Let’s Hear It for The Baby Girl — And Boy
In one of those rare and precious minutes when I find myself alone and free to do something other than chase a naughty 1-year-old, I often opt for something quite futile: checking my social media accounts. With scrunched up eyes in the middle of the night, I scroll down my world’s newsfeed. On one such recent occasion, I came upon a friend’s post of a painting of a mother with her child under the words: “Blessed is the woman whose first child is a daughter.” The line was attributed to a religious leader. Since then, I’ve kept alert for similar sentiments on my feed, and I soon came across a post on a parenting forum that stunned me. A woman who had given birth to a daughter wrote that she felt blessed because that is what she had wanted.
In response to her post, comments started pouring in from fellow mothers who felt the same way. They confessed they were “dreading the thought of having a son,” and that “Almighty had found them worthy to bring up a girl child.” Some admitted their “dismay at having a son the second time round” when they were gunning for a girl.
The initial shock of discovering something as subtly divisive as this exists took some time to wear off. But when it did, I noticed two things: Firstly, women did not find it vain to flaunt their girl children on social media; in fact, they basked in the glory of the word ‘daughter.’ Secondly, while so many of them were outspoken about either wanting to have or already having a girl, the mothers who may have been ecstatic about having a son were conspicuous by their absence. Hardly anyone talked about being blessed to have a boy. And absolutely no one was talking about the disappointment of having a daughter on any forum.
I can guess why. Ever since I have had my son, Ochoa, I have been extremely cautious about sharing my happiness on social media. I have mentioned “my baby,” “my child” — but never “my boy.” There is a certain self-censorship I have been exercising, as the mother of a son.
The fact that Indian culture is obsessed with The Male Child is not news. People want a son for a number of reasons: to take the family name forward, to be a breadwinner and — believe it or not — to feel macho. Whatever the driving force behind the desire for a boy, it’s strong enough that we have to have Save the Girl Child campaigns. It is, unfortunately, not entirely uncommon for someone who has given birth to a boy to feel she belongs to a privileged group – and not only in her own mind.
However, things play out a little differently on social media, where we can all appear to live up to the ideals of a bright, new India without worrying about if and how we actually do it. Here, people with girls seem to have all the freedom of expression. They hold up their daughters like trump cards and flaunt them, saying, “I have a daughter and I always wanted one,” even if it doesn’t ring true in some cases.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the bigger message they are trying to convey, one of cherishment for our daughters, of rubbishing taboos. But the degree of elation rings hollow and vengeful; the solution isn’t to create a new double standard of appreciation that replaces the original.
Because the truth is, if I flaunted the fact that I have a son and am over the moon about that, I would be labelled a snob, a sexist, someone wilfully careless of the country’s skewed boy-girl ratio. I would be castigated, ridiculed, judged. In fact, before I had my son, I might have had a similar (if milder) uncharitable response to mothers who took joy in their sons on social media. Girl power and all that. And that is why I feel responsible – and inhibited — even while posting something as frivolous as Ochoa in a Master Yoda costume. I sit and stare at my screen, weigh my words and then type a caption that carefully makes clear I love him as a child, not necessarily as a boy (even when the truth is, I love him as both). I don’t want to unknowingly sound rude or backwardly privileged. I don’t want to spark judgment on me.
The way I see it, to have a healthy and happy child of either gender is a blessing in its entirety. Professing a relatively higher degree of joy on social media at having a daughter — when you had no control on the baby’s gender — is moot at best and divisive at worst. It promotes a culture wherein the accomplishments of girls, right from the time their mother declares herself blessed through Internet memes, will always be seen as something out of the ordinary. But equality demands any child – boy or girl — be encouraged and ably supported by parents irrespective of his or her gender. I wouldn’t want Ochoa to feel his learning to skate isn’t a big deal, while the neighbour’s daughter doing the same is. Can’t we all just marvel at how these little limbs grow so fast? How quickly our tiny humans pick up skills?
In a politically correct society — even more so in the online world, where one can get bashed at the slightest of slips – let’s all practise responsible socialising. Let’s consider, watch and weigh our words before letting them drift online. For mothers of girls, think whether you really want to set up your daughters for a twisted version of ‘girls are best’ — or for equality in the bigger picture. For mothers of boys, let’s try to do our best as parents to fill the world with responsible men whose belief in equality will help make the bigger picture possible.
Because we owe that much to all our children.