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Why Do We Only Care If a Man’s Family Name Survives?

Because only boys' names matter


I cried again last night. It happens every now and then. The stresses of life build up and fester, and then one little comment, one news story, one work setback too many, and it all comes flowing out. Usually in bed, in that hour around midnight, when the world is dark and quiet, the chores are done, the cats curled up with us in a big ball of human and feline limbs. When my husband wants to sleep. And I want to talk.

This time the explosion was about Facebook, of all things. Not even a status. A comment on a status, a picture of an ultrasound. “A boy! The [Father’s] name survives.” Boy-to-be already has a sister. And so I rage-cried in a ball on the floor, while my bemused husband told me not to take it personally, and blinked in confusion when I tried to explain why it wasn’t just about me and my decisions.

Tried to explain what it felt like to internalize those ideas, to be a child who told people with great relief that wasn’t it great that your parents had a son, so the family name could continue. Shrinking a little every time you said it, because those words cut deep into why being a girl just wasn’t quite good enough. Absorbing it not from your parents, but through society pressing in on all sides, a comment here, a dismissive glance there. It would be years before I thought about the fact that my family’s blood runs in my veins too, and years more before I expanded my sense of family to something far greater than blood ties. That the gifts my family gave me were not so simply defined as I had first assumed.

So I cried in a ball in the corner last night, cried that I won’t be there to shield my little girl relative from those barbs. I cried because she will hear it a thousand times, in a thousand ways, even from those closest to her: her brother matters more than she does. I cried as much for the fact those comments will be without malice, without thought, as for fear that they will be. I cried because if we decide to have children and are able to do so, I won’t be able to shield them either. From the thousands of little cuts that say “girl” is an insult. That the family name matters, but only in the male line. That a girl is the warm up act, a boy the main event. I cried for the fact that I couldn’t make my husband SEE. For the fact that intent is not magical, and that “not meaning it that way” doesn’t mean a thing. For the fact the man I adore has never had to think of such things, and as hard as he tries they still slide out of his grasp, outside his experiences, unseen and unfelt.

I choked and gasped past the rage, angry at my body that the only way I could express myself was through tears, something so stereotypically feminine, so easily dismissed. Angry too that I was so upset, that if this was the worst I faced then what had I to complain about? But filled to my very core with incandescent rage that I will not be of the last generation to face such things, as I had so confidently assumed when I was even younger and still filled with idealism. I cried because I felt so silly that it was one Facebook comment, written with such thoughtless pride, that pushed me over the edge.

In the end, as always, I cried myself out. The fluffier cat requested her usual position under the bedcovers, curled up against my aching diaphragm and purring mightily. My husband stroked my back, whispering reassurances that it doesn’t make us bad people that we can’t protect everyone the way we would want to. That people brought up a certain way don’t even think about it and have never had to move in the world outside their blinkers. That it doesn’t make them bad people either. Exhaustion won in the end, as I slid directly from anger into sleep, bypassing acceptance. Never acceptance.

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