Over the last couple of months, I’ve come across Mara Hvistendahl’s 2011 book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (Public Affairs), while reading other books about feminism in China. So when I was in New York in March, I braved the bomb cyclone with my kids and picked up a copy of her book at the Strand.
It was so worthwhile.
I read her book last month and couldn’t put it down. It read like a thriller and I found myself shaking my head when I wasn’t clenching my jaw. Hvistendahl was a journalist in China when this book came out and includes data on the gender disparity there. One thing that stood out when I read these more recent books about Chinese feminism was that a small town in Hubei province had a male/female ratio of 3 to 2. These authors quoted Hvistendahl’s book for this statistic and it stood out to me because the small city, Tianmen, was next to the town where my former in-laws live and the area where my oldest son could have ended up had I allowed him to go to China as a young child.
The problem with this disparity is that 100 million men in China are not going to have the opportunity to marry. So women are being trafficked from places like Vietnam, which doesn’t have a gender imbalance. And it’s not just China that’s seeing a gender imbalance. India and Eastern Europe and places like Albania are, too. Hvistendahl explains with data what really happens with such a huge gender imbalance. Rape, murder, gun violence, kidnapping, and trafficking rates increase. It’s not a good deal for women.
What stood out the most in this book was the West’s role in the gender imbalance around the world. “Wholesome” politicians in the US who have espoused family values and the sanctity of life are the very ones who have pushed population control in developing countries. According to Hvistendahl’s research, Republican politicians pushed late-term abortion in Africa and Asia to make sure those populations never grew to become strong. So much for being pro-life. And organizations like Planned Parenthood International didn’t speak out because they feared they would lose reproductive rights back in the US if they questioned this abroad.
Then there were leaders like Indira Gandhi who bought into the US’s plan to limit populations in developing countries and instilled one of the most brutal sterilization programs ever when she was Prime Minister of India. Other world leaders allowed population controls to happen in their countries, too, like China with their one-child policy. They didn’t want the masses to become stronger either.
There was so much that was eye-opening in this book, and Hvistendahl does a fabulous job of covering all the people affected by the gender imbalance in developing countries. And like I wrote above, women and girls do not fair well at all.