Friday, June 27, 2014

To find out or not find out...

We found out....and it's (drum roll) ....a boy! (albeit very anti-climatic for the readers of my last post in which I blurted it out).

My husband and I did not have Hamlet's internal crisis, at least with respect to this one issue and we were both keen to find out whether I was carrying a boy or a girl from the start which opinion, when requested, elicited certain disappointment and near recriminations from some of our fellow colleagues. They would nod their heads sadly and say, with an accusing stare, "are you sure?" and kindly advise that it would lead to putting undue expectation on our yet to be born child, letting us freely imagine that he would be a new Tesla (his great grandfather was one of his compatriots and patrons but unfortunately no genius was exchanged) or that maybe she would be a great actress. I quickly dissuaded their fears by explaining that whether or not we knew the sex, we were charging forth with unbridled assumptions as to our baby's future genius and talents. Whether a boy or a girl, they were to solve the world energy and freshwater crisis, broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and surrounding Arab states, transform the US political system into a more democratic and egalitarian one, reach all the summits of the various continents (and for those that draw the line politically rather than geologically, he or she would climb both Mont Blanc and Elbrus), be a polyglot, including being able to converse with orca and be the new Homer (but one that isn't blind and that would be known to actually have existed). For us, nothing changed when we found out the sex, except for the fact that we were four months in and had added many more talents and accomplishments to our growing list. 

I find it quite interesting and a little triste, to note that sex is accepted to elicit different expectations from parents. If a male, he is to be a great scientist and/or footballer, if a female a great beauty and artist. We continue to have very delineated expectations of what is gender appropriate despite our surface progress and it starts from the colours we have attributed to either sex so that young boys are submerged in blue and young girls suffocated in pink. Quite a few people commented that the reason they didn't find out the sex, or tell other people, was to avoid an armada of one particular shade conquering their baby shower. While I wouldn't rebel against the common line as far as buying hot pink onesies for a boy, I wouldn't hesitate to buy blue for both sexes. This belies my own interpellated sexism that The Other is the female, so that pink is segregated only to the female dominions, but blue, not being distinctly gendered, could be used for either. 

Imagine the scenario of a baby elephant whose dream is to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon. The baby elephant succeeds, but not without the help of an acute grey parrot, a pioneering cartographer, who joins in their ride. In the end they return and the overjoyed and proud memory serve them coconut sorbet (a craving I have been having that pervades my thoughts, but no matter). What sex did you attribute to (a) the elephant (b) the grey parrot (c) the sorbet maker and server? (since elephants are matriarchal societies that do not include adult males, this is not exactly a neutral question, but you get the idea). Is the adventurous and ambitious baby elephant a boy or a girl? 

Now take the scenario of a young hippo who wants to join the Bolshoi Academy and practices rigorously each day to the point of wearing out their point shoes whilst laughed at by a cackle of hyenas (again, not a neutral example, but let's focus on our poor little hippo). One day, the hippo, falling over during a very daring pirouette turned arabesque routine, decides that maybe they should give up their dreams. A friendly old croc gives sage advice about not giving up and the hippo continues practice, even more determined and astounds Moscow. What sex did you attribute to our (a) ballet practicing hippo and (b) our friendly old croc? 

In the first scenario, the characters are more gender neutral although displaying historically male characteristics (adventurous, courageous, determined etc). In the second scenario, ballet, although rife with male ballet dancers, as part of the larger category of dancing and arts, is usually delineated to the traditional female virtues. 

Here's another for you (not my own):

A son and his father are in a terrible car accident and rushed to emergency. Once there, a group of doctors handles the father and another group examines the son who is need of emergency surgery. The doctor they call sees the patient and immediately declines to perform the surgery - "that's my son." What is the relationship of that doctor to the patient? 

It astounds me that some people still get confused by the “riddle” above, at least at first, not easily picturing that the doctor is the mother of the boy. That's how far we've come. Of course, it could be his other dad, but this is a question of an older sort...and this in turns bring me to the bigger issue, which is raising our children with particular gendered and sexual expectations. Numerous studies have been conducted that show adults picking up babies, respond to them in different ways when told they are of a particular sex (even though they use the same baby for the experiment). The vast majority of us will raise our kids with certain preconceived gendered expectations and an assumption as to their sexual orientation. How do we account for the fact that a child may be transgender, for instance, in their upbringing in order not to fortify any feelings of confusion, shame and isolation they may feel at perceiving themselves as abnormal and misunderstood? I don’t have an answer (otherwise I would certainly have published a book to that effect) but it is an interesting and pertinent subject to explore, albeit I must leave leave it to another post…

Back to Revelation Day. For us it was a little less anti-climatic as during our twelfth week ultrasound, the doctor had asked us whether we wanted to find out the sex and we eagerly said yes. I had an intuition from around the second month that I was carrying a boy and it was driving me insane that I could be incorrect, particularly as the more seasoned mothers had advised me emphatically that if you thought you were carrying one sex, you were indubitably carrying the other.  My husband saw it before the doctor did. “What’s that between its legs?” he asked eagerly. The doctor advised us that our little peanut did indeed look like a boy but that the mysterious third lower appendage could just as well as be the clitoris, due to the early stage of our baby’s development. Now our interest in finding out baby’s sex really piqued and we eagerly waited for the 15 week ultrasound for affirmation. At our 15 week ultrasound, we acutely scanned the screen along with the doctor for clarification of our baby’s more delicate regions and again, dad was first to note that there was a distinctly looking male apparatus right where he expected it. The doctor confirmed - we were having a boy. At our 19 week ultrasound, the doctor confirmed our baby’s sex once more, “yep, that’s definitely a boy” and his smiling dad proudly stated that with his son, it was clear early on what he was carrying and commented that he would probably have great luck with the ladies to the cool reception of my raised eyebrow. 

When we revealed the news to our friends and family, no one was surprised as everyone had already voiced the opinion that I was carrying a boy. Strangers had even approached me and commented that I was “carrying” like I was having a boy. I wondered whether there was something to it- maybe the old wives knew more than we gave them credit for. However, on closer investigation, it appeared that all my friends and family who have given birth were also told they were carrying a boy. Thinking back, I realized that I had also incorrectly guessed numerous times that my friends were carrying boys when they were carrying girls. Could this be a remnant from when a women’s “duty” was to bear an heir? In recent modern history, stating “oh, darling, it looks very much like you are carrying a girl” was more akin to a shrewd insult than an expressed neutral opinion (as even though it is the male that decides the sex, it was the woman that was judged for giving birth to the wrong chromosomes). 


Oh boy, oh boy. 

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