Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Girl Fetus / Boy Fetus עובר בן / עובר בת

Recently I was given the gladdening news that a relative is pregnant with a girl, including the information that “The baby is fine and she's due in June”. Two things about the announcement make me uncomfortable:

1. “The baby is fine” - said baby is a five-month fetus. Anyone who has miscarried -- and I know at least two mothers who miscarried at or after this point -- knows that those words are chillingly premature.
2. "She's due in June” - I don’t want to know the gender of your unborn baby - I’m nostalgic about few things, but I wish we could turn the clock back on this one. I look back fondly on the time when we used to hear, “Eve gave birth to a boy. She and the baby are fine”.

Two beliefs color my opposition to parents knowing the gender of their unborn child. One hearkens back to the Biblical Tower of Babel, an allegory about the worship of technology. Just because we can know the sex, does that mean we should? Or, as astutely expressed by Bill Muehlenberg in his discussion of surrogacy, “…all too often, if technology and science can do something, we assume it should be done.”

While it’s nice that pre-natal testing can give us certain information, do we need information that’s not relevant to the baby’s health as well as that which is? Are we willing to surrender our decision-making powers to a technician’s possession of random information? Because to the technician, that’s all it is, so what difference should it make that “s/he knows, but I don’t”? If the technician could tell you your child’s IQ, would you want to know?

My other problem is that no matter how I look at it, this information -- an unborn person’s gender -- can only add to the reinforcement of gender stereotypes, which I’d like to see less of in the world, not more. Because when parents-to-be say that knowing their baby’s gender helps them to bond with it, they’re actually bonding with a stereotype. If not, what else could they possibly expect to bond to? What are they picturing when they imagine their newborn boy or girl? If a girl, are they imagining her wearing a backwards baseball cap and an NBA Championship t-shirt, making “vroom-vroom” sounds as she races her matchbox cars? If a boy, are they imagining him clean and groomed, singing his baby doll to sleep? Neither seems likely.

If knowing your unborn baby's gender is important to you, it’s worth asking yourself: Why is it important to me what color to paint the nursery*? Or what the “going-home” outfit looks like? Is boy-DNA blue and girl-DNA pink? Why am I threatened by the idea of someone mistaking my newborn for the other gender? Why is important to me that others “relate to” my child as a girl / boy? What indeed is meant by “relating to” someone as male or female?

I dressed my girls in their boy cousins’ hand-me-downs, and not only did they look every bit as cute, but guess what? What we as a society and the clothing manufacturers define as “boys’ clothing” is more brightly colored and longer-lasting than “girls’ clothing”―no kidding. Is it the chicken, or the egg?

Unfortunately, gender typing begins at the moment of birth―or used to; now we’ve pushed it back to in utero. My plea to parents: Your child’s fetushood is the last and only few months of its life when it is free to be just a human being. Don’t take its last gender-free time away.

*When did this ridiculous word sneak into the American vocabulary? Are we in Victorian England? What happened to “the baby’s room”?

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