When I told my parents-in-law we were going to have a baby girl, they only gave a faint smile. The comment my father-in-law’s little sister made, however, is still in my mind: “That’s ok. You can try for a boy next time”.
For a long time I felt strange. As if having a girl was some kind of failure. “We can try again…” My husband tried to console me by saying she didn’t mean it that way and that his parents are very happy about a grandchild no matter the gender. But I couldn’t shake the feeling.
Yes, the traditional preference for a son in modern China is not as widespread and intense as it was a few decades ago, but it is still existent; especially in rural areas. The ‘One Child Policy’ (计划生育政策jihua shengyu zhengce), first applied in 1979, has always put pressure on rural households, where it was important to have a son who can lead the family, cultivate fields, generate networking relationships and make all the important decisions (and also continuing the family name). Most rural areas though often received special permission to exceed the one child limit. This is one of the reasons my husband has an older sister (two in fact). Before the change to the One Child Policy earlier this year, everyone was only allowed one child. Rural areas were permitted to have two, if the first one was a girl. This rule alone showed the preference for a boy even being supported by the government.
Obviously it cannot be generalised that all rural places prefer boys over girls, but it is undeniable that to a large extent, traditions and customs have played a major role in keeping this belief alive.
It seems to still be very much alive in my husband’s family. Both his older sisters had baby girls as first born. So it wasn’t even a question if they wanted a second one or not. Most people I have talked to in my husband’s village have a strong often vocal preference for boys.
This talk about gender has always made me feel uncomfortable. I have had Chinese friends tell me how their mothers-in-law left the hospital without even looking at the baby when they heard the doctor saying “It’s a girl”. How heart-breaking!
One evening (I was already heavily pregnant) my husband and me were sitting at the dinner table, when one of my husband’s friends called. He just found out that the second child on the way will be a boy and wanted to share the good news. He already had a daughter and admitted if the second one was a girl again, he would want his wife to abort. I was shocked by the casual way they were talking about such a topic.
“What will you do if our second child will be a girl?”, I asked my husband anxiously.
“We try again.”
“What if the third is a girl, too?”
“We get an abortion.”
In that moment my entire world shattered. I was in shock and disbelief that my husband could utter those words. That he would still prefer boys over girls. He grew up with the same traditions and customs that have always put a strong preference over boys, but I never thought it would be so ingrained in him.
Since then we have talked a lot. My husband loves his baby girl and if I ask him now, if he would change Sophie for a boy, he wouldn’t. Of course, he still hopes for a son in the future but he admitted that it doesn’t matter anymore. Our little family will be happy no matter the gender if our children.
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