Will there be a sex war in the upcoming years of the 21st century? Has it already started?
When parents are able to choose the sex of their child using in vitro fertilization (IVF) and artificial insemination (AI), and world statistics show that boys are preferred, especially in conservative and highly patriarchal societies – such as most Middle Eastern -, what would be the outcome? Keep in mind that Mother Nature has already tipped the odds a bit in favor of boys in the sex-selection game.
Enormously complicated ethical issues are raised. Allowing parents to determine the sex of their children will inevitably reinforce gender discrimination in society and, if practiced widely, upset the natural balance between men and women in the population and lead to all-men societies!
This is not a science-fiction movie script, nor Leila Abdel-Latif’s vision of the future. When I ask women and men in Lebanon about sex-selection, even young university students, many are amazed such techniques are available, and their first – and often only reactions – are: “At last, we will be able to have boys without trying our grand-mothers’ techniques”; “If only these new techniques were available when my father had three girls and only one boy. Poor guy, he kept on trying hard for years!”; “Boys would ensure our family’s honor and sustainability”; “You have a girl? God will bless you with a boy who will surely ‘complete her’”…
The belief in the power of the masculine versus the feminine isn’t new, neither ‘organic’ sex-selection like girls infanticide. However, Amin Maalouf, famous Lebanese novelist, brilliantly shows in “The First Century after Beatrice” what happens when modern science is placed in the service of ancient prejudices. Never has the Egyptian prayer “May your name live forever and a son be born to you” sounded so chilling – elegantly transformed into a modern parable by Maalouf.
“We are somewhere in the not-too-distant future in the company of a world renowned entomologist. On a visit to Cairo he discovers an unusual use for a certain scarab beetle. When consumed as a powder, the insect enhances virility and guarantees the birth of a son. Initial skepticism about the ‘scarab powder’ turns into suspicion of something deeper when his partner, a high-flying journalist, discovers that it is being sold in India, all over Africa and much of the Third World. Suspicion turns into at obsession when the couple discovers a sharp decline in the birth of girls all over the South. The narrator himself has a strong desire for a daughter. And his young wife eventually rewards him with one: his beloved Beatrice. The couple spends all their time, during the decade after the birth of Beatrice, examining the trends they have accidentally discovered and seeking answers to the frightening questions they pose. Is there real power in the ‘scarab powder’ to immunize women against the birth of girls? Is gender bias the sole preserve of the ‘underdeveloped people of the world’? Is there a conspiracy to depopulate the world?” (Independent.co.uk)
Maalouf’s novel raises several critical issues concerning the nature of modern science and technology and their relations to society’s customs and beliefs; corruption of science and how it perpetuates and confirms ancient prejudices in many cases; the dangers of unbalanced populations; the impossibility of the industrialized North to keep its prosperity and insanity intact while the South plunges into deeper poverty; etc.
The birth of a male is still so important in Middle-Eastern mindset (and even elsewhere), that our future colonization of planets searching for ways to survive will not be able to change gender bias dreadful consequences when paired with efficient technology.
Clearly, sex-selection isn’t a solution to overpopulation and food shortages. And all-men societies will definitely mean the end of humanity. Maalouf’s tale may seem unbelievable, but something of this nature could easily come about…
Will we be able to reverse it?
And will we be able to deconstruct “From one man he made all the nations…” (Acts 17,26)?