A slight detour to China’s emerging gender imbalance

This is really a bit tangential, but I think it’s worth a short note.   This article (curiously, though it bears a New York Times reporter’s byline, the version in the NYT is shorter than the one I’ve linked to) discusses a new study on China’s emerging gender imbalance.

Because of sex selection during pregnancy (female fetuses are aborted), there are significantly more young boys than young girls.   The preference for boys arises in part because boys are obliged to support their parents as the parents age, while girls are presumed to marry and assist their husbands in supporting the husband’s parents.   In addition to leading to wide use of sex-selective abortion, the preference for boys has also lead to the creation of a market for stolen boys.   I touched on that last week.

What interests me is this passage, present in the Seattle Times version of the article but not that of the New York Times:

The gender imbalance could trigger a slew of social problems, including a possible spike in crime by young men unable to find female partners, said an author of the report.

“If you’ve got highly sexed young men, there is a concern that they will all get together and, with high levels of testosterone, there may be a real risk that they will go out and commit crimes,” said Therese Hesketh, a lecturer at the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London. She did not specify what kinds of crimes.

The implication here is that women stabilize or perhaps civilize men, that men without women are savage and dangerous.

This is an argument that is raised in the debate over same-sex marriage.   Those supporting restricting access to marriage to different sex couples assert that society needs heterosexual marriage, because men need to be civilized by women.   If we don’t encourage men to bind themselves to women (and vice versa) then chaos and anarchy ensue.    By contrast, same sex couples do not need marriage, nor are these marriages socially useful.   Women don’t need to be civilized or tamed, so two women together serves no particular social purpose.  And what would we say about gay male couples?  I shudder to think.

This in turn feeds into arguments about gendered parenting.  The idea is that men and women are fundamentally different (and typically portrayed as complementary.)    From there it isn’t a big step to say that children need a mother and a father–a female parent and a male parent–so that children with two mothers or two fathers or only one parent are missing out on something important.

As I say, this is a bit of a digression, but at the same time it’s important to note how pervasive notions about gender differences  are and to examine the ways in which these notions are then gathered together to justify various social practices.

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