The gender gap is evident ... even in pregnancy

The birth of a girl or boy should be celebrated equally, says Rana Askoul.

Baby boys and girls should be celebrated equally. (
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My firstborn was a girl. When I was pregnant, I didn’t think differently about my impending motherhood based on her gender. When she was born, I took great joy from the way she curled up her then tiny fingers and the sounds she would make. My challenges were typical of those of a first-time mother: fear coupled with panic and a dash of cluelessness. Both my pleasures and challenges had nothing at all to do with her gender.

I’m carrying my second child now and I’m told it’s a boy. The first thought that came to mind upon hearing that news is how much I will struggle picking clothes for him. Boys’ clothes all seem to look the same to me.

What was really intriguing, bizarre and sometimes shocking is the reaction of some people to my news. Those who congratulated me when they heard I was pregnant would congratulate me again upon learning that I’m carrying a boy.

It’s as if this is double the prize. Some even congratulated me on a job well done only for me to shake my head in bewilderment. Given that billions of women have borne boys before me, I didn’t quite get the extent of my “accomplishment”.

Furthermore, if any accomplishment does really exist, then surely it would belong to my husband who is responsible in a biological sense for determining the gender of the child.

The reactions continued to pour in: elated cheers, overly excited relatives and some disappointments from those who wanted to maintain their self-perceived elevated status of being “boy bearers”.

To a woman who takes enormous pride in her gender, all this was difficult to swallow. To a women who strives for cultural equality for both genders before everything else, all of this felt like a kick on the chin.

What was even more difficult to take was the fact that most of these archaic reactions came from women. Men were less concerned or excited about the gender of my baby. It was mostly women who patted me on the back and with a sure, proud smile handed me the “well done” verdict.

Some women would be possessed with a hint of disappointment either because they have not yet been bestowed with a boy themselves, or they have been and didn’t value the dilution of their “status”. It was also only women who told me that boys are assets who will bring me pride.

In some very intended ironic way, it seems that women’s empowerment is very much in the hands of women themselves.

As we ask others to give us more rights as women, we forget the fundamental part we play in robbing ourselves of our own empowerment.

It is these very gender-biased attitudes, beliefs and actions that are instigated and perpetuated by women that rip away our value, from before we are even born. These lingering gender beliefs that still have a strong grip over women’s psyche are what is stopping women from moving forward, and moving upwards.

Women play a crucial part in other women’s lives in their various roles as mothers, sisters, mothers-in-law and friends. In their beautiful form, they encourage, positively influence, and motivate. In their less appealing forms, they can dishearten, manipulate and pressure. It seems only reasonable to engage in empowering one another before we can ask others to empower us. It seems logical to start believing in our own value before asking others to see value in us. And it starts in the womb.

I look forward to the day where elated cheers are heard equally for baby girls as they are for baby boys. I yearn for times where a “well done” is offered for true accomplishments that challenge the norm and set new standards. And I pray for women to shed their own beliefs about being second-class citizens of life.

As for my girl and my future baby boy, I only hope to bring them up as equal and unique beings, as assets for the world they live in, tall or not, broad shouldered or not.

Rana Askoul is a Dubai-based advocate of women in leadership roles