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The harm in “gender preference” and how it manifests in socialisation

The term “gender preference” or “sexual preference” describes the desire of biological parents for either a male or female child. Where they are displeased by the predicted sex of their unborn child, infanticide and sex-selective abortions are used to achieve the desired result. Mainly, individual, cultural and socio-economic factors influence gender preferences. 

The primary driving force of this practice in some African and even Asian families is the imposition of cultural norms rooted in patriarchy. Male children being the ones who “carry the family name” in this patrilineal society, are regarded as the more desirable gender, especially as a first child for their usefulness. Female children are seen as useful too, but less so, because they are considered and treated as almost chattel; “she’ll marry and become her husband’s after all”. This reasoning served and continues to serve as justification for the age-long practice of relegating women to secondary roles, denying them autonomy and preventing them from self-determination. 

The disparity between how male and female children are treated starts to show even before children are born. We’ve seen videos of people outrightly throwing tantrums and expressing vocal displeasure upon discovering that they’re having a girl and not a boy. In 2021. The rationale behind son preference may be watered down now and the practice itself may have dwindled but it is still very alive and present.

When these children are born, gender roles and stereotypes are imposed early on. A parent’s leanings concerning their child’s gender cannot be hidden in the upbringing and socialisation of their children. Female children are often treated differently when growing. No, girls do not mature faster; responsibilities, slut-shaming and the accompanying victim-blaming and sometimes, trauma rob female children of their childhood. 

Growing up as a Nigerian woman, you probably heard, “Is this what you’ll do in your husband’s house?” or some other variant countless times. Socialisation and training for women heavily centre men; a boot camp for future instances of indentured servitude.

Gender preferences manifest as preferential treatment for some children over others and the imposition of gender roles without consideration for the children’s personalities and interests. A parent who favours male children and considers them of more value than female children will express it even subconsciously and this can and probably will have an impact on how these children see themselves. 

Men who feel entitled to the physical and emotional labour of women around them probably picked it up at home where they’re told that simply because they were born male, they should be waited on. Many men go through life without ever learning basic survival skills like how to cook because they believe the kitchen is a woman’s place. They also go through life expecting the women in their life and even random women to wait on them hand and foot.

When a parent has a rigid gender preference or even any gender preference at all, it automatically places the unborn child in a box of their parent’s making. Children are individuals and, though they need guidance when young, ultimately, THEY determine who they are. An imposition of your arbitrary desires on your child robs them of their autonomy and right to self-determination. Above all, children are people too. 

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