This morning, a nasty little email from Youbeauty.com, entitled “Daily Aha! Pick Your Pregnancy,” assaulted my inbox.
Intrigued by the teaser “Your health could determine your baby’s gender,” I couldn’t help but click on the article link.
According to the article, you can “defy the odds” when it comes to your baby’s gender. Based on recent research, “women are able to adjust their offspring’s sex based on their state of health.” The author explains how healthy women are more likely to give birth to boys, because healthy women are more likely to produce dominant males.
As a female, as well as the mother of two adorable girls, this sexist tripe really pisses me off. Let me explain why.
It assumes women prefer sons.
The article starts off with the promise that women may be able to influence their offspring’s gender. Since an article published by a health and fitness website is clearly not going to advise pregnant women to make themselves unhealthy, the unspoken assumption is that pregnant woman prefer sons.
This is 2015, folks. Do we really want to keep fueling the idea that daughters are a second rate consolation prize in the world of baby delivery? We no longer live on the farm, where strong backs and upper body strength reign supreme.
It assumes mother of daughters are unhealthy
Since healthy women supposedly have more sons, the further assumption is that mothers of daughters are unhealthy. It suggests that women in top condition produce males, whereas women of inferior breeding stock are likely to produce inferior female children, as though it were an undesirable mutation.
One thing that really bugs me about evolutionary theory (fascinating though it may be), is how it constantly assumes men evolve to benefit their own individual genetic legacy, whereas women evolve for the benefit of the group.
Take monogamy, for example. Evolutionary scientists are always saying men cheat because they can effectively spread their seed and increase their number of offspring, regardless of the chaos it causes their tribe. Women, however, are supposed to be “naturally monogamous,” because they can’t indefinitely spread their seed.
How convenient. So, it wouldn’t benefit a woman to have as many resources and as much protection for her offspring that she can get her hands on? If a strong, healthy, attractive male hits the scene, it wouldn’t be beneficial for a female to ensure healthier offspring by hooking up with him? And say a nicer guy wants to bring her resources while she’s handicapped by pregnancy… it wouldn’t be helpful to ensure his cooperation?
I want to make it clear that I do not endorse cheating, by anyone. I just think if we are going to strip away all the wonderful trappings of the social contract to focus on selfish instincts, we should at least be consistent about it. It’s ridiculous to pretend one gender acts in its own best interests while the other doesn’t.
I’ll bet daughters also benefit from healthy mothers.
It assumes humans defer to a dominant male
If women supposedly increase their genetic footprint by giving birth to a dominant male, the assumption is that human society is supposed to be like, say, chimp society where the dominant male is in charge and gets access to all the fertile females. It assumes polygamy is naturally intended, so much so that our genes are wired to default to it.
This is a big assumption. For ethical reasons, you can’t conduct human behavioral experiments that honor the scientific method. Truly scientific experiments involve controlling all factors except a single variable, so you can be sure that whatever results you observe are a product of the variable. So to conduct scientifically valid experiments on human behavior, we would have to raise groups of babies in controlled settings, doing everything the same except one thing, then watch what happens.
We obviously can’t do that, so scientists often look to the behavior of animals for insight. But what animal? Dominant chimp males may be in charge, but what about bonobos, elephants, and lionesses?
Sure, there are many human societies that practice polygamy, but humans are an adaptable species that practice all sorts of arrangements. In dangerous environments where many of the men are killed off, polygamy makes sense. But in safer environments, monogamy actually increases the overall number of offspring.
So no, Youbeauty, I don’t accept the idea that we are all genetically designed to be part of some Alpha guy’s harem.
The article is wrong
Finally, I’m willing to entertain solid scientific evidence, regardless of what my personal feelings may be. Science is supposed to tell us how the world actually works, not how we would like it to work. If this research shows a clear, consistent pattern of healthier women producing more male offspring, so be it.
Except it doesn’t. Not even a little bit.
To see what all the fuss is about, I clicked on the study the article is referring to. It’s an article talking about Swiss researchers who looked at the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, which states that it is “beneficial for mothers to be able to adjust the sex of their offspring in response to their own state of health,” and that “a female in good condition should give birth to more male offspring.”
The researchers observed animals species, including bighorn ewes, who usually mate with the dormant male and give birth to one lamb a year. Their findings? “Healthy females do not produce more male than female offspring.”
So, the research cited by Youbeauty.com directly contradicts the conclusion of the youbeauty.com article? Seems pretty straightforward to me. Did the article’s author, Rebecca Spiller (really, it’s a woman?), even bother to read the study before she pumped this sexist claptrap into our inboxes?
Shut up, Youbeauty.com. You’re embarrassing yourself.