Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nowhere in the world is a daughter 'just' a girl a girl

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2It's this mindset that has caused the far-too-common devaluation of women and the murders, in some countries, of thousands of newborn and unborn baby girls.

In her book, Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother, British-Chinese journalist Xue Xinran describes a bone-chilling experience in rural China where she was prevented, by her police escorts, from helping an unwanted newborn girl who was tossed into a slop bucket and left to drown.

An older woman justified the action by telling her the tiny human corpse was never a child and "girl babies don't count."

It's a sentiment shared by one Indian woman who admits, in It's a Girl, the 2012 documentary about female gendercide by American filmmaker Evan Grae Davis, to strangling eight newborn daughters so she could better fulfil her purpose in life and bear her husband a much-preferred son.

Devaluing girls is not just a problem in countries such as China and India, as the man who made that ugly comment to me proves.

The man, an educated Canadian-born grandfather of European lineage, couldn't be further from the ethnic or cultural groups featured in Davis's documentary or Xue Xinran's book. Yet there he was, telling me my cherished daughters, my precious gifts from God, are worthless.

In Canada, the devaluing of girls is real, but it's so subtle it's often easy to miss or dismiss. It shows up in advertising, jokes, general attitudes and casual, thoughtless remarks.

Some claim the only way to end this devaluation of the female gender is to provide girls with more access to education so they can get better-paying jobs or fill more leadership positions.

Equal access to education and jobs is good. As is the equal ability to keep up-to-date with what's going on in our country and the world around us; the capacity to vote and contact politicians about issues that concern us; and the equal opportunity to speak up and have our voices heard.

But the value of any person should never be determined by the letters behind a name, the amount of money in a bank account, or how powerful and high profile that person is.

Another solution presented is to figuratively turn little girls into boys. But girls and boys are not the same. While there is some validity to the complex nurture versus nature argument (we're all a product of our upbringings to an extent), girls are naturally distinct from boys (and vice versa), both physically and the way their brains are made. And, no, different brain wiring does not mean lower intelligence, incompetency or inadequacy.

The word 'different' is not meant to be synonymous with less valuable or inferior. And, ultimately, it's not these differences that denigrate women. It's the negative attitudes toward these differences and the resulting negative actions that do.

Attitudes, I assume, are what impelled one man to make that off-hand, disparaging and completely unacceptable remark. It may have been only one comment, but those six words and the deeper, darker misogynist meaning behind them have the potential to cause a world of pain.

Later in the day of that comment, one of my girls sat beside me. It took her several seconds to summon up the courage to ask me the question that was bothering her most. In a small voice she asked if I wished she was a boy.

I looked into her eyes and saw something that brought the sting of tears to mine. I saw doubt and a touch of fear that maybe her father and I didn't really want her, didn't really love her. That she wasn't valued. Because she is "just" a girl.

Diana Moes VandeHoef is a Winnipeg freelance writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 $sourceSection0

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