You would think that the arrival of a baby is an occasion for unalloyed joy. And it is — unless of course the newborn happens to be a girl.
I know from experience. Since the birth of my second daughter six weeks ago, I’ve had a steady stream of pity come my way.
And it comes from everywhere: the local café owner, Facebook, even customer service reps feel the need to commiserate. Both men and women, from those who already shoulder the seemingly onerous burden of having daughters to those who can only empathise from afar have weighed in on my sorry predicament .
The notes of sorrow are almost always well-intentioned and meant as a joke. But the regularity and ease in which they are made may indicate how little our attitudes about daughters have changed in, say, 4000 years.
The type of commiserations clichés can be neatly broken down into five categories.
1. ‘You’re in trouble now’
The barista at my local café turned from his cooing of my newborn daughter to give me a ‘you-poor-bastard’ look. And then he added ‘You're in trouble now, mate'.
While the premise that girls and women are trouble and men are their hapless victims has spawned — and sustained — over a decade’s worth of episodes of The Two Ronnies, it’s also about as funny as, well, The Two Ronnies.
And underlying it is a whole series of not-so-harmless images of girls and women as manipulative beings who take delight in emotionally blackmailing men, manipulating them for money and anything else they can get their grubby mits on.
2. ‘You’re outnumbered now’
This one is a Facebook favourite. And it’s as clichéd and regressive as a commercial radio segment on the ‘Battle of the Sexes’.
It was bad enough when it was only my wife I had to contend with. Now she’s gone and amassed an army of her species to challenge my manly authority. Before I know it they’ll be littering my Man Cave with throw rugs and matching cushions.
The implication underneath this (no doubt well meaning) status update is that women are so incomprehensible and difficult that we will live in a state of perpetual conflict. And oh yes, for some unknown reason I’ll never get to use the bathroom. Ever again.
3. ‘Are you going to try again so you can get your boy?’
I’ve been asked this one — or variations of it —half a dozen times. Even the Medibank customer service representative asked my wife one week after she’d given birth whether we were going back for a third to see if she could give me a son.
Let’s just repeat that. My wife Kasey’s role in life is apparently to give me a son. Not her. Just me. And she’d better get to it quick smart to make amends for the daughter she’s just burdened me with.
Apparently having brought two healthy daughters into the world doesn’t really cut it in the reproductive stakes. Daughters are kind of like the complimentary gift on a Wheel of Fortune for the losers who can’t figure out the phrase ‘s _ x _ s t b _ l l s h _ t’.
4. ‘You’ll have to buy a shotgun’
Before my first daughter was out of nappies I was told that I’d have to get my hands on a shotgun to keep boys away from her when she’s older.
As her father, it’s assumed that I have to spend my every waking hour policing her nascent sexuality.
Not only is this more than a little creepy, it sustains the idea that women’s virginity is to be guarded by a man. They are not capable or entitled to make their own decisions about their bodies or the sexuality so it is Father’s — with a capital ‘F’ — responsibility until such time as he hands her on to another man.
With two daughters I’ll now have to stock up on twice the ammunition.
5. ‘You won’t be letting her do…’
Another variation on the advice to buy a shotgun, this response means that I’m in charge not just of my daughters’ virginity but their entire lives. Apparently, this extends right into adulthood.
For instance, when the maternal health nurse checking the symmetry of the creases on my daughter’s bottom during her four-week check up noted they were perfectly even, my wife Kasey quipped ‘That’ll be great for her career as a Victoria's Secret model’.
The nurse looked at me and said, ‘I bet dad would have something to say about that?!’
What do I have to say about it? Um, not much really. Sure I can think of careers with greater longevity and opportunity. And I’d prefer she choose a career where she’s valued for more than her cup size. But it’s not up to me.
It’s not really my place to tell a 20-something adult what she should be doing with her life. My job as a father is to raise daughters who are capable of making their own decisions rather than insisting that they forever obey my decision.
The strangest thing about all this advice about girls being trouble is that it just doesn’t add up. When you look at the statistics about who’s likely to die younger, be incarcerated, be involved in criminal activity or violence, it’s boys.
No doubt there are equivalent lame comments reserved for parents of boys, but it just goes to show that our attempts to squeeze girls and boys into gender stereotypes starts from the moment they’re born and never stops.