Growing up, I have never really fathomed why my mother is very fond of sons. Every time a neighbor or a relative gives birth to a daughter, she would – without fail – say, “If they have another kid, I hope it’s a son.” When someone we know is not “blessed” with a son in their family, she would go, “Such a shame they don’t have a son.”
While it is hard enough to live as a woman in a patriarchal society, being a daughter in an Asian family that still holds onto eastern values so strongly poses its own tough challenges. The difference of treatment in raising sons and daughters is also reflected in my household. My older brother, being the first and only son in the family, is always bestowed with the best things in life since he was little: the newest computer with the fastest processor, the trendiest game console, the best school and the privilege to eat food of his liking – all voluntarily and willingly given.
While I had to be satisfied with what was given, there are also rules and limitations imposed on me as an adult. Curfew is one of them. I have to be home no later than 12AM, while my brother is free to be out and about with friends until dawn. Arguing reasonably for freedom is out of the question, since the other value my parents believe in is that women who get home late are usually engaged in shameful things or working dishonorable jobs. They are also uncomfortable that neighbors will talk behind their backs and thus bring disgrace to the family.
The Chinese have had a long history of preferring sons to daughters, both for practical and traditional reasons. While this practice dated back to ancient dynasties to determine the next successor to the throne, agricultural Chinese society sees having sons as beneficial since men are stronger in terms of physical strength. They are more athletic and capable of doing field work easily.
Sons are believed to be valuable because they carry family names and preserve the lineage. Daughters are presumed to “leave the family” once they are married because their loyalty will supposedly lie with the husband’s family after replacing their surnames with those of their husbands’. Sons, on the other hand, are seen as the ones shouldering filial piety.
This preference bothers me, considering I have done both trivial and big things to be a dutiful child. I was studious, got to the university on a scholarship, won a national competition and graduated top of my class. So, why is my mother so fixated in her gender preference? I feel as if I was failing her in every aspect only because I was born with a vagina, not a penis.
I have been putting two and two together to figure out what causes my mom’s preference all the while trying to make peace with the existing condition. It was only recently my mother revealed the reasons that shape her preference and, to my surprise, the underlying reason is not related to cultural factors. My mother is fearful of the adversity daughters will face in their life.
My mother feels that there is more to the hardship of being a woman than meets the eye. Every month, women have to endure a regular discomfort that is period. For certain, those three to seven days of discomfort last for at least 30 years. And let’s factor this in: when women do not menstruate, they are either pregnant or in menopause.
She also thinks that men are lucky because they seem to have a simpler thought process. Their approach in life is more practical than based on feelings, which often-times spare them from unwanted emotions. In her eyes, men’s stoicism is a beneficial key to survive in this jungle called life.
Deeper than periods, my mother feels that women can never win in this society. Working mothers are thought to be heartless women who run away from the responsibilities of child rearing. Stay-at-home mothers are deemed powerless and dependent on men. Speaking of characteristics, if they are demure and delicate, they are pushovers. If they are powerful and overbearing, they are labeled as bitches.
To some extent, she is aware of the limitations placed on women that cannot make them act as freely as they wish to. Even the smallest things like the way we sit has to comply with certain codes. She realizes how difficult women have it in this male-dominated society.
It turns out that some of my assumptions on why she prefers sons are totally amiss. All this time, she is thinking of the consequences a daughter has to face after being born into this world.
I would like to believe she is still wrong in some aspects. It is true that men are generally physically stronger and that was why in prehistoric times they were out to hunt while women were home to protect the children. But isn’t protecting the children as tough a job as hunting for food? Even from the old times, women have been putting their lives on the line for the ones they love and care about. This is what makes us courageous. We are survivors and we have been fending for ourselves.
Women do not need to dim their shine and let others take the spotlight. Amelia Earhart flew planes across the world, a job that is thought to be masculine and manly. Marie Curie discovered radium and polonium, two of the biggest inventions of all time. Queen Elizabeth II served during World War II as a mechanic at the tender age of eighteen. Women push through adversity and we prevail, just look at Frida Kahlo.
The way I was raised comes with its own good and bad points. I am still working on some emotional issues that result from the gender bias, but it is undeniable who I am and the qualities that I have today are the results of some hardship I endured as a child. Today I am an assertive and independent woman who is living her life to the best of my ability. I manage people at work, I skydived, and I climbed an inactive volcano by myself. I am unapologetically myself.
I do not hate my parents. I realize while we do not have the privilege to choose our parents, we can determine where to go from there and rebuild the relationship little by little.