That’s what a relative said to me at Christmas a few years ago when our second child made its debut. We had traveled across the ocean with five-month-old Anna just so that relatives like him could see her. And when he did, he couldn’t find it in himself to just say that she was cute. He could only insinuate that by having produced two female children, I must have suffered from some physical problem.
I’m not sure why males are in such demand but it seems that they are favored. When we learned we were having a third child, the prospect of another female made a certain amount of sense. We had boxes of pink clothes packed away. We had the right books, toys, films. And — most of all — we had become relative experts in raising females, at least compared with our knowledge of little boys. Little boys seemed dirty and alien, violent and dangerous. Every other little boy I come into contact with is pointing a fake machine gun in my face or trying to saw off my arm. In contrast, little girls seem slightly better mannered … and clean.
And yet, all we heard following the announcement of the coming of our third child was, “Certainly, it’s a boy.” Sure, it made mathematical sense. There is only a 12.5 percent chance of having three children of one sex. It’s not impossible, but it’s not likely. But the way they said it made it seem as if we had been yearning for a male child all along. This was not the case. I would have been far more disappointed if I had been stuck with two boys pointing fake machine guns in my face rather than sweet little girls, waking me up with kisses. But to other people it seemed that males were more desirable than females.
Why is this so? It’s not like I need help tending to the family farm. I don’t know anything about farming. It’s not like I need to pass on my talent for building houses, because, as everyone knows, I can’t build anything. And then there is the pressure to pass on the family name. Ah, the family name. My grandfather had four sons, so somewhere around the year 1960 the future of the family name seemed secure. But only two of those sons had children, and I was the only male grandchild. And now I am preparing to have my third daughter. So much for passing on the family name! Fortunately, according to the Pagine Bianche, there are 2,208 Petrones living in Italy, so the family name will continue. We have achieved critical mass!
Now, I can understand the male desire to see other males born, if only to rescue them from the wackiness of the female world. There are just some things about girls that I don’t understand. I cannot fathom the interpersonal feuds my daughters have, where they can go from being friends to enemies to friends again with the same girl in the same week. I’m tired of sitting in clothing stores pretending to be able to tell the difference between one dress and another. And how many mornings have I rubbed my exhausted face, frustrated because my daughters were unhappy with the way their hair looked? I admit that once in a while, I wish there was another male around to balance out all the estrogen.
But what I find interesting is that some women also prefer boys to girls. When I told my neighbor, a woman in her seventies, that we were expecting another girl, she frowned. “Well, maybe the fourth one will be a boy,” she said. The fourth one? The third one has yet to arrive and you’re already thinking about the fourth? “Boys are easier,” the neighbor told me. “Girls are more difficult.” Are they really? Hmm, I don’t remember many girls playing with pool chemicals or rolling portable toilets down hills, as my friends and I did as youths, when we were out terrorizing the neighborhood.
And how many families do I know where the older sisters are hardworking and successful and the youngest son is lazy and spoiled? A lot. Think about Al Gore. His three daughters have all led successful lives. Karenna is a journalist and attorney, Kristin is a screenwriter, Sarah is an artist. And then there is his son, Al III, who is most famous for being arrested for drug possession, twice.
So, I guess we could try for a fourth, and when another girl is born, we could set our sights on a fifth. How about a sixth? Or a seventh? But, nah. I’m happy with the children I have now, and I have other things to do in life than worry about producing male offspring. Sure, some can joke that I’ve been kicked in the balls, but at least I haven’t been kicked in the head.
This column originally appeared in the magazine Anne ja Stiil.