This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17, 2011 - imagine a world of men

A few years ago, I was riding on a bus with a librarian from China. We talked about an issue few people seem to know about.

In brief, there's a growing global imbalance between the sexes. There are a lot more boys than girls being born in China, for reasons I'll get to below. There are slightly more girls than boys being born in the United States.

At first, this looked like a golden opportunity. Could there be a better time to launch a Sino-American dating service?

But we realized that exotic romance wasn't the only option. A world with a big surplus of men and not enough women had one very probable result: war.

Now comes Mara Hvistendahl's book, "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men." The problem is getting worse. War isn't the only issue.

As of this writing, Asia alone is "missing" 160 million women and girls. That's the entire female population of the United States.

How did it happen? Well, in many Asian and Eastern European cultures, there's a preference for boys. And technology largely invented in and promoted by the West -- the early detection of the sex of the fetus, and the ready availability of abortion -- has enabled parents to terminate a female fetus until finally they get the boy they wanted.

In 2007, one Chinese port city reported that for children under the age of five, there were 163 boys for every 100 girls.

College recruiters report the odds like this all the time. Doesn't this discrepancy "favor" women?

No. In many places now, there's not so much international dating as the widespread purchasing (and selling) of brides. Women are also forced into prostitution -- what we call "human trafficking."

This is one of those issues where you can predict the "sides:" pro-choice and family planning versus anti-abortion. But whatever your ideological bent, you can't help but think this situation -- a global preponderance of men and the commodification of ever-scarcer women -- probably isn't good.

In those historical periods when women were under-represented, as in the Wild West, or the Gold Rush, violence was common. In ancient Athens, "a sex ratio of between 143 to 174 males for every 100 females" meant that women were essentially "confined within household compounds."

The original intent of early sex detection (the American invention of the sonogram in the sixties) was to help families get smaller: people could have the child they wanted, and stop. Over-population looked like a big problem then. For some people and places, it still does.

On the other hand, we've learned that as people become more affluent they tend to have fewer children anyhow. The government doesn't have to intervene.

So once again, technology has sometimes surprising consequences.

While this problem may appear to be personal -- each family making its own decisions -- it also has national and global consequences.

What should be done about it?

Opinions will differ. Hvistendahl argues for a global ban of sex-selective abortions. Others will continue to push for a ban on all abortions. But who will enforce such bans, and how?

It's an important subject. I recommend the book for anyone who just doesn't have enough to worry about, or possibly, has been worried about the wrong things altogether.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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