Gender Disappointment & Just Regular Old Sexism
Lauren Wisgard is a final year Law and Journalism student at the University of South Australia and was recently nominated for Best Student Journalist at this year's SA Press Club Awards. As a passionate social justice advocate and feminist, Lauren writes about issues that inspire both thought, and hopefully, action.
A Tik Tok video went viral recently showing a soon-to-be father's disappointment at the prospect of having another daughter. His wife shared the video of their gender reveal showing the soon-to-be-Dad-of-three storming off swearing as pink confetti rained around them. The man can be heard repeatedly yelling, "F***" as he walks out of the video frame. The video was captioned by the mother, "I swear he's happy".
The viral moment was viewed over 43 million times, and comments were soon disabled as the internet unsurprisingly began to call him out. Some called the video "painful to watch" and likened the reaction to a toddler-inspired tantrum. Others didn't take the video as seriously, pointing out the wife's reaction which was seemingly overjoyed and unfazed by her husband's obvious disappointment. But many expressed their concern about the message this video sent to girls when a dad was so visibly disappointed that he was not having a son. This video is not an isolated incident, as other videos of apparent disappointment also went viral on the platform with similar discussions starting in the comment section.
Among the chaos of the reactions there seemed to be several important conversations: the hot topic of gender disappointment, the potential sexism of these reactions, the difference between sex and gender, and the history of women being blamed for the sex of the baby. So, in what I will attempt to be a succinct overview of these overarching issues, let's dive in.
There is a historical bias towards boys, and despite how far we appear to have come with disrupting gender norms, this is an issue that is still prevalent today. If we go back a few centuries, women could be beheaded for not producing a male heir. Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn springs to mind, who was beheaded in 1542 at his request because did not give him a son. More recently, you only have to look back at the past few decades at countries like China and India, where a preference for boys led many couples to abort their pregnancy after learning they would be having a girl. In Asia, sons are often preferred because they have higher earning capacity and they can continue the family line which is important in a society structured with patriarchal values. For centuries, the strong preference for a son has led to discrimination against girls to the point of infanticide in some cases.
While I am talking mainly of China and India in this example, gender preference is still a real thing here at home and in other western countries like America. It is safe to say that all parents-to-be have an idealised version of what their future family might be like, and have hopes for the way their children may be. There is research that many parents want their children to take up the same interests and hobbies they have - for example, a dad might have a desire to teach his son the sports and hobbies he grew up enjoying. A yearning to create a mini-me. One can only assume this is what the dad in the viral Tik-Tok video was feeling, the disappointment that an image he had created of his future child was no longer possible. Of course, what he has not seemed to have considered, is a girl could also very easily take interest in the hobbies he wanted to pass down. Not to mention, his son might not have been at all interested in the alpha-male characteristics of his dad. Ah, the joy of gender stereotypes.
Now, to the topic of gender disappointment. Gender disappointment has been reported on as a mental illness by the media and that it is a very real form of depression. However, research by Tereza Hendl and Tamara Kayali Browne published on The Conversation, found that there is no evidence that gender disappointment is a mental illness. They said that many of the testimonies of prospective parents were of the belief that a particular gender has certain traits. Again, contemporary research debunks this. This might be shocking but, it turns out male and female brains do not have "natural inclinations" towards particular activities and behaviours. Crazy stuff.
Hendl and Browne also very astutely pointed out that these parents are confusing sex for gender. Sex refers to biological bodily characteristics, gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics. So basically, their dream for their son to be running around with a football while their daughter plays with dolls are socially constructed roles.
While unpacking the centuries of gender bias and entrenched socially constructed roles will take time, if parents can begin to see that the life experiences and interests they want to pass down to their child have nothing to do with the child's sex, gender disappointment may become an obsolete term. When we treat boys as a desired preference, we are perpetuating the way girls - who become women - are treated in every facet of their lives. And as a directed message to the dad-to-be in the Tik Tok video, I'm sure you'll realise having three daughters is amazing. And as a side note, it is your sperm that determined the sex of your baby. Just saying.