part I of III – gendered bombs
I read the other day that, in the code of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb, if the bomb was a dud, they were going to say, “It’s a girl.” If the bomb worked as hoped, however, they would say, “It’s a boy.”
My first thought on reading that was to wonder what it says about masculinity if it is thus closely linked with the horrifically destructive, if this technological wonder of supreme violence is specifically male-gendered.
Then my ever brilliant boyfriend pointed to the flip side – what does it say when a dud, an unsuccessful effort, a disappointment, is deemed “a girl?” I’ve been thinking about that. In patriarchal societies, we all know that male babies are generally preferred. Right up until the twentieth century, if one asked a Christian European man how many children he had, he would respond by giving his number of sons. If the man had only daughters he would respond, “I have no children, only daughters.” I was just reading about a French king who ordered his subjects to all pray to god for more male babies. That same king, when his first child was a girl, was so enraged that he would not even look at the child or its mother. When his first son was successfully delivered, he gave a nice bonus to the midwife (which he of course had never done when his daughters were born). There is an ancient Jewish morning prayer, still recited by men of that religion today, in which the man thanks god for not having him be born a slave or a woman. In modern India, female infanticide is so widespread that now men looking for brides are having tough luck finding one. Indeed, population experts estimate that the number of “missing” female babies in the twentieth century is greater than the number of men who died in both World Wars combined. Finally, we know about the concerns regarding new technology allowing for ever earlier detection of the sex of a fetus. In some countries, there is already use/abuse of that technology to abort girls.
More tomorrow, this time on mutual outerspace penetration. I am tagging all three posts with “musings on the patriarchy.”