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Men, sons, and daughters.

Misogyny: a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

“If I didn’t have at least one son I would hate my life” they admitted straight-faced to the room when we were discussing our future offspring. “Imagine”.

When I turn over this statement in my mind I can’t fathom how blatantly morally revealing it is. To say to me, a daughter, a friend, a sister, and to all of us, with mothers, that he would hate his life if he didn’t have a son rubbed me up the wrong way so deeply.

This landing wrongly is not a new take, and many women have heard variations of this throughout life in casual discussions that then become not so casual and more morally revealing. The weirdly over-relieved fathers in gender reveal videos when the balloon pops blue and the celebratory running to his friends (away from the mother?!) versus the muted happiness (or open despair) when its pink is boring and familiar and has been unpacked over and over.

I will refer to ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in relation to biological sex but also refer to the genders that are both created and proved by misogyny and gender stereotyping. Of course, a child is a clean slate and can express any gender, but for the sake of proving misogyny, gender and sex will correlate.

You’re overreacting! Its preference! ‘You’d prefer a daughter to a son!’ is usually the counterargument.

“I mean once you see them you love them unconditionally and you wouldn’t want them any other way…but c’mon” – to soften the blow maybe.

The reason men want sons seems more aggressive than just the fact they are sons (I have been a daughter, therefore maybe, I think, through experience, my stabs in the dark of parenting would be more educated?).

When men say they would prefer a son over a daughter they are saying they prefer a hypothetical man to a hypothetical woman. It’s violent and more loaded. A 2021 article in the guardian was bluntly titled ‘Families want a son at any cost’. It tells the story of a woman forced to undergo abortions of female foetuses, that make up the estimated 46 million ‘missing females’ in India over a 50-year period. The cause? Anti-female gender bias. In many societies and cultures, women find themselves in an inferior position to men, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy of the ‘son fantasy’. It was only when China’s one-child policy was relaxed that girl children were no longer stigmatized. This violently expressed preference lands uncomfortably in a world where female infanticide is a specific and significant type of gendercide (gender-selective killing).

Not only does this tell women that they, before even meeting a person, are held at less value to a man, but it also proves that their perceptions of them are fated from the start. Women have the persistent feeling of working backwards, undoing preconceived ideas, and introductions of them begin before the introductions. Women are forced to endure ‘you’re not like other girls' as the highest compliment –to not be what we are thought of as. We are competing with this hypothetical unborn daughter who is unpreferred. Before meeting someone, before growing up, and before being born, we are working to undo and create perceptions simultaneously.

A woman can also take from this statement that a man prefers the company of men for anything other than sexual fulfilment (which he won’t and cannot have with his daughter). A woman’s company, in this case, is not preferred. This interpretation comes with nuances and isn’t wholly true. Men can and do have female friends, but that is the discourse explored by Objectification Theory (a woman is viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire, and secondly for her competence-based and emotional attributes. The first path is direct, and the second is indirect and subtle and involves women’s internalization of this self-objectification). The internalization aspect of Objectification Theory can also be a cause of mental health issues and other negative experiences, sometimes resulting in women not wanting daughters. There is nothing wrong with a man preferring the company of men. But when it is completely based on hypotheticals, bias, and stereotypes of a woman they have never met (and would actually be able to raise and make them however they want) this is prejudice.

A man is telling me that he will insert more fun into the life of his son and his daughter. Women listen to this statement and think of their own fathers in their own childhood. ‘But daughters will play sports’ I will say ‘If that’s what you’re worried about’, ‘but it's not the same’ they will say to me. Why? “I’d just get her into football” – another factor of the same old conversation. But will you? When she becomes a reality, will her woman-ness and your perceptions of such ultimately override this solution? Maybe he can only picture playing sports with his son because of his experience as a son, but it also proves a man has preconceived ideas of the hobbies that he believes his daughter will have. And, dooming us, we, therefore, raise her to have them. They might include playing house or playing with dolls, he thinks, how boring – thus, the bias is perpetuated. Judith Butler’s gender theory argues that when we name a child a “girl” or “boy” we are contributing to creating them as that very thing. By speaking of people (or us) as “man” or “woman”, we are in the process of creating and defining those categories – as we do with our children. If our daughters are less outgoing or less fun or less relatable before they are even born, and our sons are better, more fun, relatable, and better, they will confirm this for us.

In this statement, a man also acknowledges that his son will be raised differently from his daughter. I've heard men say that having a son will be more fun, there is less to worry about. He will bond with his son better than his daughter, and not because of gender because a child is a clean slate and you can raise them to be fun or not fun however you like, but because of something else, that exists before the son, and before the daughter.