Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men Hardcover – Jun 7 2011
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Kirkus Review, April 15, 2011
"A hard-hitting, eye-opening study that not only paints a dire future of a world without girls but traces the West’s role in propagating sex selection…. Hvistendahl’s important, even-handed exposé considers all sides of the argument and deserves careful attention and study."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University
“Unnatural Selection is an important book and a fascinating read. Mara Hvistendahl is a delightful writer: witty, engaging, and acute. But the tale she tells is deeply disturbing. Asia alone is missing 160 million women and girls, a number equal to the entire female population of the United States. According to Hvistendahl, the culprit is less deeply rooted cultural gender bias than rising wealth, elite attitudes, and Western influence and technology. Development, at least for the coming decades, will produce not only fewer children overall, but also many fewer girls. The result is a future for many parts of the world, from India to China, Azerbaijan to Albania, where brides are much more likely to be bought, women are much more likely to be trafficked, and men are much more likely to be frustrated. For the present, women who are pro-choice must confront the stark reality that the availability of ultrasound and ready abortion are sharply reducing the number of women in the world.”
Stephen J. Dubner, author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics
"Yes, it’s a rigorous exploration of the world’s ‘missing women,’ but it’s more than that too: an extraordinarily vivid look at the implications of the problem. Hvistendahl writes beautifully, with an eye for detail but also the big picture. She has a fierce intelligence but, more important, a fierce intellectual independence; she writes with a hard edge but no venom – rather, a cool and hard passion."
Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
"A fascinating and thoroughly researched book on a most important subject. The staggering population imbalances described by Hvistendahl should be of concern to all."
Judy Norsigian, Executive Director, Our Bodies Ourselves
“A critically important story of demographic surprises and skewed sex ratios, trafficked wives and mail-order brides. Thanks to the devaluation of females and misused technologies, sex selection has reached staggering dimensions in recent decades. Hvistendahl’s call to action is the most well-documented and compelling yet.”
“[Hvistendahl] approaches these sensitive subjects without an ideological ax to grind, whether pro-life or pro-population control, documenting how sex selection has taken hold thanks to technology, lower birth rates, and deep-seated cultural biases that require a boy to carry on a family’s lineage.”
New York Times, Ross Douthat, June 26, 2011
“Unnatural Selection reads like a great historical detective story, and it’s written with the sense of moral urgency that usually accompanies the revelation of some kind of enormous crime.”
“Hvistendahl has a keen sense of detail, and her book is filled with lively encounters with the doctors, academics and bachelors who, she argues, all play a part in the changing demographics worldwide. Her research only gains in importance as these imbalanced generations, where men outnumber women by as much."
Globe and Mail, July 1, 2011
“Brave, well researched and imminently controversial…. From the distant vista of the West, where we don’t really consider what it would mean to have an only son who can never find a mate, the unbalanced sex ratio in Asia may seem like relatively small news. This remarkable book goes a long way to bringing the pain and the urgency of the issue home. Mara Hvistendahl is not just entering an important conversation, she’s starting one.” the dogged self-destruction of a braggadocio crippled by the conviction of his own superiority.”
Washington Post, July 3, 2011
“Massively well-documented…. [Hvistendahl] has written a disturbing, engrossing book.”
“A well-researched account of how a preference for boys has made sex selective abortion commonplace in Asia and parts of Eastern Europe… Hvistendahl makes a persuasive case for the West being complicit in the spread of sex-selective abortion.”
About the Author
Mara Hvistendahl's writing has appeared in 'Harper's', 'The New Republic', 'Scientific American', the 'Financial Times' magazine, 'Popular Science', 'Foreign Policy', and the 'Los Angeles Times'. A correspondent for the 'Chronicle of Higher Education' and former contributing editor at 'Seed' magazine, Mara has won an Education Writers Association award and been nominated for the Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page Award. She first lived in Asia over a decade ago, when her studies took her to Beijing. She has spent half of the years since then in China, a base from which she reported extensively from around the continent.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The research was often lacking. I was left with more questions than answers. For example, I wonder what the fate would be of millions of unwanted children (girls). For the women who were sold into arranged marriages, what was their alternative? What would their lives have been like otherwise? Some idea of the other side would have been helpful.
I also wonder how much truth there is to the statement that "After years of penalties for out-of-quota births, incentivized sterilizations, and forced abortions, Korean women had finally given in and stopped having children." That seems like an overly simplified explanation for a much more complex social phenomenon. Births rates have fallen to similar levels in many countries without those forces at play. The birth rate in the Ukraine currently is 1.12 children per woman and in Greece 1.25 children per woman; these countries are historically and culturally different from each other and from South Korea.
I wasn't taking notes as I read, and there were many other times when I disagreed with Hvistendahl or felt that she was rushing to conclusions without all the facts. Strangely reading the book took me from thinking that this is a horrible phenomenon to wondering if it's not just a trend that will eventually correct itself as societies realize the consequences. I'm not sure. Ultimately I felt like Hvistendahl herself was being a doomsayer even as she criticizes others for being doomsayers.
However, the preference for sons over daughters appears to an ancient one, and widely reflected in Hindu literature and mythology. King Pandu, in Mahabharat, asks only for sons and ends up with five. His elder brother, Dhritarashtra has 100 sons, and only one daughter. King Dashrath has four children in old age - all sons. King Sagar has 60,001 children - all male. Ultrasound technology probably means that what was once sought as a divine boon is now available over the counter, for a few thousand rupees.
The shortage of women in ancient India may also be corroborated by the practice of bride-price, which was later condemned as uncivilized behaviour, amounting to sale of daughters.
Secondly, mid-wives in India had a versatile tool-kit for killing off unwanted children (whether illegitimate sons or merely female). This indigenous technology certainly did not come from the West. However, it worked only when the child was born.
To counter this, the smritis (codes of conduct) recommended social ostracism for those who aborted a foetus. This stigma, possibly never very strong, appears to have been completely extinguished by the Government's vigorous, no-questions-asked promotion of abortions.
All in all, Ms. Hvistendahl argument is valid to the extent it helps us understand that it is not just local culture that is to blame for this ongoing silent genocide in Asia. Rich Western nations may also have some blood on their hands, when it comes to killing of the never-born.