Boy-hating is in

As my first-born was a boy, I quite reasonably hoped for a girl the second time around. In my technologically antediluvian era, one discovered one's child's sex upon delivery. So the long gestational lull was filled with suspense and a good deal of base-covering hypocrisy: "Oh, I don't care really, as long as it's healthy" and "Brothers are so cute together!"

Needless to say, when informed I had produced a girl, I gave way to honest emotion and 'fessed up to great joy. I'd realized my tidy fantasy -- as the old song goes, "a boy for you and a girl for me." But had I delivered a second boy, there would still have been joy, and brothers really are cute together.

At the time, culturally naive, I was unaware that for half the female world, the sex of their unborn babies isn't a subject for idle speculation, but an existential matter upon which their social status and even their physical wellbeing depends.

In honour/shame societies, boys are prized and girls are considered virtually worthless apart from their procreative properties, with even that positive valuation contingent on male issue. Until the magical moment of delivery, every pregnancy is a source of profound anxiety to these women. Technology has only exacerbated their unhappy lot. These days sex selection through abortion of healthy female fetuses is pandemic in Southeast Asia, and even in immigrant communities in the West.

Since up to now "gender disappointment" (GD) has been a phenomenon universally associated with female inferiority in patriarchal cultures, I was intrigued by the title of an article in ELLE magazine's online site by Ruth Shalit Barrett, "Girl Crazy: Women Who Suffer from Gender Disappointment."

The article takes the measure of a new phenomenon, a mirror image of the gender pathology we see in honour/shame societies: women so desperate for a female child they will do anything and spend any amount of money to ensure it. According to Barrett, their efforts may include: eating keffir, berries and sesame paste; douching with vinegar and a lime-soaked tampon; "sperm-spinning," in which faster-spinning male-producing sperm are separated and inserted via artificial insemination; and finally the "holy grail" of sperm selection, MicroSort: in vitro fertilization with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) where the embryos are sex-identified and only the female embryos implanted.

It's no crime to prefer a male or female child. What is disturbing in the situations Barrett explores is the guilt-free dehumanization of boys displayed by these girl-obsessed women. One subject who had gone the MicroSort route, told she was carrying a girl, was devastated when it turned out to be a boy: "I was in hysterics. I felt like someone had died.... I stayed in my room. I felt like a funeral should be held."

There are books on GD, such as Altered Dreams: Living with Gender Disappointment. On GD websites like iVillage.comand,women trade tips on how to "sway" conception and commiserate with others in the throes of GD over a failed -- i. e., a male -- fetus: "I have not stopped crying;" "[I] contemplate the end of my life;" "[I] am once again considering terminating the pregnancy." One despondent GD mother of three boys, all the results of failed strenuous bids for girls, wrote: "I hate my life... I want to give them to someone who can actually love them." I naturally assumed Barrett had written the piece to express her horror that any women in our culture, so sensitive to all other forms of discrimination, should freely vent what amounts to gender hatred. What, after all, will their sons think of themselves when they are eventually exposed to their mothers' resentment over their existence circulating forever on the web?

But here's where it gets creepy. Barrett's interest in GD doesn't spring from disapproval, but from empathy. Herself the mother of one boy, expecting her second child and bracing for the results of an amniocentesis which she was resigned to hear would identify a second male fetus, she was "electrified" to hear it was a girl. Barrett reports she then immediately put down her root beer and pad thai -- good enough nourishment for a boy fetus, but not for a girl. "I went to Whole Foods and stocked up on fresh veggies... I felt a sudden surge of tender protectiveness. It turns out I wasn't alone..."

One can argue that female baby worship is only a fringe phenomenon so far. I'm sure that's true. But ELLE is a major mainstream women's magazine. This article, endorsed by editors exquisitely attuned to American women's values, was written not to bury gender hatred but to praise it. That's sick. But also a telling forensic detail in a growing body of cultural evidence proving that boys have become the West's Second Sex, and nobody seems to care about it.