Women have made great strides in the last century, but a global preference for male children has never been more dramatic. In spite of vigorous government programs to combat the practice, sex-selective abortion and female infanticide are still disturbingly common, especially in Asia. Among American couples, 54% would prefer a male child over a female one. Now, a new series of ads created for an article called "The Case for Girls" attempts to unstick the stubborn global anti-girl baby bias.
In the upcoming issue of Fast Company, Anya Kamenetz ponders whether the global preference for male children could be budged with a well-thought-out ad campaign touting the benefits of female children and posed the question to several advertising agencies. Ad powerhouses from around the world weighed in on the thought experiment, and the results are funny, poignant, and hmm-inducing. But would they be effective?
One ad, produced by a group of female ad executives, claims that baby girls are better at collaborating, communicating, and empathizing and thus will be the leaders of tomorrow. Another claims that a baby boy is 76% more likely to set something his parents own ablaze. Leo Burnett featured the words "My dad wanted a boy because he didn't think girls were funny" superimposed over a picture of Amy Poehler. One group made an ad targeting Chinese women lets them know that they're unique, valuable thinkers.
In the piece, Louis CK, that balding comedian you have a weird crush on, even weighs in, pointing out that girls live longer and that the natural imbalance of women to men in the world indicates that nature prefers a world with slightly more women than men. He also believes that parents should want to have girls because women are poised to take over the world of business.
The next Steve Jobs will totally be a chick, because girls are number 2.— and number 2 always wins in America. Apple was a number 2 company for years, and Apple embodies a lot of what have been defined as feminine traits: an emphasis on intuitive design, intellect, a strong sense of creativity, and that striving to always make the greatest version of something. Traditionally, men are more like Microsoft, where they'll just make a fake version of what the chick made, then beat the shit out of her and try to intimidate everyone into using their product.
Kamenetz, who is expecting a baby girl of her own on December 11, agrees, remarking,
In the 21st century, there's a compelling case for girls as the equal— and, in some cases, optimal— gender for roles in leadership, innovation, and economic growth. Women excel in education, the most crucial factor in tomorrow's workforce: we are 56% of undergraduates in the US and approaching parity in China and India. Our socialization is geared toward the right stuff for the changing requirements of success in the 21st century: women are more likely to have a balanced, empathetic leadership style, better communication skills, a knack for fostering innovation through collaboration.
Good points, all, but is it possible that something else is at play here? Maybe whether people prefer to have a girl baby doesn't depend on the merits of female children; maybe it depends on how parents think the world will receive their child. Most parents would love a girl just as much as they would love a little boy. But having a baby girl scares the shit out of some people. It scares the shit out of me.
I don't care that a boy is less likely to set something I own on fire than a girl, but I do care that according to the US Justice Department, 91% of rape victims are female and 99% of rapists are men. I'm excited that changing social mores might allow her to be a powerful executive someday, but I'm not prepared to know that as soon as she's old enough to drive, she, like her mother, is going to have to learn how to carry her keys between her index and middle fingers in case someone follows her to her car. I'm fine with a boy who doesn't want to talk to me about feelings from the ages of 12 to 16, but I'm not prepared for the fact that advertising and popular culture put much more emphasis on a woman's looks than on a man's, and that 90% of people who suffer from eating disorders are female. I'm not afraid of grounding a son after I discover he's stayed up all night playing the newest edition of Call of Duty, but I'm not prepared for my daughter to grow up in a country where her legal right to autonomy over her own reproductive system is relentlessly attacked.
Maybe more Americans would be convinced to prefer daughters when they're convinced that the world that waits for them isn't sort of awful. A more effective campaign would emphasize that a girl well-trained in martial arts can fend off a large group of attackers, or assure nervous parents that all new model baby boys born will come wired with a microchip that makes them incapable of date rape (this isn't to say that men are rapemonsters; I've got a good set of men in my life. But one bad man is capable of covering a lot of ground and hurting a lot of people). Maybe a chart that shows that girls who speak up during class won't be looked on like busybody know-it-alls, that the instance of businesswomen being talked over or ignored during meetings is now approaching zero. How about a global moratorium on street harassment? How about an end to childbirth related death?
If parents could be guaranteed that everyone else in the would would love a little girl as much her parents love her, girls wouldn't be such a tough sell.