Friday, March 25, 2005

Sex selection

There is an article on the BBC news website about synaesthesia, which I previously misspelt. I've gone back and corrected my spelling now. Anyway, you can read about some research into the subject here.

Also in the news this week is a report by The Commons Science and Technology Committee which suggested there was no good reason to spot parents having IVF from choosing the sex of their babies. You can read about this here. I think the Committee lacks imagination.

The issue isn’t to do with creating an unbalanced society; in parts of the world where elective abortion of female babies or female infanticide has become prolific, things are bound to balance themselves up within a generation or two. Females of marriageable age will become rare and sought after. Throughout history there have been periods where the dowry was given to the bride’s parents from the groom’s parents and this may even return. In the UK this probably isn't an issue at all.

The issue is to do with people’s unreasonable expectations of parenthood and how this effects relationships after a child is born and existing in the world.

Folks get confused about the difference between sex and gender. Sex is your biological leaning; your femaleness or maleness – however, a good number of babies are born ambiguous, then there are folks who differ from the standard XY and XX chromosomes, so it’s not always straight forward. Gender is what you are socially; your femininity or masculinity and being a social construct, this varies according to cultural ideas of feminine and masculine. There are some typical traits associated with femininity and masculinity; for example, your average male and your average female, should two such creatures exist, could be expected to perform differently on a number of practical tasks and psychological exercises.
It is however almost impossible to work out what is biological and what is conditioned when it comes to psychology. A person’s attitude towards issues such as relationships and their ability to perform at a task is effected by all number of influences, natural aptitude, instinct and also experience of this sort of problem, motivation, identity and so on. There are lots of fun and more thought out tests on-line to test the sex or gender of your brain. The most comprehensive one is at the BBC here but it takes a while to do. Whenever I do these things I come out male/masculine although remarkably on the BBC I was slap bang in the middle. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I outperformed both the average male and female score on all the aptitude tests, but still…

Anyway, back to my point about babies. A close family member and a close friend were the only female children among several brothers. Both their mothers despaired of them because these girls were not girlie enough. They didn’t enjoy shopping with their mothers. They weren’t motivated by pretty clothes, make-up and so on. These women are not and were not especially unfeminine or tomboyish, but they were both a disappointment and a concern and it's affected their self-esteem ever since.

When [...] was working in a model shop, he had a woman come in looking for something for her son. She described how she wanted to get him a model of a tank or a plane because they were worried about the way he was developing. He didn’t seem interested in tanks and guns, instead he was into dressing up… as a wizard. A wizard, for goodness sake. I wonder why that was.

This is why parents should not be allowed to chose the sex of their offspring, apart from perhaps in very special circumstances for medical reasons. Anything you are selective about before the birth of a child raises certain expectations about the sort of child you would like to have and that is simply not something we have a right, let alone an opportunity to decide. Despite the phrase “designer babies”, the fact is that you can do very little to determine the experience and traits of your child before birth and only so much you can do after the event.

Similarly, you can’t prevent your child being born with an impairment, you can only prevent your child being born with certain sorts of impairment with screening. But that’s another issue I may rant about at another time.

And frankly, people who think their boy has something wrong with him because he wants to dress up as a wizard as opposed to playing with guns and tanks shouldn't be allowed to have children at all. But I'm not sure how you would legislate for that one...

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