Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Bare Branches

I listened to a rerun of this morning's Connection-show on the local public radio tonight. The topic was the security consequences of China's distorted sex ratio; currently 120 boys are born for every 100 girls, which means that there will be quite a few eternal bachelors (called bare branches) in China (or elsewhere if the Chinese start robbing brides from neighboring countries).

The experts noted that the sex imbalance is a result from the 'traditional desire for sons', combined with China's rigid policy to limit the number of children per families. More recently, increased availability of ultrasound has made it possible for families to abort female fetuses, though female infanticide is still also common. Add to this a new cause for increased loathing of girls: the return of traditional stereotypes of what a good woman is (mother and wife) as opposed to the communist stereotypes (the 'steel' woman who works hard). The traditional stereotypes are bad for girls, because being a mother and a wife is not valued in China as highly as being a good worker or a good farmer, so to be reminded of these women's roles makes girl babies look like worse investments (after all, they will be mothers and wives in some other family).

What was interesting about the program to me was the instrumentality with which women and girls are viewed, even in the good ole U.S. of A.
The experts were concerned about the possibility of large male gangs being created, and one expert noted that there were even rumors of polyandrous marriages in some areas: a clear no-no for the Chinese government. To be fair, they also noted that the scarcity of women does not work to the women's advantage (as free marriage markets would make us predict...), but rather the opposite. Women are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence, kidnapping and sale in the rural areas, and those men who still have wives will guard them more closely which reduces women's freedoms.

Still, the problem was largely seen as one of not accommodating these extra men in ways which would 'tame' them. I must admit that I don't want to be a lion tamer, and I don't really think that men want to see themselves as wild beasts in need of taming. The whole conversation reminds me of the consequences of similar sex-selection activities in India, where people now have woken up to the fact that all these sons they have can't find wives.

Of course not every program discussing the lesser valuing of girls and women needs to mention that this is bad not only for those instrumental reasons but also because women and girls are human beings.
But I admit to feeling hurt on behalf of all those girls that were not wanted simply because of their sex. Very hurt.