[The following is a transcription of a lay sermon delivered at the Unitarian Church in Charleston, SC on February 22, 1976. This was during the height of state efforts to ratify the ERA, and I was actively in support of it.
At the time, I was an Assistant Professor of Anatomy and very pregnant with my third child. This is another meditation requiring more than one blog post. Let me know if you think things have changed. For the better? For the worse?]
I have a confession to make. It’s really something I’m ashamed to admit and something I cannot undo. But I can confess and “sin no more.” When I was pregnant with my first child, and again with the second, I wanted them to be boys. Why did I want boys? For a lot of reasons, most of them senseless.
With the first child, the underlying reasons were probably something like these:
- A boy can grow up and be somebody, can do something with his life. (I would be proud of a son who accomplished something.)
- My husband probably wanted a boy, and it would have been an act of submission to have had a boy (That was at a time when I was still submitting.)
- It somehow seemed more feminine to be the mother of a boy than of a girl. (Don’t ask me where I got that notion.)
With the second child, my reasoning probably went something like this:
- I’ve already had a girl, so now I should have a boy, just to make things even. (Why things should be even, I didn’t even consider.)
- The whole family has its heart set on having a boy. My husband would like a boy because all men think they want a son, and my daughter, perhaps, thinks a brother would be less competition for her. (And I should somehow comply with their wishes to make the family happy.)
In fact, I wished so hard for boys that I could hardly believe that the babies were girls when they came out. If I hadn’t actually been awake and watched them being born, I might have suspected that somebody had switched babies when they handed me a girl. (This was back before routine ultrasound.)
Does all this seem exaggerated to you? Grotesque, even? Ladies, look into yourselves. Mothers, does your own self-hatred or self-contempt reflect itself in an unwitting rejection of your daughters?
Much has been made by psychologists and psychiatrists of the effects of a mother’s behavior and attitudes toward her son. Does she reject him? Does she keep him dependent? Tied to her apron strings? Does she love him enough? Too much? Does she foist her unfulfilled dreams of success and romance upon her son? What does all this do to his manhood?
The effects of a mother’s attitudes and behavior upon her daughters have infrequently been examined in any depth until very recently. It is understood that one’s relationship with the parent of the opposite sex may condition other relationships with members of the opposite sex. It’s also important to realize that one’s relationship with the parent of the same sex conditions one’s relationship with oneself. This is the parent from whom one learns personhood or selfhood. Who am I? What is expected? What is desirable? What is necessary? What is possible?
See next installment here.