbered and she wants to see the family “completed” before she dies. But I practically lost it when my Mom informed me, right before Ramadan, that she was praying for me to have a healthy baby boy.
And this is where Desi baby fever differs from, say, White baby fever, which I am sure my in-laws are experiencing themselves right now. Desi baby fever requires you to have a baby boy within 9 months after marriage (why not less? what do they have against preemies?). White baby fever requires you to have a baby, without regard to gender, a reasonable time after getting married. Since my husband and I have been married for two years, it may be reasonable to expect a baby to come forth. If my husband and I have a child, it will be the first grandchild on either side, so there is plenty of anticipation going around. What bothers me most about baby fever, Desi style, is that in some families, there is an expectation that they don’t want just any baby, they want a baby boy.
Culturally, a boy is a source of pride, bragging rights, less of a burden, and a form of social security during the parents’ old age. Everyone knows about gendercide in India and China, where male birth rates are higher thanks to abortions after sex determination (or worse, straight up murder). Culturally, and this isn’t true in every family, a female can be considered a burden, a source of derision, and generally a bad investment. I always considered my family very conservative in values but at least somewhat progressive when it comes to women’s rights. I was allowed to go away to college, and it was expected that I’d work outside the home after marriage. My Mom didn’t change her last name when she married my Dad. Signs of being progressive, right? So why were my parents kowtowing to old-fashioned, outdated, and completely wrong notion that having a boy would be better?
I guess some notions may be difficult to shake. As I have married outside my culture, race, and religion, these are not values that I plan on instilling in my child. A baby girl is just as much of a blessing as a baby boy. A baby girl can grow up to do anything. She can be the breadwinner and the bread maker, and look fabulous while doing it. A baby boy is not inherently special, as gender alone does not make you special. It is a social construct that has been used to oppress and label individuals. My husband and I will never buy into that game.
There are a lot of great scholarly articles out there about female infanticide/foeticide in India and all over the world, most notably Amartya Sen’s essay “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing”. There is also a new documentary coming out, called “It’s a Girl” and the website is http://www.itsagirlmovie.com/. You can also catch an episode of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate on the issue with some stats and stories that will blow your mind, whether you’re generally aware of the issue or not.