Gurpreet Randev: Bollywood Babies


Dealing With Gender Preferences

Is blue really better than pink? Some seem to think so.

I’m feeling some trepidation about writing what I’m about to write but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to deal with this and maybe we need to talk about it.

To make a long story short, my mother really wants me to have a boy.

Scratch that. I should say, my entire family of the older generation really wants me to have a boy. Like really, really badly. To make my point about how earnestly they want a boy, let me repeat a conversation I had with my aunt a few days ago. I’m currently visiting family in Calgary and asked my aunt when she’d be coming to Ontario to visit me. “When you have a boy,” was her reply. So naturally, I asked her what about if I have a girl? Her response was something similar to, “Don’t dare utter such nonsense and curse your tongue.” It wasn’t said in English so I can’t provide an exact translation but it was along those lines. And the thing is, she really meant it. When my daughter was born, another aunt congratulated me by saying, “Well, it’s only your first and you’ll have a boy next time.”  Ummm…thanks, I think???

I guess you can say I’m used to hearing these sorts of comments and hadn’t given it much thought until I recently saw an article in the Globe and Mail about “gender disappointment” felt by parents. I can’t relate to that but I can’t help but think about my own experience in dealing with family members. It appears from my own personal experience that it’s pervasive across the South Asian culture. This has been the case for generations and from what I understand, this preference historically evolved due to the large dowries required for a daughter’s weddings, limited education or employment opportunities for women, and the fact that sons were the ones who inherited ancestral land while carrying on the family name. It seems that because of these sorts of limitations, daughters were often born into this world more as a burden than a blessing. Bear in mind, I’m not speaking about religion but rather the culture I’m born into. It’s important to note that the two are very different in their regard of gender.

At the same time, it does appear that attitudes are gradually shifting as the world continuously changes and the rights of women are improving all around the world, including India. I know as a Canadian, I have never once been made to feel like a burden to my parents, regardless of what cultural preferences they may have. While I am grateful to grow up in a place and time where my gender does not limit what I hope to accomplish with my life, I know that is not the case for millions of women around the world. Perhaps because of that, a preference for sons can still be found in my culture—a relic from days past that is hard to shake.

Another case in point. When boys are born into a family, sweets are widely distributed to friends and family by the grandparents. No sweets were distributed when my daughter was born. I’m not saying my daughter isn’t loved – she is spoiled and coddled and cherished by her grandparents. However, culture dictates that sweets are only distributed when boys are born and going against that means being the talk of the proverbial town. Not something to be taken lightly, that’s for sure. And definitely not for the faint of heart. In fact, one family member did it over two decades ago and people still attribute his unlucky breaks to that instance. It’s almost funny in the fact that it’s so incredibly ridiculous.

And the really strange thing is, I don’t find myself as angry as I feel I should be. I feel I should be incensed. I feel like I should be hooting and hollering about the injustice and discrimination and just plain meanness of it all. But I just can’t do it. I know my mom loves her girls as much as she loves her son. Not to mention that her granddaughters have become her life. In all honesty, I can’t help but feel some sympathy for her. I know how hard it was for her—my brother was born twelve years after me and I know she constantly felt judgment by others for her inability to mother a son. I remember myself having to constantly hear about her ‘poor, son-less self.’ I think it’s that fear of the same for her daughters that has her hoping for the Y chromosome so badly.  It is because I know this that instead of anger, I can only feel sadness.

I can’t help but feel some sadness that my mom will never really understand when I say I wanted a girl when I was pregnant with my first child. She will never really understand when I say I want another girl now that I’m pregnant again because I want my daughter to have a sister. She still feels the weight of the culture to have a grandson and can’t understand why I can honestly say that I feel none to have a son. I just don’t care. Maybe it’s because I can see it for the nonsense that it is in today’s day and age.

Regardless, it’s not something that I can blame her for either. Her experiences have shaped her just as mine have shaped me. What I really am is grateful—grateful that no matter what, she raised me to cherish the very thing she fears. I love my culture but I will not let it control how I feel about my children. And no matter what, my daughter will always know that—irrespective of what culture may dictate.