When there’s news about Britain’s royals, I’ll read it or listen to it – and seeing what the female members of the Family are wearing is always fun. But this former Brit has never gone from casual interest in the lives of the Mountbatten-Windsors to the ongoing obsession with royal doings that seems to affect millions in the Western world.
So while news outlets breathlessly conveyed every detail they could glean surrounding the birth of Catherine’s and William’s first child – third in line to the throne – and while expectant crowds trembled with emotion during the countdown and waxed even more hysterical after the appearance of George Alexander Louis, what actually grabbed me was the originality with which some of the British press announced the event.
Like the Private Eye editor who came up with the satirical magazine’s cover: a blank page containing three words in huge block letters: “Woman Has Baby,” followed at the bottom of the page by “Inside: Some Other Stuff.”
Humor won out again at the Daily Mail, where a large photo of a bemused-looking Prince Charles was accompanied by the headline: “Oh Boy! One’s a Grandpa.”
Seeing that the 11-hour natural birth went according to plan, The Independent’s “little sister,” called i, struck a clever note with “Born to Rule.”
But my vote for first place went to the editors of the daily tabloid The Sun, who, in a neat trick perhaps most appreciated by other hardworking wordsmiths, recast the next day’s masthead as “The Son.”
MY SEEMING aloofness from the general rejoicing is not to say that I do not wish the British royal couple, and their newborn, well; on the contrary. They seem like nice young people, free of snobbery and, as modern representatives of the Royal Family, as good as we are likely to get.
Emotionally affecting, also, is the fact of the much-loved and much-mourned Princess Diana’s legacy continuing through this first grandchild.
BUT ALL the fuss over this tiny future king set me wondering whether a female would have been received with quite as much adulation – even while Amanda Platell, writing on July 29 in the Daily Mail, said she was “sorry, but I still wish [Kate’d] had a baby girl: In a world so lacking in role models for girls, how extraordinary a young, modern queen-in-waiting could have been.”
Let’s not linger on the Chinese, who congratulated the royal couple on their delivery of a “healthy, single, male child” (my italics). We know the Chinese scale of regard for boys vs girls; and, in fact, throughout Asia, the preference of many parents for sons over daughters has led to an estimated 80 million girls “missing” from what should be the normal balance between men and women in a society, perhaps because they have been aborted, neglected, or killed outright.
Without sufficient girls around, who is to bear – and marry – subsequent generations of boys? We react with horror to tales about the fate of many female embryos and infants in Asia; but do Western parents favor boys over girls? Seemingly, at least fathers do.
In a Gallup poll reported by CNN in June 2011, Americans were asked: “Suppose you could have only one child. Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?” By a 40 percent to 28% margin, with the rest having no preference or opinion, they answered they would rather it were a boy.
Such attitudes, the network noted, were remarkably similar to what Gallup measured in 1941, when Americans preferred a boy to a girl by a 38% to 24% margin.
This overall preference is driven by male attitudes; American women show no preference for either sex.
MEN’S WISH for sons may be explained by evolution since males have a greater chance of perpetuating the family genes by fathering far more children than a woman could ever bear. Gender psychologists point out that sons and fathers share more genetic material than fathers and daughters because the X chromosome is passed on as a unit, and this could underlie an instinctive preference for sons.
Men, moreover, seek the pride and importance of having the family name passed down through the generations.
Identification also plays a part (“When he’s older, I can take him to football matches”) leading men to believe they will connect better with a son.
According to sexual and gender psychologist Prof.
Glenn Wilson, “Before the birth, a father would assume he’d connect with his son psychologically more so than with his daughter, and that they’d have more shared interests. There is also research showing marriages with sons are less likely to break down than marriages with only daughters.”
BUT COMMENTS that I read on the Internet suggest that once a baby is born, men’s stated or assumed preference for a male child becomes largely irrelevant.
The overwhelming concern of both parents is that the newborn should be healthy.
Opines Brenda R: “I think that men (and some women) have a preconceived idea of what it would be like to have a boy vs having a girl, but once you actually have them, it doesn’t matter... at all.”
Adds Alexis: “Men say they want a son, but when a daughter is born they melt down.”
“‘Like father, like son,’ and ‘daddy’s girl.’ They both fit,” says Emmie.
MACHISMO is strong in Middle-Eastern countries, where men rule the roost and women have a very, very long way to go before they gain social equality, if they ever do. That baby boys are the most wanted in Arab society is highlighted in a news story I read some years ago.
A Gaza woman gave birth to a son, the sixth or seventh – I don’t recall – in an unbroken succession of boys. Her husband was so delighted with this that he promised her “anything you desire.”
One might imagine a whole list of luxuries she might have requested. What she actually asked for was “a kiss from Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat].” If the report is to be believed, her request was granted.
AMONG JEWS too, there exists a wish for sons who will carry on the family name and say the Kaddish memorial prayer for their parents after their deaths – though today many Jewish women, including in the Orthodox community, also take on this duty.
A friend told me about a secular Jewish woman she knew in Tel Aviv, who gave birth to a fourth daughter (no sons) and “was initially devastated.”
“How can I walk into a store with four girls?” she asked my friend, who retorted: “Are you mad? You have four beautiful, healthy girls. Appreciate them.”
WHEN MY daughter was 14 or so, she developed a severe stomachache that I thought merited further investigation, and so I took her to the hospital, where she was sent for an ultrasound examination in the obstetrics department.
Fortunately, nothing serious was discovered, but an amusing incident occurred that has stayed with me.
It was quite late at night. While we were waiting for the examination results, the only ones sitting in the corridor, a young new father rushed to the public telephone on the wall – this was before cell phones became ubiquitous – and spoke excitedly into the receiver.
“Yes, Ima, the baby is fine, healthy – a girl.” Then, more soberly, “Nu, what can you do? Next time...”
He put the phone down. Before going back inside to rejoin his wife, he turned around and gave us a conspiratorial wink.
“Actually,” he said, “it’s a boy.” He smiled mischievously. “I just felt like fooling my mother-in-law. I’ll tell them when I get there.”
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