How the West’s Fertility War Has Left Women at Risk

Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men Mara HvistendahlPublic Affairs, 2011; 314 pages, $26.99 This brave and timely book has many strengths and one glaring, but understandable, weakness. The strength of this book is the reporting. Mara Hvistendahl, a liberal, pro-choice feminist, painstakingly documents the catastrophic consequences of the worldwide “choice” for male babies: gender imbalance leading to prostitution, sex slavery, and male frustration and aggression. The weakness of this book is the political analysis. She doesn’t understand how deeply Roe v. Wade changed American political culture, particularly within the conservative movement broadly conceived. But both these strengths and weaknesses work together to yield an honest and courageous book that should be read by anyone who considers himself (or herself) well informed. Let’s start with the strengths. Hvistendahl is a very honest reporter. She became aware of the gender-imbalance problem while living in China as a journalist. She recounts how she visited a grade-school classroom to write an article on the solar heating system being installed in the school. She found herself in a “classroom full of smiling boys. I was tempted to abandon the solar power article and interview the teachers about the school’s population.” That experience repeated itself so many times that she couldn’t stand it anymore. Her journalist instincts required an investigation of the imbalanced sex ratio in Chinese society. She found that the problem, however, is not unique to China, with its particularly high-pressure “one child policy” driving small family size. Hvistendahl found gender imbalances all around the world, not just in China or India. Albania, South Korea, Taiwan, Viet Nam, parts of Singapore, all have experienced skewed sex ratios. The normal gender ratio at birth hovers around 105 boys for every 100 girls, with anything between 104
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