Two nights ago my parents told me about the “gender” preference for babies that existed in their parents’ behaviour.
My mom told me how her father wanted a boy child and therefore named his third daughter, my mother, Savithri. There was a superstition around that when you name your daughter Savithri, the next child will be a boy.
They even made sure that my grandmother will stay in Mumbai for this particular childbirth. All three daughters of his were born in the village and then got to the city. This time they asked the city to bless them with the boy child.
And so when my mom’s younger sibling was born my grandfather took a taxi to the hospital. When the people in the colony saw him return on his foot they realised that my grandmother had given birth to another girl child.
The sexism wasn’t brutal. But it existed. My mother and her sisters were brought up with a lot of love and care, still the yearning for a boy existed and stopped with their fourth child. I am sure it still remained etched within my grandfather’s heart for a longer time.
My father’s mother always wanted a girl child. She did give birth to two (not twins) and ended up losing them due to misfortune. She had three sons in all and two daughters, one of whom died after birth and other a little later. Her resentment towards this aspect of life was prominent.
She’d buy a lot of turmeric and pray to the gods to bless her with a girl child. She’d invite women to her house and give them haldi kumkum (a Hindu tradition followed by many women and not necessarily for a girl child). She was famously called the manjal mami (turmeric aunty) because of the amount of turmeric she’d give away or own at any given point of the year.
Unlike my maternal grandfather, she did not give up on her yearning for a girl. She would openly resent the neighbour who had five girls. She’d say things like “Devi (the goddess) has been too kind to him as he’s a devotee of hers.”
What made me realise from the conversation is that inspite of moving to the city entirely, their sexism did not change. Therefore, of course, sexism is not confined to a region but to a person.
More than that, the male child preference is spoken a lot about. But the female child preference is just taken lightly. It is considered as a ‘desire’ and left at that. People in fact consider it noble for someone to prefer a girl child, which in itself is another form of sexism.
The preference for any particular gender is sexism and neither of them should be applauded. It isn’t noble to want a girl child, it is sexist. The fact that you don’t think both sexes are equally desirable makes it hard for concepts like feminism to penetrate through a society like ours.
Nevertheless these two stories did make us laugh a lot and the bizzare forms of sexism and superstitions that came with it.