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Finalist for the Pulitzer PrizeFinalist for the Los Angeles Times Book PrizeA Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2011A Slate Best Book of 2011A Discover Magazine Best Book of 2011Lianyungang, a booming port city, has China's most extreme gender ratio for children under four: 163 boys for every 100 girls. These numbers don't seem terribly grim, but in ten years, the skewed seFinalist for the Pulitzer PrizeFinalist for the Los Angeles Times Book PrizeA Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2011A Slate Best Book of 2011A Discover Magazine Best Book of 2011Lianyungang, a booming port city, has China's most extreme gender ratio for children under four: 163 boys for every 100 girls. These numbers don't seem terribly grim, but in ten years, the skewed sex ratio will pose a colossal challenge. By the time those children reach adulthood, their generation will have twenty-four million more men than women.The prognosis for China's neighbors is no less bleak: Asia now has 163 million females "missing" from its population. Gender imbalance reaches far beyond Asia, affecting Georgia, Eastern Europe, and cities in the U.S. where there are significant immigrant populations. The world, therefore, is becoming increasingly male, and this mismatch is likely to create profound social upheaval.Historically, eras in which there have been an excess of men have produced periods of violent conflict and instability. Mara Hvistendahl has written a stunning, impeccably-researched book that does not flinch from examining not only the consequences of the misbegotten policies of sex selection but Western complicity with them....

Title : unnatural selection choosing boys over girls and the consequences of a world full of men
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ISBN : 11467568
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Number of Pages : 338 Pages
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unnatural selection choosing boys over girls and the consequences of a world full of men Reviews

  • Kiersten
    2018-11-18 10:07

    This book brought a very interesting, very troubling problem to light, but I had some major problems with it. First of all, I felt like Hvistendahl spent a huge amount of time trying to say that cultural practices and gender preference in Asian countries (mostly--some eastern European countries as well, she made that point very clear) was NOT the overall cause of skewed gender ratios, that instead technological advancements and the imposition of western population controls were the cause. However, she seemed to shoot her own argument in the foot. Yes, people were using technological advancements because of population controls to choose male babies. But the fact remains that they were choosing male babies. The population controls did not force people to value male children over females. That was the culture. The final chapter of the book, which talks about gender selection in the United States, shows people using advanced technologies to select for female babies.Finally, I have a big problem with Hvistendahl's attitude toward abortion. She spends multiple chapters and countless anecdotes to illustrate the horrible abuses that are being perpetrated through abortion, and she takes a very moralistic tone when describing the hypocrisy of Western societies who are imposing abortions on their eastern counterparts. But then she continually defends abortion and states repeatedly her pro-choice stance on the matter. I found her attitude to be extremely hypocritical. I honestly feel like Hvistendahl was rather conflicted herself--the evidence seemed to be pointing toward one thing, but she couldn't overcome her inborn biases in order to accept that. I know that a lot of people are going to have a problem with me because of that, but there it is.

  • Marya
    2018-11-15 08:57

    Hvistendahl is a good journalist who vividly paints the whole sordid backstory of Western complicity in Asian sex selection practices (usually abortion, and usually coerced). She also takes theorists to task for their portrayal of sex selection as an exclusively Asian practice that has to do with Asian culture. When the same problem is happening in places as far flung as Albania and Georgia (the country), something other than "local customs" has to be the culprit. The pattern that emerges is a developing country with greater economic opportunities leads to a lower fertility rate. The lower fertility rate leads to sex selection, mostly in the second or third births if the first birth was a girl. The rich have access to the technology first, but then as the technology becomes cheaper, the poor eventually adopt the same customs. Finally, the birth rate lowers so dramatically that the sex ratio evens out as couples only have one child. But what does it all mean? While the author does a great job of explaining how prostitution or polyandry or forced/arranged/bought marriages develop as a result of the glut of single men, that doesn't answer the larger question. Why do all these cultures choose boys? Only at the very end of the book does she mention that a campaign targeted at making US parents choose boys (since the IVF clinics that offer sex selection here are largely producing girls) would not be successful. Parents don't want a certain sex for the baby - they want a certain image of that sex for their child. Whether it be a responsible man who provides for his parents (as in Asia) or a girl to wear frilly pink dresses (as in the US), it's the gender not the sex that parents are selecting for. So...now what? This book poses some interesting questions, but it does not offer specific solutions.

  • Dreamybee
    2018-11-23 15:08

    This book is making me stabby! Every few pages I have to set it down and make some out-loud remarks about the whole f-ed up situation and how it got that way. The fact that I'm usually alone probably makes me look a little crazy, but at least I haven't been reading in public!A few quotes(to explain the stabbiness):"Between January 1981, shortly after the [one-child] policy was introduced, and December 1986, Chinese women underwent 67 million abortions." (p.147)"Mao Zedong once said that women hold up half the sky, and until I moved to China I believed it....It was only after I moved to China to work as a journalist...that I started to dwell on the societal implications of a population with tens of millions more men than women....I didn't understand it. But it was clear the sky was sagging." (p. xi, xiii)"Women might have to be locked up, or forced to marry multiple men, or traded like commodities, but sex selection [choosing boy babies over girl babies] was advisable, he suggested, for 'the only really important problem facing humanity to-day is over-population,' particularly in 'under-developed unenlightened communities.'" (p.103)During his first night of rounds as a medical student in India in 1978, Dr. Bedi recalls seeing a stray cat run past him with an aborted fetus in its mouth. "He told a nurse, then a doctor. Or maybe it was a doctor, then a nurse. I saw a cat eat a fetus. Nobody on duty seemed concerned, however, and finally he got on with his post...But then finally he worked up the nerve to approach the head doctor with the mystery. Why had he seen a cat run off with what looked like fetal matter? And why had the fetus not been disposed of more carefully? Bedi says the nurse's explanation came out cold, her voice matter-of-fact. 'Because it was a girl,' she said." (p.79-80) In the 1970s, researchers discovered that a baby's sex could be determined through amniocentesis testing. At a hospital in China, doctors reported that out of 100 attempts, they had successfully determined the sex of 93 fetuses. "Of the ninety-three women who had their fetus's sex determined, thirty chose to abort. Of those thirty, twenty-nine were carrying girls." (p12) I started this book with a pre-conceived attitude of, "Way to go, China," but the problem of skewed sex ratios (number of boys to number of girls) is so much more widespread than just China, and, as it turns out, the U.S. and other Western nations had a pretty heavy hand in setting all this into motion. I know it sounds like this book has the potential to be agenda-heavy regarding abortion, and there is a lot (A LOT) of talk about, abortion since it is the primary method used to get rid of unwanted girl children, but abortion itself is not really the issue. Whether you're for or against it, the problem goes a lot deeper than just whether abortion should be legal, and, so far, the author has done a pretty good job of staying neutral on the topic.

  • Danny
    2018-11-09 11:55

    I wanted to like this more than I did. On the one hand, Hvistendahl identifies a startling phenomenon, widespread sex-selective abortion, that raises a host of troubling ethical and practical issues. She is to be credited for bringing these issues to light.But I found her analysis of the origins of the problem a bit simplistic, discounting cultural preferences for male children and focusing instead on technological changes and external pressures to lower overall fertility. They're all part of the story, clearly, but by treating it sex-selective abortion as basically the result of Western actions, Hvistendahl underestimates the underlying impulse to favor male children in some Asian societies. This inattention to culture also leads Hvistendahl to treat sex-selective abortion as a single global phenomenon rather than a set of similar practices across the world.There's also a clunker of a chapter that looks to history to explain the problems of heavily male societies that could have been removed without hurting the book at all.In short, a powerful and necessary book, but also one that falls short. Still, anyone interested in global population issues, abortion, and the relationship between policy elites should read this.

  • Tamara
    2018-12-05 06:51

    Fascinating examination of sex selection, abortion and family size. Hvistendahl does a good job in poking a flashlight into the different, murky corners of the issue, thought there aren't any obvious answers. I was taught, like a good geographer, the solid old model of demographic transition:...and the teacher or professor occasionally adding on that squiggly line at the bottom right as an aside. Now, with most of the world well over into the right half of the graph, it looks like we might need to zoom into that line, because weird stuff is going on there, particularly in regard to gender. Theres a tangled mix here - on the one hand, it's possible to draw a broad socio-technologo-economic continuation to the model, as inexorable as the tide - rising affluence, easy availability of high tech ultrasounds, shrinking families, a preference for boys - voila, a predictable pattern on the graph. It returns to normal as the transition into prosperity is completed (see: South Korea, the only place on earth known to have gotten back to a normal sex-at-birth ratio.) But then there are the conscious-human things, with people recognizing the problematic choices they make but making them anyway, and laws and propaganda and celebrity endorsements and what have you. Did the one-child law affect things? Vietnam doesn't have a one-child law, and it's fertility has dropped even more sharply than China. (So has Iran.) Why DID South Korea balance back? Why hasn't Taiwan? How does lowest-low fertility, which many of these countries are heading to, affect things? Whats going on in Eastern Europe compared to the Caucauses? What's with the slight anti-boy-selection phenomenon in the USA?In short, the book raises more demographic questions than it answers, but they're very good questions. And then theres the politics - there is the long (and often unpleasantly racist) history of western involvement in Asian demographics, wearing seemingly benign but utterly creepy hats, hyperventilating about the world being overrun by the Eastern Horde, (I used to do environmental workshops, back in...2012. The attitude among infallibly liberal 20-something students who really, really care about the planet to the possibility of rising standards of living in the developing world was often not particularly far off from the World Bank or Republican Party in the 70's.) Then there are Asian governments themselves, cooperating with a genuine eye to economic growth, that together went a long way to normalizing abortion in the first place. The way this runs into anti-abortion politics is complex and, unsurprisingly, unpleasant. Clearly, women being forced to have abortions in the 70's means they should have less control of their bodies today. The part that should have been most interesting, but felt a little underdeveloped to me, was the question of the future though. Hvistendahl dedicated a chunk of the book to asking what the world looks like - and will look like - with this already extant and unreversible overly-male generation alive and well into adulthood, but she doesn't go nearly far enough. Maybe it's because there aren't any good answers yet, only the ability to take a very narrow look at a few inevitable phenomenon on the small scale, with no ability to step back and ask But What Does It Mean - but maybe that's because i'm a Science Fiction reader, actually. (An Ian McDonald future-India short story does get a passing mention.) Speculate, people, speculate!Anyway, very well written, in that engaging journalistic way but without being shallow. Hvistendahl lays out her agenda front and center and never tries to hide it or her own personality and background, and gives room for a personal story, a bit of scene setting or a character sketch whenever things threaten to get bogged down in buereaucratic history or too many statistics. The book ends up being a bit depressing, of course, like all the books about global warming, peak oil, viral immunity and genetic modification and whatever else is threatening us. The future will be bleak, but we already knew that - I suppose it won't just be hotter, poorer and slower, it will also be harder to get laid. Then again, who knows, maybe we'll deal. One way or another, it's going to happen.

  • Christina
    2018-12-03 14:04

    160 million -- that's how many missing women there are in Asia due to sex-selection abortion. This book was fascinating to read, though quite flawed in some of its premises and conclusions.Interestingly enough, the phenomenon is not happening in most Asian countries when a couple has their first child -- the first children ratios are largely normal. It's when a second child is born that a family decides that "this time, we want a boy." (p. 43). Falling birthrates in all of these countries mean more pressure on parents to have their "ideal family" that consists of at least one boy.China, Korea, India and most Asian countries have a cultural preference for boy children. As much as the author tries to downplay the cultural part of the phenomenon by pointing out that a few Western countries -- Armenia and Georgia, for example, also select for boys, and then pointing to all the factors that went into the encouragement of abortion as a means of population control, the fact remains that when given the "choice," mothers and fathers are aborting their female children by the millions. The author's "it's not cultural" argument really breaks down when you consider that she even presents that Asians living in America are not only more likely to have abortions than American women generally, they also "select" for boys while Americans don't -- 35% of Asian-American pregnancies end in abortion, twice that of whites. Their sex selection rates are about right for first children, 117 boys to girls for second children, and 151 for third children. (p.43-44) In parts of China today, the ratios are especially skewed. Where naturally, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls, in the city Lianyungang, there are 163 boys for every 100 girls. In Yichan, there are 137. In Fangchenggang, 153, and in Tianmen, 176. (p. 23)But while the author's argument against culture falls flat, there is no doubt that Western arm-twisting and the population alarmists absolutely were involved heavily in promoting and encouraging abortion as a means of reducing the population "threat." The chapters on how horribly and unethically their tactics were are eye-opening and disgusting. South Korea's "don't have children" campaign was especially coercive and also effective -- by 1977, there were 2.75 abortions in that country for every live birth (p. 133). Today, South Korea is about the only country in Asia that DOESN'T have an abnormal birth ratio of boys to girls, but the author points out that the change is largely because South Korean's aren't having babies at all -- their birthrate has fallen incredibly low, to 1.6 children per woman.As the author points out in detail in country after country, Western NGOs (Planned Parenthood, the UNFPA) and others put pressure on Asian countries to reduce their populations anyway they can. China jumped on the bandwagon especially hard, introducing their "one child" policy in the late 70s. By 1982, 40% of pregnancies in China ended in abortion, many of them forced. Funding from IPPF (international planned parenthood) only increased in China, and a student at Stanford who tried to bring attention to the forced abortions happening was expelled. (p. 144-145). To the population control people, fewer babies born was a great outcome, and it didn't matter what methods were used to reduce the population.Some of the consequences of the Asian world where men largely outnumber women were explored and the consequences for women's rights and a civil society is devastating -- bride-buying, sex trafficing, girls kidnapped and sold into prostitution, men unable to find wives, poorer countries being emptied of their women who migrate (by choice or not, many of them sold by their families) to richer countries, etc. I haven't read the Bare Branches book referenced by the author here, but I found her dismissive attitude towards its conclusions (that a young, unattached male population is a security threat/war waiting to happen) interesting in light of the other problems she is showing are already happening. I would expect that premise explored in depth.Sex-selection is an issue that is largely ignored by the left, as the author laments (along with an attack on the right for using it as a tool to fight abortion -- hmmm, you think?). The author is very, very careful throughout the book to keep her liberal street cred -- using sanitized terms like "sex selection" and "selected" rather than "terminated" or "killed," but the fact remains that in a culture where killing an unborn baby is not considered a real death, the fact that women use their "choice" to kill female babies in astounding rates is very embarrassing for the feminist movement. And mentioning the downsides of pro-choice is very dicey to discuss. The author suggests that maybe in the future, the left could frame the debate around issues of the health problems caused by multiple late-term abortions rather than bringing up the morality of abortion. After all, the implication is, abortion isn't wrong; it's just these pesky consequences of its availability.One of the most telling paragraphs (and bold for the author) in the book was this one: "Trepidation about the 'A-word,' however, has also immobilized the very people who should be crying oppression. Longtime gender activist Gita Sen recently told a journalist, 'The biggest danger, which is the one we're dealing with right now, is that the anti-sex selection campaigns not turn into an anti-abortion campaigns.' One might respond that the biggest danger we are facing is a dramatic reduction in the number of women and girls -- that sex trafficking, bride buying, and general instability, when they arrive all at once, amount to one whopping danger In a world in which women are unnaturally scarce, the right to abort will be the least of our worries."

  • Jafar
    2018-11-21 12:16

    I had heard about families selecting for male babies in India and China, but this book turned out to be more informative and eye-opening than I expected, not just about the problem of societies with more men than women, but population control in general. It’s well known now that in Asia people abuse the new medical technologies to screen for sons. Much has been duly said about sexism and cultural biases for having sons. What is less known is how and why this cultural bias was allowed to be practiced so commonly and who was really behind it. You’d be surprised to learn that the whole obsession with population control had its root in the Cold War thinking that overpopulation bred poverty and poverty was a breeding ground for Communism. (These days poverty breeds Islamic fundamentalism, according to the same institutions.) The West set out to control the population in Asia. With their advice and money, Indira Gandhi forcibly sterilized eight million men during The Emergency. The first help that China got after the normalization of relations with the U.S. was money and technology for population control. Selecting for boys in the form of aborting female fetuses was allowed and quietly encouraged because it was thought to be a double whammy: not only it reduces the population of the current generation by killing off many girls; it also reduces the number of mothers in the next generation. Now these same countries realize that they have a big problem on their hand. It is estimated that 20% of Chinese men will be “surplus” by 2020, i.e., there simply won’t be any women for them in the population. Even now many men from Taiwan and South Korea import poor Vietnamese girls for wives. Wealthier Chinese and Indians literally buy wives from the poor regions. In a perverse division of reproduction responsibilities, poor families who can’t afford sex-determining exams and sex-selective abortions are providing girls for the higher classes – their own men be damned. Hvistendahl spends a few chapters on what a disturbing social force these young single men can be. I didn’t need any convincing. Just thinking about it is scary. Interestingly, with the advent of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (sperm separation and artificial insemination to select the sex of the baby) in the U.S. – especially in California – the trend has become the opposite. That is, wealthy prospective mothers who can afford this technology are primarily selecting for girls. The reasons that are given can only come from California women: barrettes and pink dresses and going shopping for clothes with their daughters, etc. I have a feeling that these are the same type of women who a few years later will undergo surgeries and endure draconian diet and exercise plans to fight nature and try to look like their teenage daughters.

  • Hayley DeRoche
    2018-11-28 11:47

    Good up until the last 15 pages when suddenly it's all OH BTW IVF IS ALLOWING RICH YUPPIES TO CHOOSE GIRLS OH NO. Yes, this is a problem, I'm not denying that. But IVF is a legitimate fix to a legitimate medical problem, and it kind of glosses the fuck over that. People using it in ethically dubious ways (ie, for sex selection due to social preference rather than genetic reasons) could ruin it for everyone dammit. Stop it, people. Stop. (Also, as someone who went through IVF, I was never offered the option of sex selection. It's not like every clinic is a free-for-all buffet. BUT I DIGRESS.)Obviously I'm super biased when it comes to making IVF an attainable procedure for people in lower classes. But that's such a small portion of the book that it seems silly to devote this much time in my review to it. It's the last 15-some-odd pages! Overall, I recommend it. It's a good look at the domino effect, and of particular interest is the conservative history of actively promoting abortion-as-birth-control abroad due to fear of "the other".

  • Beverly
    2018-11-28 07:01

    This unfolds the terrifying future of a world with more men than women, because of the cheaply and widely availability of ultrasounds in the 1980s. At the same time women in India and China came under restrictions from their governments to only have 1 child, many selected to abort females and give birth to a male. Now these countries have skewed sexual populations.There has always been a preference for male children, as the boy carries on the family name and the father's genes, but now it has been scientifically and socially brought to a horrifying conclusion--160 million female babies have been aborted in Asia alone (China and India), only 25 million poeple have died from AIDS since the disease was unleashed.People first became aware of the problem in the 1990s when the Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen wrote an article for The New York Review of Books, entitled, "More than 100 Million Women are Missing."Also, sadly, women's value and worth does not go up during such a crisis, but historically has been lowered, the result is sex trafficking, bride buying, forced marriages, and violence against women.

  • Stephanie
    2018-12-01 07:14

    Have you thought about gender ratios? Untampered with, the gender ratio tends to be 105:100; 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. Eventually, that ratio tends to even out since boys are more likely to meet untimely deaths. Nature has it all figured out.Now, in many developing countries, that ratio is heavily skewed toward boys. In one province in China, the ratio is 163:100. Most cultures favor male children. Where do the missing girls go? It's true that many are left exposed to the elements to die, or abandoned at orphanages, but author Mara Hvistendahl makes a good case for the idea that vast majority of those missing girls are simply never born at all. Inexpensive ultrasounds and abortions allow parents to create their dream families. Women are discriminated against even in the womb.Do I sound upset? Because, yeah, I'm kind of upset. About two-thirds of this book describes the events, the trends, the people and the advances in technology that have brought us to this point. However, I was more interested in the last third of the book that dealt with the possible consequences of "a world full of men." In the end, while these consequences (you'll have to read the book to find out what they are) were unsettling to me, I was most upset by this: that women are told over and over again, in a myriad of ways, that we are not as important as or as good as men.Why do I read books like this? I think it's important to remind myself that the default status of women is, to be blunt, crap. Things have gotten better, at least in rich countries (though there is always room for improvement), but in the rest of the world, women tend to live in hellish conditions. Books like this have encouraged me to support charities that focus on women (THARCE-Gulu, for example). When I'm short on funds, I try to think about the messages I'm sending to my daughter or simply pray for the women in the world. It's not much, but it's better than nothing.

  • Sarah
    2018-11-10 13:03

    This was an excellent and very eye-opening book. I was aware of the gender imbalance in China, but I had no idea how extensive it is throughout the world – in India, Eastern Europe, and other places. Over 160 million women are now missing in Asia alone (greater than the whole female population of United States), and the instability that this is going to cause (and is already causing) is extreme. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this book, besides reading about women being forced to abort and baby girls aborted in the 3rd trimester, was the realization that ultimately it was the West, including America, behind the push for sex selection abortions in Asia. I didn't know that we were responsible for a lot of it. Very disturbing – and informative. The beginning of the book discusses the problem, then it goes into the reasons why – how overpopulation became a common fear among the Western elite, how sex selection a population control pushed on the developing world, and then it goes into the consequences of a world full of men. It talks about trafficking and kidnapping and bride selling. Very disturbing stuff – and it's not going to get better anytime soon. Everyone should read this book.

  • Lindsey
    2018-12-04 14:13

    Disappointing book about an interesting issue. The author pretty much blames the west for pushing population control and technology on the countries in question. While I do think the first world's desire to control population in other parts of the world is detrimental, the author seriously downplays the impact the culture has on the desire for boys. Her solution seems to be to limit access and crack down on ultrasound technology, and punish sex-selective abortions. Awful conclusion, when she herself points out that in America couples want to have girls, because we see women as having more chances at happiness. Until mothers and controlling mother-in-laws in these countries see hope for female children, the paradigm won't change. The last part of the book on the ramifications of a world without women is interesting, focusing on forced prostitution and the trend of women as chattel. In the male-dominated societies, families import women from cheaper parts of the world, so its men in Vietnam who are suffering the consequences of sex selective abortion, while the countries who perpetrate the imbalance live free of consequences.

  • Caren
    2018-12-03 07:07

    This is a thoroughly researched, well-written expose on the current preponderance of males in some Asian and Eastern European countries. The author ties this current trend to the hysteria in the West in the late 1960s and 1970s over overpopulation, and to the ways in which international organizations, funded by the West, interfered in the fertility of Asian countries, leading to some of this imbalance. The book is so well-laid out, it felt as though I were following a criminal case, with each bit of evidence leading to the resulting conclusions. She explores the problem from many angles, and shows diverse results, none of them positive. The real kicker is in her epilogue, when we see sex selection at work right now in the good old USA, only in our case, the selection is in favor of girls. And it doesn't end there; selection for more than sex is in the works. There are serious ethical questions here. Very thought-provoking and highly recommended!

  • Alexis
    2018-11-12 09:52

    While this book is worth reading, it has some fundamental weaknesses that make it dificult to take as definitive. The underlying theory is that sex selection has appeared in culturally disparate areas, increased at a similar rate, and all in a relatively short time frame. This cannot be explained solely by cultural factors. The link is Western techology and family planning programs. Hvistendahl lays responsibility on technology itself, rather than viewing it as an instrument through which underlying values are directed and amplified. She could have made a better, more complex argument about the ways in which technology permits us to turn weak values into stronger ones. This flaw explains Hvistendahl's own conflicted attitude towards abortion: she is heavily critical of how it is used in this process, but shies away from criticizing it as a technology. Her broadside in the introduction against Americans who don't want to bring domestic politics into the argument is misplaced: It's hugely relevant given the global gag rule and our current role in international family planning. Her argument about male control being contradicted by the heavy role of women in enforcing sex selection is shallowly constructed. The role of women in upholding patriarchal norms is one that's well explored in feminist analysis. One of the central theses of the book is Western culpability in sex selection, through governmental/NGO action and through the actions of corporations that seek to promote their products. The analysis feels inadequate. She acknowledges the vast efforts by Mao and Indira Gandhi to control population growth, committing vast human rights abuses in the process, but comes across as sounding like they were puppets of Western influence. Her suggestions that sex selection be controlled through technological means are incompletely formed. She is correct that it's the lazy option to simply throw up one's hands and say, "we can't stop it," but it's also a reality that must be reckoned with. As she acknowledges, technological advancements will make this even harder to achieve. (If sex can be determined by a simple blood test in the first trimester, abortion becomes even easier.) She recognizes the importance of healthcare professionals in working to stop these practices, but conceives of it in a top down manner rather than as a part of greater social change. She acknowledges that women evade bans in India and China, but blames it on poor enforcement. In one survey in Albania, women admitted they were aborting for sex reasons, but she does not consider that bans could simply make women lie. She is correct, however, that current campaigns that simply focus on cultural values are ineffective in themselves. A personal anecdote: When I had my first child in an NHS hospital in 2007, the hospital would not tell you the sex. The official reason was that they could not be sure. The constant rumor was that this was a practice of hospitals in heavily Asian areas to prevent sex selection (either a racist rumor, or racist practice). In any case, if I had wanted to know, there were any number of private clinics offering me a private gender scan. I could then have had an abortion without anyone knowing why.

  • Nore
    2018-11-23 10:47

    How to organize my thoughts on this....Sex selective abortion is an issue. Choosing male fetuses over female fetuses is highly dangerous for us in the long run (but not just because men are uncontrollable hormonal monsters, like Hvistendahl seems to present - but seriously, Hvistendahl...? I'll come back to this). The West did indeed push population control on PoC throughout the East because we're fucking horrible racists with a terrible track record of colonialism.But. But. Hvistendahl argues that sexism is not the root cause of sex selective abortion, and I absolutely cannot wrap my mind around how she figures that! Yes, the West was the one to introduce the technology and the restrictive laws that allowed sex selective abortion to become so prevalent. But The West did not introduce the sexist mindset that underlies the missing girls in the East. Patriarchal attitudes were well established in the East long, long, long before the West began meddling. Hvistendahl also seems to think that men cannot control themselves unless they settle down with a nice woman and have babies. The entire chapter on the repercussions of surplus men draws on historical evidence that's shaky at best; modern times are not as violent as the Roman era. Violence has been on the decline for the entirety of history, even if mass media makes us think that there's a murderer around every corner. To say that surplus men cannot control themselves in the face of fewer women, that no cultural shift can offer men better outlets than kidnapping, raping, and murdering what women remain, is to do men a huge disservice. I wanted to enjoy this book, but Hvistendahl obviously has an axe to grind. She isn't impartial; this book isn't just a presentation of the facts; she tends to dramatic lines that attempt to evoke a specifically sympathetic response from the reader. Why else repeatedly mention how a researcher took a stiff drink throughout your interview (in a culture where drinking strong liquor is normal and accepted as a past time, for fuck's sake). I am an extremely liberal person but I have no patience for this sort of manipulative nonsense.I could go on but I won't. Worth a read if you're willing to do some serious critical thinking on the material she presents, because you'll have to try and rearrange it to see it outside of her frame of reference.tl;dr, Hvistendahl did do plenty of research, this book isn't terrible, but she is not an impartial writer.

  • Michelle
    2018-11-26 08:06

    Sex selection, and its consequence of skewed population sex ratios, which has been sweeping major Asian countries over the past few decades, is an issue that simultaneously receives not enough attention in some quarters and then too much in others. Reproductive rights activists in the West have largely ignored the issue due to our individualist, choice-based framing around abortion rights; while anti-abortion religious zealots have been drawing attention to it only because of their broader agenda of restricting reproductive choice.Hvistendahl's book is an attempt to document the history of sex selection in a way that brings awareness of its consequences for societies - particularly China and India, where sex selective abortion is unusually common - while not ceding to anti-abortion arguments. Although it's interesting how technology such as ultrasound has spread fast in the developing world and tapped into pre-existing son preference in previously high-fertility societies, I think Hvistendahl dismisses too quickly the effect of patriarchal traditions and social structures in driving sex selection. Even though countries like South Korea 'resolved' their skewed sex ratios at birth without widespread gender equality policies, it's clear that you can't talk about son preference without acknowledging that it is, at its heart, deeply sexist (and no, a slight daughter preference in the US is hardly an equivalent problem).And despite professing a pro-choice frame, I found the book casually stigmatizing of late-term abortion. Abortion is the tool of sex selection in these particular countries mostly because it's the most widely available technology now; methods like sperm sorting and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis would probably be preferred if they were available at a reasonable cost. Focusing on abortion itself continues to play into the hands of those who want it restricted for all, which would be particularly devastating for women who need late-term abortion for medical reasons.Hvistendahl does make a good argument that the sexist, colonialist nature of the early population control movement has made sex selection a raging monster that fits in lockstep with current coercive government policies. Owning the West's role in the past is crucial. Activism on the problem from within societies experiencing sex ratio imbalance is already happening, and we should support efforts that focus broadly on women's status and rights - because eliminating the overwhelming social incentives to have sons is the only way to truly solve this problem.

  • David
    2018-12-05 13:48

    This is a fascinating, well-written, and dare I say "must-read" book. There are 160 million Asian women missing, as Hvistendahl puts it. This is more women than live in the entire United States. The culprit, she argues, is sex-selective abortion. She documents how as technologies such as ultrasound made their way into places like China, South Korea, and India people were able to choose to abort a baby if they did not want the gender. To put it more bluntly, mostly they wanted boys so if it was a girl they aborted it (actually, if it was the first pregnancy they would keep a girl, but the chances of having a girl on subsequent pregnancy went way down). This has led to a huge absence of women which is resulting in, and will do so more in the future, in things like buying brides from poorer areas and increased human trafficking for forced prostitution. Throughout the book she talks about how sex selection was promoted by groups in the West. Ironically some who were anti-abortion in America saw abortion for sex selection as a great idea in Asia. In this part of the book neither "pro-choice" nor "pro-life/anti-abortion" groups come out innocent. The book does leave me with questions. Hvistendahl comes across with very strong morals, believing sex selective abortions are absolutely wrong. At the same time, she is clearly an advocate for a woman's right to choose whether to abort or not. I have trouble understanding how a person can be okay with abortion...except for when the abortion is sought for certain reasons. This is Hvistendahl's position, but the reasons and arguments for this position are lacking. What's the difference? What makes one woman aborting a baby because she does not want a baby okay but another woman aborting a baby because she does not want a girl wrong? I think Ross Douthat gets to the point of what I am trying to say: http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011...Overall though, this is an important and eye-opening book.

  • Terry
    2018-12-06 13:12

    I definitely credit BookReads Read Harder Challenge for steering me toward books I would probably never have otherwise read. A hat-tip must also go to the site Feminist Texican Reads, who created a recommended-reading list specifically of feminist books for each category--it's been so helpful with categories I don't know how, or am reluctant to, pick a book for. So, how do I feel about this book? It was eye-opening, sometimes fascinating, often maddening, sometimes deeply upsetting (view spoiler)[(this isn't a spoiler, exactly, but it's so upsetting I didn't want to mention it without some kind of veil: the chapter that discusses the late-term abortions that are performed in a hospital in India and how the fetuses are treated is...uh...horrific. And again, it's not the technology that is upsetting; it's the devaluation of female life (hide spoiler)]). I'm not sure what to *do* with the information she shares. Like other readers, I struggle with the idea that technological advances are the "problem" and "cultural norms" are not necessarily the problem. It's pretty clear, to me, throughout the book that cultural norms--which, in this context, means "valuing male needs at the expense of female lives" beyond a time when such "needs" are relevant--dictate what use those technological advances are put to. The consequences of a world where men outnumber women clearly also has exploitative and violent consequences. So, while the book illuminates the long history that has led us to this point... there seems to be nothing much to do about it, since the reality is already here. Still--I'm glad I read a book outside my comfort zone, so to speak, and I guess I'm glad I have new information about an imminent global catastrophe (I wish I were kidding).

  • Jeff Scott
    2018-11-14 10:06

    Mara Hvistenfahl makes the claim, resting on cultural history and western technology, that there are millions of women missing from the world because of abortion and sex selection. I'm not convinced that selective abortion is the culprit here. Although the author points out ultrasounds are cheap, abortions are not. One could afford a cheap ultrasound, but a cheap abortion often kills. That aspect isn't addressed.The book goes on to connect historical cultural trends, population control efforts, and western technology as the main reason for the lack of girls. She also tends to confuse population control and planned parenthood with abortion and that is an inherently false claim. Planned parenthood methods help get people out of poverty but not through sex selective abortions.It seems to go for the impact, but her conclusions are suspect and there are no solutions to these issues. She does a good job in explaining how women are treated and the dangers of a world with a majority or men. Going into detail about those consequences was important for me. The book also deals with the issues of prostitution, mail-order brides, and similar topics that display how women are treated and how that treatment worsens with more men than women. In my opinion, women haven't been disappearing because of sex selective abortions, but the sad fact they are the victims of crime and abuse their entire lives. That seems to be the main issue that calls for correction. Focusing too much on sex selective abortion skips over the bigger issues women face.

  • Kelsey
    2018-12-07 10:53

    This book very neatly summarizes a problem that most people are completely unaware even exists. Namely, that sex-selective abortion in Asia has taken enough girls out of the population to skew the global sex ration at birth from its usual 105 boys to 100 girls to nearer 107::100. Hvistendahl handles the subject in a way that is carefully not hysterical, tracing each step along the path that has taken regions of China and India to the kind of sex at birth ratios that have now become a global imbalance. I also think it is fair to say that she gives credit where credit is due - China's one child policy starts looking a little mild compared to some of the population control efforts inspired by rich American organizations. Not to say that this book is a dry history, summing up the status of things - The statistics are annotated with stories to provide an emotional gut punch to get the message through. Although direct predictions of the future of these countries are avoided, (Besides the obvious: too many men) Hvistendahl provides enough information about historically male heavy heavy societies that it is difficult to not make some dire predictions on her behalf. In a way, this book felt to me like a book about ethics, and where your freedom to make choices about your family intersects the freedoms of the children in that family, and society at large. Definitly a thought provoking read!

  • Dhruvi Chauhan
    2018-11-19 06:59

    Unnatural Selection was eye-opening and completely heart breaking. It is true that there are a lot of issues in this world that people don't really want to face, especially when the topic is a global concern. But I think reading a book like this can help fight that despicable stigma that I sometimes see in my own home, community, and high school.What this book is about...is a consequence of years of gender discrimination. In a world ruled by men, populated overwhelmingly by men alone, women would only find themselves in worse situations. Why is it so hard for people, for society in general, to view women as totally equal to men? Even in the 21st century, problems are so apparent. And now, the globe may be feeling the affects of the horrible sex-selective abortion rampage that took Asia by storm only a couple decades ago. And of course, Western civilization has perhaps the largest role in all of this. Images of forced sterilizations, campaigns for abortions, for female abortions alone, can never be erased from my mind now. This was a really informative book, but it was also painful to read. I hope many more people read this book and realize the problem of the way society has valued and treated women.

  • Alison
    2018-11-17 10:02

    What I wanted from this book was a historical, scientific, and sociological examination of global practices of sex selection. Hvistendahl could've delivered that based on the merits of her exhaustive research alone. But her argument is weakened by a pervasively moralizing tone directed against technology, availability of abortion and family planning services. She refers constantly to "missing girls"...one gets the sense that she means to engender sympathy simply for the aborted female fetuses, but not for the status of women as a whole in the societies most frequently selecting for sex. Fine, if that's her argument, but she introduces the book as if it'll be something else. Furthermore, almost none of her indignation is aimed at the cultural and religious practices that have devalued women for centuries. Technology, development, and reproductive health initiatives have made it safely to many countries without sex selective abortion threatening to wipe out women. I think she is right to give attention to this very serious issue, but I so wish her approach had been different.

  • Ellen
    2018-11-16 12:13

    I was very excited to read this book, but very disappointed. The topic is very important, but the research is shoddy, to say the least. Full of unsupported assertions. Things like labeling concerns about overpopulation "overpopulation hysteria." Whose to say that those concerns were not (and are not) well-founded, just because the author say its hysterical? Attempts to turn a challenging social situation into a big Western conspiracy really do not hold water. And much of what she hypes into her big revelation just doesn't hold up in the end. She starts with the puzzle that, in her view, China has great gender equity, so it the gender imbalance is puzzling. She sets the book up that she has uncovered the hidden truth behind the puzzle, but it never pans out. I think the author does a disservice to an important topic by being so sloppy in her argument.

  • Alex Konieczny
    2018-12-06 08:56

    I'll giver it to Mara Hvistendahl, this is a well researched book. It is thoroughly interesting. It is well written. The problem of sex selection, while not nearly fleshed out to the extent I would have liked her to, is a valid concern. However Hvistendahl doesn't make a case for it being the "West's" fault that other countries abort their girls. Just because we give them the tools doesn't mean we get the blame. Medical companies and governments wish to promote population control, an endeavor that Hvistendahl never gives me reason to dislike. She never proves that the west promotes aborting girls. She only proves that many countries are sexiest and while she presents a case for stopping the proliferation of life saving ultrasounds she never gets past the need for cultural change.

  • Shana
    2018-12-09 13:06

    This book offers a wealth of information on the over-population and demographics debate since the 1950's. Hvistendahl tears apart the notion that sex-selected abortions in Asia are simply an ugly cultural phenomenon, and gives objective, evidence based arguments to the contrary. The truth is that the West has had a lot to do with one-child policy enforcement, sex-selected abortions and the resulting gender imbalance found in some Asian countries today.Unnatural selection will stay on my book shelf as an important reference book for demographics, and a darn interesting read.

  • Agatha
    2018-11-16 07:14

    Recommended. Has won the following awards: Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, A Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2011, A Slate Best Book of 2011, A Discover Magazine Best Book of 2011. Author is a science writer and some bits were too data-driven to hold my interest, which is why I chose to skim over those parts just to get the main ideas. Not really any new information I was not aware of, but just nice to see it in one place, well-documented, well-researched, and so well-received in secular, scientific, and non-politicized circles.

  • Elaine Nelson
    2018-11-24 09:06

    I don't remember exactly what bugged me about this book (since I read it several months ago), but what I do remember is (a) author had some sort of hobby-horse (abortion, I think?) and (b) I found myself reading the book about the history of Superman instead. And I'm not really into Superman.

  • Shoshana G
    2018-11-29 11:04

    This was super depressing and everyone should read it and then maybe we can figure out how to fix it.I was totally right about this in college debate.

  • Haynews
    2018-11-15 08:49

    Enlightening book on a subject that does not receive much attention. This book goes beyond political views of choice to expose the truly horrific global epidemic of sex selective abortion.

  • Ein Eigenes Zimmer Blog
    2018-11-24 06:50

    Mara Hvistendahls Buch über den Genozid an weiblichen Föten zeichnet ein düsteres Bild für die Zukunft der Welt. Ob es nun um die potenzierte Gewaltbereitschaft unzähliger junger Männer geht und das erhöhte Risiko Opfer einer Gewalttat zu werden, für die versprengten Frauen und Mädchen oder um das harte Schicksal als abgekapselter Junggeselle seine alten Eltern pflegen zu müssen; Mara Hvistendahl widmet sich allen nur erdenklichen Szenarien, die aus einem Überschuss an Männern innerhalb der Gesellschaften verschiedener Schwellenländer und jungen Industrienationen von Indien, über China bis nach Albanien, erwachsen können. Schon heute zeichnet sich ab, dass es höchste Zeit ist für die politischen Eliten der erwähnten Länder gegenzusteuern, auch wenn der gefährliche Trend der Vermännlichung der Welt nur schwer aufzuhalten zu sein scheint.Mara Hvistendahl geht in ihrer Schilderung der selektiven Geburtenkontrolle, wie sie besonders in Indien, China aber auch in Teilen Osteuropas praktiziert wird, an die Ursprünge dieser Entwicklung, die wie sollte es auch anders sein, von den westlichen Industrienationen losgetreten wurde. Um die Überbevölkerung der Welt zu verhindern machten die ehemaligen Kolonialmächte besonders in Indien Abtreibungen salonfähig – eine Entwicklung, die sich mit der Erfindung der Geschlechtsbestimmung durch Ultraschall verselbstständigen sollte. Ich will an dieser Stelle nicht zu sehr ins Detail gehen, denn das tut Mara Hvistendahl in „Das Verschwinden der Frauen“ viel besser als ich es je könnte; lass mich nur so viel sagen, die Liste der Ereignisse, die in ihrer Verkettung zu einem Ungleichgewicht der Geburten führten ist lang.Von Indien geht es nach China, wo die historische Bevorzugung von Söhnen und die moderne Ein-Kind-Politik gnadenlos aufeinander trafen und eine Generation von überflüssigen Junggesellen produzierten. Mara Hvistendahl erzählt davon, wie Bräute aus Vietnam angeworben werden, manchmal auch ohne vorher deren explizite Einwilligung einzuholen – die Entscheidung treffen in der Regel die Familien der jungen Frauen. Sie erzählt von der oft aussichtslosen Situation der Frauen, deren Ehen mit chinesischen Männern selten gut gehen und von chinesischen Aktivisten, die sich auf die Befreiung und Rückführung der verschleppten Frauen spezialisiert haben. An dieser Stelle wird mir als Leserin die politische Brisanz dieses Buchs schlagartig bewusst. Hatte Mara Hvistendahl mich zuvor mit geschichtlichen Zusammenhängen eingelullt, schlägt sie mir nun ihre Konsequenzen um die Ohren.Der letzte Stopp auf der Suche nach den verlorenen Mädchen ist für mich als deutsche Leserin quasi vor der Haustür. Denn auch in Albanien wird selektiv abgetrieben, um mehr Söhne zu zeugen in einer Zeit in der diese für das Überleben einer Familie gar nicht mehr unbedingt notwendig sind, die Gesellschaft aber weiterhin an ihrem historischen Prestige, das ihre Mütter und Gemeinden aufwertet, festhält. Doch was sollen all die ruhelosen Männer in einer strukturschwachen Region, in der es nicht einmal mehr genug Frauen gibt, um ihnen ein sesshaftes Lebens als Familienväter in Aussicht zu stellen? Diese und andere Fragen kann oder will Mara Hvistendahl mir leider nicht beantworten. Stattdessen beschränkt sie sich darauf die Entwicklungen der Vergangenheit nachzuvollziehen, politische und demographische Fehlentscheidungen aufzuzeigen und deren Auswirkungen zu illustrieren.Insgesamt ist „Das Verschwinden der Frauen“ eine aufrüttelnde Lektüre zu einem weltweiten Problem, das so in den westlichen Industrienationen nur äußerst selten zur Sprache kommt. Vielleicht haben die Verantwortlichen ein schlechtes Gewissen oder die Auswirkungen einer Welt voller unverheirateter, kinder- und familienloser, Männer werden hier, weit weg von den Schauplätzen dieser Entwicklung, noch weitläufig unterschätzt. In den betroffenen Ländern werden langsam Maßnahmen in Gang gesetzt um dem Verschwinden der Frauen entgegen zu wirken, so viel verrät Mara Hvistendahl dieser Leserin dann doch. Ob diese Lösungsansätze allerdings noch rechtzeitig greifen, das bleibt zum Zeitpunkt der Veröffentlichung von „Das Verschwinden der Frauen“ leider fragwürdig.