I was fortunate enough to grow up with parents who didn’t have double standards for girls. No telling how much of this was due to feminism and how much was due to fact that the child labor pool in our house was only ¼ male (sometimes less). Big Brother had to do dishes. My sisters and I had to mow the lawn.
Our value was no less because we were female. In fact, everywhere I looked, being female was better. NASA came to my school, madly recruiting astronauts, since women are psychologically and physically tougher. My older sister won almost every academic award possible every year. Women are overtaking men in law school, medicine, and overall college attendance.
But wait, there’s more. Daughters are twice as likely as sons to care for their aging parents. Meanwhile, teenaged boys cost far more on their parents’ auto insurance.
Given stats like these, who wouldn’t want a daughter instead of a son?
Oh, right. My China-born in-laws.
It’s Day #Feels Like Infinity of My Chinese-American In-Law’s Visit.
So far, Sunny and Jay have filled my house with doggie methane, nearly burned it down making tea, criticized my pets relentlessly, intimated that said pets should be dinner, criticized my cooking, criticized my husband’s handiness, and humiliated me at Costco.
Yet I feel I’ve gotten off lightly. They have yet to bring up grandchildren. Irrationally, I’m a little offended. I wonder if my in-laws deemed our household so awful that we shouldn’t even have kids.
Turns out my in-laws merely play a deeper game. After a week, instead of asking me about the state of my uterus, Jay asks me about the state of my book.
“You…you want to know about my book?”
“I see you writing hard. When will you finish?”
“Uh…” I don’t have a pat response, probably because my own over-achieving family wrote off my writing long ago. Most haven’t asked me about it in years. Jay’s interest is like raindrops hitting a parched dessert. My smile blooms as I say, “It’s going well – thanks for asking. I should have this draft finished in a few months. Then I have beta readers check it out, or maybe a professional critique. Once I finish rewriting, I have to query – agents first, since I fired my last one, then, once I have an agent, they send the book out to publishers. Maybe this one will sell.”
“How much money can you make on a book?”
“Not much, especially on the first one. If you’re lucky, you get an advance, but it’s only in the thousands of dollars. Then you hope the book sells enough to be reprinted and make back your advance.”
“I will buy a hundred copies!” Jay announces.
I’m touched enough that I blink back tears as I laugh and say, “You won’t have to buy any, don’t worry! I will send you a free autographed copy if I ever get one published. Along with every other member of the family.” (The “thanks for believing in me” dedication on Jay’s copy won’t even be sarcastic.)
“So when will it be finished?”
“Hopefully in the fall.”
Jay nods. “Good! As soon as the book is all done it will be a good time for you to get pregnant!”
Goddamnit, all that book interest was a TRAP! And I walked right into it. My smile and posture wilt as Jay goes on and on about our baby, calculating how it should arrive within a year.
I attempt to stem the madness by tossing my husband under the bus. (Don’t pity him, either. His father, his goddamned bus.) “Jay. We’re not having any kids until ANDY decides he wants them. You need to argue with HIM.”
“Andy’s sister, she got married and had a baby right away, to make her husband happy.”
This is news to me. I thought Andy’ first niece was down to the failure of birth control on her parents’ honeymoon. Even though both of them are doctors. Tsk, tsk.
Jay points an accusatory finger at me. “If you loved your husband, you would have baby already!”
“Not true! Because I love and respect my husband, no kids until he says he wants them.”
No one dares argue with my father-in-law. He’s out of practice and furious. The volume of his voice rises as his English breaks: “You no love your husband!”
I yell back, “I do so love my husband!”
“Then you must respect him and have his son right away. No more delay.” Jay sits back in his chair. He thinks he’s won. He’s ready to move onto other matters. “Now, what are you going to name my grandson?”
Yes, GRANDSON. In Jay’s eyes, a son of a son is the most important thing ever. Which pisses my feminist soul off to no end. “What if we have a girl?”
Jay waves a dismissive hand. “A daughter is unimportant. A daughter is like water on the floor — run away.”
As I hunt for a vase to heave at this smug, living embodiment of the patriarchy, I remember my Chinese daughter-in-law tea ceremony. Chinese culture is not like western culture. In America, most white sons and daughters ideally leave home at 18. Forever. Parents pray that their children will stay gone – even atheist dads like mine.
Once upon a time in China, though, only daughters left to get married. Sons brought their wives home. The Chinese daughter-in-law tea ceremony then cemented the newest daughter-in-law’s status at the bottom of the female pecking order, perhaps one step above a hired servant.
Andy’s cousin Freddy still lives at home with his parents. He’s around forty. I’m the only one who thinks it’s weird.
Historically, the Chinese desire for sons instead of daughters made sense. A son would be with his parents for life, while even the most most beloved daughter would leave before her second decade. Pouring love and resources into a son was a better parental investment. Male children who would take care of their aging parents were celebrated. Daughters who would depart were not. Of course there is an irritating proverb about it. Of course my father-in-law knew it. The patriarchy is real, yes, but it’s cultural, not personal.
So I leave the vase on the table, even when Jay continues to badger me about his future grandson’s name.
When he pauses for breath, I say, “Well, I’ve never even thought about a first name, but I’ll tell you what. You and Sunny can pick out a Cantonese middle name.”
My father-in-law’s eyes shine. His mouth moves, though I don’t hear any words. Perhaps he’s silently testing and discarding potential names.
I don’t think he even sees me anymore. Here’s my chance to escape and walk the dogs (i.e., get to the other end of the block before screaming).
On my way out, I wave a hand in front of Jay’s eyes. He finally looks at me.
I whisper, “But remember, you should probably pick out names for girls. Because in my family? The chances of a boy are less than 25%.”
And we are more than okay with that.
Here’s to strong women.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them.
In honor of the “A Day Without a Woman” Strike, held on March 8th (International Women’s Day), I’ll be taking the day off from my unpaid blog and social media. But I will be back on the 9th to answer all comments, including the inevitable ones insisting that I hate men.