Do Ghanaian Parents Prefer the Male Child?

Daniel Pryce

Thu, 11 Sep 2008 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

I could as well have asked the question differently: “Do Ghanaian parents prefer the female child?” That said, let us not dwell on the political correctness, or the lack thereof, of the phraseology in the title, as this writer is simply attempting to promote an intellectual discussion about this topic from a very ambivalent, or non-discriminatory, position. I hope that this rather interesting topic ? even if we could not approach it as “clean slates” untainted by varying degrees of societal, cultural and religious attitudes ? will garner honest responses to help us weave into a finer and more germane texture our web of intricate and doctrinaire beliefs. I must appeal to all and sundry to desist from incendiary and reprobate language that would only turn an otherwise thought-provoking piece into a war of words and of personalities.

In every society, if turmoil is to be avoided, women and men must be available to one another in reasonable numbers for procreation, and the concomitant perpetuation of human life. Even for a superficial reason, people ought to be able to find partners to satisfy those powerful sexual urges that can cause a sane man to run amok and shatter his honor to smithereens. Undoubtedly, the pages of history have been defaced by, or are replete with, a variety of such astounding stories, but plummeting headlong into the sea of a tryst, or dalliance, can be avoided, provided we become meticulous gleaners of history.

Has anyone ever thought about what may happen to the human race if human beings produced children of one gender only between now and, say, the year 2058? In all likelihood, human civilization, as we know it today, will teeter on the verge of extinction. The aforesaid question should thus address the notion that neither a boy-child nor a girl-child is necessarily more important, which is why preferring one gender to the other may be a self-serving undertaking indeed. Hopefully, we can all debate this topic dispassionately, as analyzing the topic via our constricted cultural and religious lenses will somewhat skew the responses and prevent us from having a meaningful, cathartic and all-embracing discourse.

Not to sound repetitive, we need to have children to perpetuate humanity, but how do various societies view a child’s gender? For example, in Finland and among Finnish-born émigrés in Sweden, parents are known to prefer boys to girls (Andersson, Hank & Vikat, 2007). These two groups also have “higher third-birth rates” for parents with two daughters than those with two sons, pointing to the need to have at least one male child (Andersson, Hank & Vikat, 2006). In the United States, the trend is slightly slanted toward the girl-child, although some scholars argue that there is parity in U.S. parental gender preferences (Dahl, Gupta & Beutel, 2006). In fact, most family-oriented advertisements in the United States are geared toward the standard, or “perfect,” familial status, which is primarily a man, his wife, and two children (more often than not, one child of either gender). Some folks would argue that there is a positive correlation between poverty and parental gender preference, which is why there is less parity in parental gender preferences in developing countries.

So, do Ghanaian parents generally prefer boys to girls, or vice versa? Similarly, do Ghanaian men prefer boys and Ghanaian women girls, or vice versa? These are the four questions I hope my readers will attempt to answer, by enunciating the complexities that define the Ghanaian. We do not necessarily need the opinions of experts to have a valuable discussion, as we have all been “on the ground” long enough to engender a constructive dialogue. One thing is certain in the Ghanaian society: men tend to aspire to positions of power, whereas women, although just as ambitious, tend to accept their socially defined roles of supporters of their husbands and succorers of their children, thereby limiting these women’s own opportunities in life.

Based on the preceding, it is not surprising therefore that successful male politicians, businesspeople and academics might want to have sons who will follow in those fathers’ footsteps; whereas farmers and fishermen, while sons will do alright, may not mind daughters who will help cart produce to the market or sell fish alongside their mothers, respectively. For the second and poorer group, economics may trump the intrinsic advantages that children of either gender may bring to the family. For those whose scalps are perpetually smoldering from the catalysts of poverty, neither the girl-child nor the boy-child can negate the baldness of poverty, rendering worthless the argument of gender supremacy. And like the successful men discussed above, educated mothers are very likely to seek the same paths of education and advancement and opportunity for their daughters as well.

In Ghana, girls tend to stick around and care for aging parents, long after boys mature into manhood and move away from home. Of course, girls and women also do move away ? due to marriage, new educational or job opportunities, or simply to relocate ? but they will always return home at the earliest hint of a parent’s sickness or hospitalization. Men, on the other hand, tend to sever the strong child-parent bond once they reach adolescence and/or early adulthood, even as they look forward to new challenges as job seekers and would-be husbands. Even while, perhaps because of the distribution of economic power, men are more likely than women to provide greater financial assistance to aging parents, these men are also less likely to be both physically and emotionally available to a sick or needy parent. As such, whatever benefits there are to having sons or daughters may be highly subjective, rather than objective, which is not to say that every girl-child or boy-child fits the stereotypical mold of a Ghanaian child.

As a parent of two young boys, I have always wondered what it would have been like to have a daughter. Would I dote on her better than I have done my boys? Would I insist that her brothers venerate her at all times; honor her like they would their future wives (charity, after all, begins at home!); and get her acquainted with the craftiness of boys? These are questions I may never be able to answer. Perhaps, it does not matter whether one raises a son or a daughter, but rather whether or not one has taught that child indissoluble wisdom and imparted coveted familial values for which a parent can lastingly be proud!

Some argue that a Ghanaian man would love to have a boy as the first child, more so because both of them could then in a few years huddle together and dabble in “tough talk”; play sports; and do other things that are generally associated with the male gender. Conversely, a Ghanaian mother is said to prefer a daughter as the first child, as the “emotional” nature of women makes it easier for a mother and her daughter to discuss the most intimate details of their respective lives with the devotion and circumspection that men can only dream of! Even if one belongs to either extreme of this continuum of familial proclivity, there is no doubting the fact that children, irrespective of gender, are a blessing and ought to be treated with utmost love and parental devotion.

So, what are my readers’ own experiences regarding their sons and daughters? I am particularly interested in the stories of older Ghanaians whose own children have become parents, as well as the stories of parents with young children. By learning from one another, we can both improve our lot as a people and learn to navigate the murky waters of our inter-tribal, intra-tribal and communal differences. Irrespective of what each person’s beliefs are ? seen especially through the window of the individual’s religious, cultural or societal persuasion ? the girl-child is no more important than the boy-child, and vice versa, as each child is unique in its own ways and endowed with irreplaceable and primordial talents that ought to be nurtured by those fortunate to be its parents. We ought to inculcate in one another the need to develop the talents of our children, turning them, in the process, into noble and can-do citizens. And Ghanaian parents should always remember that there are some out there who have not been able to procreate, even after spending over $20,000 on fertility drugs!

Finally, let me conclude with the words of Jane Norris, a United States-based activist for young people, “Children shouldn’t be viewed as accoutrements to our lifestyle to be manufactured. They are not toys subject to our whims of ‘Wantedness.’ They are human beings with their inherent dignity. Children are entitled to know love, and be loved by the parents from whom they come. And we ought to welcome them and love them as they come … male, female, ‘perfect,’ or not.”

I dedicate this piece to my septuagenarian Momma for her unconditional love over the years!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.