Monday, June 15, 2009

A Sad Example Of Cultural Relativism

An article in the New York Times reports on census data that shows a bias for the male child in Chinese, Korean and Indian communities settled in the United States.

In general, more boys than girls are born in the United States, by a ratio of 1.05 to 1. But among American families of Chinese, Korean and Indian descent, the likelihood of having a boy increased to 1.17 to 1 if the first child was a girl, according to the Columbia economists. If the first two children were girls, the ratio for a third child was 1.51 to 1 — or about 50 percent greater — in favor of boys.

Here is what Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, medical director of the Fertility Institutes, a clinic that offers sex selection procedures had to say:

“The patients come in and they all think they owe me an excuse, but the bottom line is it’s cultural”

“Culturally, there are a lot of strange things that go on in the world,” ..Whether we agree with it, it’s not harming anyone.”

Not harming anyone? Sex ratios are lopsided in favor of males in China and India and the reasons are selective abortions and higher rates of infant female mortality possibly due to neglect of the female child. That's your view of not harming anyone? Some cultural practices like placing a lower value on the girl child are just wrong Dr. Steinberg. And they are causing great damage to societies in India and China. These practices need to be unequivocally condemned and actively discouraged whereever they occur.

Don't hide behind the "every culture has its own we should just accept and not interfere" argument.

Here are a couple of articles I found on India's skewed sex ratio

The Daughter Deficit — Exploring Declining Sex Ratios in India
India's Missing Daughters


  1. higher rates of infant female mortality possibly due to neglect of the female child?????

    Remarkably generous. A significant fraction is due to out and out female infanticide.

    Female babies are poisoned, suffocated, drowned or simply starved to death. This is a documented fact. And its ridiculously prevalent in rural India.

    Yes, its that bad. And no, not enough is done about it. Despite the large amount of legislation directly aimed at curbing this tragic and heinous practice.

  2. Totally agree! I read this article few days ago and my reaction was exactly the same as yours.

  3. we've got too used to hiding behind the the great indian culture facade.
    it's like a ticket to get away with anything n everything, and then go lean on the culture tag.

  4. Off-and-on reader of your blog. First time commenter. I especially like your geology-heavy posts. Keep up the good work!

    Reg. the quote that offended you, I think it should be viewed only in the context of birth ratios. When we start talking about higher girl child mortality and infanticide, we bring in our own cultural baggage which has no relation to anything in the article. Remember that neglect/abuse of children (let alone infanticide) is a much more heinous crime in the US than in India and, in any case, there is nothing in the article about anything like that happening here.

    Secondly, gender determination of foetuses and selective abortion are not only legal in the US, but the latter also touches on the always provocative abortion issue in US politics. When ultra-feminists urge women to have an abortion just to demonstrate their "freedom", it can be argued that selective abortions are part and parcel of this right to choose.
    (Note that I am *not* saying that I agree with this argument.)

    All said, I don't think I will point any fingers at the good Dr Steinberg for his quote :)

  5. Ananth- sure. I didn't mean that infanticide is being practised by immigrant communities in the U.S. Just that Dr. Steinberg seemed pretty convinced that sex selection is a perfectly harmless cultural trait, which it is not given the reasons it is practiced in India and China and its impact on societies.

    I am not questioning the legality of his actions either.

  6. I think, cultural differences should not be seen as isolated cases, rather, the overall impact that they give - after all to treat them as something "different" is perhaps the source of bias some cultures have on the others.