Posted by: bridget | 24 December 2007

Selectively Human

The NY Times cheerfully announced that South Korea’s sex disparity in birth is less than it used to be, due to the improving economy. As technology has changed the workforce, women are able to work and earn money for their families, which makes female children financially worthwhile. Traditionally, men have carried on the family bloodline, while women have been used for childrearing and caring for their in-laws in their old age. Now, women are working, parents are saving for their own retirement, and daughters are caring for their own parents as well.

Perhaps this blogger is the only one appalled at this idea. There is nothing wrong with reducing sex-selective abortions, mind you; however, women (nor men) are not yet valued as having intrinsic, individual worth. Take, for example, this choice quote:

The Population Fund warned in an October report that the rampant tinkering with nature’s probabilities in Asia could eventually lead to increased sexual violence and trafficking of women as a generation of boys finds marriage prospects severely limited.

Basic economics dictates that when supply decreases and demand remains the same, the price will go up: the good becomes more coveted. (Frivolously, consider ladies’ nights at bars – a scarcity of women leads bar owners to give them special privileges.) What kind of messed-up society then makes women less valuable and protected? If there are fewer women and men really want to marry, the woman and her family should have bargaining power – to avoid a poor man, a cruel man, or any man not to her liking. In a society that does not acknowledge the intrinsic worth of women, however, they became worse than commodities. Consider the nature of this newfound gender parity:

After 2002, the narrowing of the gender gap signaled that attitudes about the value of women — and ultimately of daughters — had begun to catch up to the seismic changes in the economy and the law.

If South Korea only values women because they have to (by law), or because women are economically valuable, then it has yet to recognise that women have intrinsic value, not mere functional value. Essentially, South Korea recognises that women are more functional in a high-tech, modern society, but has yet to acknowledge that women are worthwhile by virtue of being human.

A downturn in the economy or a lessened need for elderly care should not render female fetuses unworthy of birth. A reduction in female foeticide is always a good thing, regardless of the cause; however, unless it signals a recognition of the value of women, the reduction is conditional and, by that nature, temporary.



  1. Great points, Bridget.

    It looks like the Rudolph Syndrome – we mocked you (or killed you, in the case of gender selection abortions) when we thought we didn’t need you. But now that you can help us we think you’re swell.

  2. […] Helvidius discusses Selective Humanity, in terms of economic theory with a nice bash of the NYT. […]

  3. They’re still doing better than China and India. And it’s progress, if incremental.

    (Happy Holidays, Bridget!)

  4. Good point, Neil. :) (I’ve often thought that part of the Rudolph tradition to be strange.)

    Thank you, Tully. :) I hope you are enjoying your holiday season. :P

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