Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blending The Gender Polarity

Most of us have a sibling or two and some have more.

If you were born in the 1970s, chances are your parents might have been persuaded by the "population disincentives" policy at that time. Also known as "Stop At Two", the population control policy back then resulted in many 2-child families. Given that, you would have grown up with a sister or a brother.

However, if your family was not affected by the "Stop At Two" policy or your parents had decided not to comply, chances are, you might have been blessed with more than one siblings.

Some of us only have sisters or brothers. At one time or another, we might have quietly wished that we have a sister or a brother instead, as the case may be. Not that anyone of us was given a choice on this matter in the first place. But, it does not stop us from making that secret wish.

I have never really given a thought to my preference between having sisters or brothers. Interestingly, a recent study found that those who grew up with sisters were more likely to be happy and balanced. The researchers said that having daughters made a family more open and willing to discuss feelings. The girls tend to encourage more open communication and thus encourage more cohesion in family. It is believed that emotional expression is fundamental to good psychological health and having sisters promotes this in families.

On the other hand, boys tend to internalise problems . Thus. in a family with lots of boys, open communication can be at risk.

(As a daughter, I hope I have contributed to my family in that sense.)

I find the result of this research fascinating as I have always wanted to grow up with sisters. Just to put the record right, I do have two elder sisters and two elder brothers. It seems like a perfect combo except that I never really grew up with them. For that, I guess I am not qualified to testify on the accuracy of the research.

Sisters or not, we all know too well that boys are still generally preferred by people in many countries.

The Chinese (PRC) government introduced the "One Child" policy in 1979 to address some of its social and economic problems. Since then, it is estimated that as many as 250 million births have been prevented. Traditionally, the Chinese have shown a bias preference towards male heirs. The "One Child" policy is known to have pushed many families to commit infanticide and gender-selective abortion in order to have a son. I have come to know many morbid stories on what some parents will do just to get the one son they so determined to have. Those stories are so sick that I do not wish to recap here.

The fundamental gender bias started since a long time ago among the Chinese. The idea was further strengthened philosophically through Confucius teaching which promotes the traditional patriarchal structures, ie. the male is expected to be the head of the family with the women having little or not status at all.

Demographically, China is experiencing an imbalanced gender ratio which is becoming more severe over time. Overall, the gender ratio in China is about 107 male to 100 female. This is high compared to the ratio of 101 for Singapore. (as at 2007)

However, if we scrutinize the ratio at birth, the ratio imbalance is a lot more alarming. In 1975, there were about 106 male births to every 100 female births. In 2005, the ratio has skewed to 120.

In the rural part of China, sons are still expected to provide fundamental support to their parents while daughters are to provide supplementary and emotional support. This traditional old-age support system is the main reason for the Chinese to be son-bias.

Traditionally, the Confucius idea of gender preference can also be found in the Chinese-dominant Singapore, albeit to a milder extent. Curiously, in the last one decade, more and more families are experiencing a social and cultural switch, as far as gender preference is concerned.

Just do a simple street poll with people around you and you will find that more married couples are opting to have their homes located nearer to their parents. This could be partly motivated by the Housing Grant for families who opt to buy an HDB flat near their parents.

I suspect that your street poll will also reveal that the young couples today are likely to live nearer to the maternal parents rather than the other way around. Increasingly, couples with children are seeking help from the maternal families, given a choice. As a result, daughters are seen to be visiting their parents more often than the sons. This social phenomenon is going against the traditional son-bias family concepts.

Parents today are generally better off than our forefathers. They do not expect their sons to be the main providers for their old age. Instead, they desire more emotional support during their golden years and it seems that daughters are more equipped to play that role.

Perhaps, we are living at a cross road where the deeply entrenched gender-bias idea is making an about turn. I am not suggesting that I prefer daughters to sons. Personally, no preference should be given to either. Each child is gifted in his/her own right and that is exactly how you would like to be regarded right from the beginning. Wouldn't you?

In the spirit of gender equality, gender ratio should just be left to nature.

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