By: Alexandra Kinias
A Palestinian man in the West Bank was arrested on May 13, 2010 for killing his 27 years old pregnant wife.  He choked her to death. The wife’s crime was that her ultrasound’s results showed that she was pregnant with a baby girl. Even though the couple had already three boys and a girl, the husband, who evidently was ignorant that the man’s sperm decided the gender of the fetus, admitted that he was jealous of his brother who had nine sons.
“According to police, abrasions were found on the man’s body, indicating that the wife struggled as he was choking her to death.” 
As explained to the police, the husband committed this heinous crime to terminate his wife’s pregnancy because she didn’t comply with his demands, of giving birth to another son. It was as if she cooked hummus for him instead of shish kebabs.
This horrific news was another illustration of the cruel reality of how women are still viewed and treated in many parts of the world. In cultures where Stone Age mentalities dominate, females are believed to be inferior to males. It is believed that daughters bring shame to their families. Not to mention that they are viewed as financial burdens and that in the process of growing up, girls deplete their families’ resources that could be spent on rising up their male siblings. They are considered bad investments since they eventually leave the family when they get married and serve their grooms’ families. Girls in some of these cultures are as beneficial as their value when sold at a young age into marriages.
The first thing that came to mind when I read about the slain of this woman was her surviving children. How would the daughter who had witnessed the killing of her mother, for being pregnant with a baby girl, feel about her gender? What about the message that was given to the three boys?
The woman, according to news reports, had been previously attacked and abused by her husband. But growing up in a culture where violence against women is the norm and is encouraged by religious scholars, she accepted her fate and became submissive to her abuser. Even her family knew about it, but no one stood up in her defense. The social illnesses in such cultures are overwhelming that it becomes hard to point fingers at who is to blame. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the women in her family are as abused as she was, and most likely her male relatives behaved no different than her husband.
What is more horrific than the crimes committed against these women is how the law deals with such crimes. The authorities in these cultures, represented in law makers and police officers, view and accept the abusive behaviors against women as a family dispute that not only ddoesn’trequire their intervention, but that it may be misinterpreted by the society as a breach of the families’ private affairs.
And while this crime was committed in a land where the culture is stigmatized as misogynist, let us not forget that women in other cultures have suffered throughout history the consequences of their gender; and they still are. In China, female infanticide was a common practice in ancient times. It dates back to 2000 years ago. The early missionaries that arrived to China in the sixth centuries recorded that they had witnessed female infants dumped into the garbage and others thrown into the rivers and left to drown.  And until the 19th century this horrific crime was widely practiced in China. The two main reasons for that were poverty and the dowry system. Poor families either couldn’t afford the dowries or preferred not to lose the money to a stranger.  And the solution was to simply murder the female infant. The dowry system was also the reason that females’ infanticides were spread in India.
In the seventh century in pre-Islamic Arabia female infanticide was also widely practiced by the fathers who did not value their daughters as much as they valued their sons. In the years of famine, born girls were to be buried alive in fear of poverty. To poor families, girls were a burden and killing them was a way of survival. Young boys may have also been killed if there were no girls born to the family. Eventually the killing of daughters ceased once the fathers discovered that selling the daughter was more profitable than just burying her, and hence the marriage by purchasing the wives was introduced into these societies. After the rise of Islam, female infanticide was banned and hence it ceased, yet, in a culture that leans towards misogyny, females’ worth were and will always be negligible in comparison to males’.
In modern times, though, the preference of having a son over a daughter is incomprehensible. No other reason sounds plausible other than it demonstrates that the remnants of the medieval culture that has been embedded in the minds since it was practiced in ancient times are still alive. In cultures like India and China, the detection of the child’s gender before birth resulted in the soaring rate of abortion of female unborn children. And in China, where the one-child policy often collides with the traditional preference for a son in the family, the use of ultrasound to determine the gender of a fetus is banned, except for medical reasons. As a result, of course, underground illegal ultrasound services were created.  And when abortion fails, female babies are dumped at birth in orphanages where the lucky ones are given away for adoption. 
The Birth of the crown price
In Alexandria, Egypt, where I grew up, I knew of a family of nine girls and a boy. Of course the boy was the youngest of the herd. In their parental journey for having a son, two sets of twins were born. The family lived close to where I lived, but never once during the twenty years that I lived there had I ever saw the mother. With her hands full of ten children, she had no time to ever be spotted outside. At the time I was growing up, it was not uncommon that families would have a large number of kids, but this was the largest by far, especially to city dwellers. Also, most big families had an assortment of genders. With this particular family, it was obvious that they kept breeding to have a son.
And while the mother had no time for life, the nine girls were visible running errands for her. I remember the father vividly. We never exchanged words, but often greeted each other when we crossed path. He was a high school teacher who was always dressed in a brown suit and a tie. He was skinny, wore dark prescription glasses at all times and gave private lessons to supplement his income, and never gave up on having a son. In Egypt men conceal their misogynist mentalities with the rationalization that a son would carry the family name.
The journey traveled until the son was conceived and born was long and financially painful. But it wasn’t just the financial dilemma that intrigued me, but the emotional one as well. The father was an educated man, yet his university degree was meaningless. It was baffling to see how the medieval culture was deeply engraved in the subconscious of an educated man and it left me wondering what others with less fortunate fates would do. Reading the news about the Palestinian husband who killed his wife was an eye opener to how some men dealt with the issue.
The teacher’s wife in Alexandria was nothing but a reproductive machine. As the house got crammed with girls, their share of care and food was obviously diminishing with every addition to the family. And eventually their existence was overshadowed by the birth of one son. The older siblings cared for the younger ones and they all cared for the crown prince.
The high school teacher might have been either reasonable enough to understand that it was not his wife’s fault to keep breeding girls or he had no means to marry another woman. With his meager resources, it didn’t matter to the father that the girls were deprived from basic needs. What mattered was that he felt accomplished after the birth of the son. Finally, and in spite of the high expense that was paid along the way, the proud father succeeded in keeping the family’s name alive.
In many similar cases, men would simply take another wife if the first wife failed to give birth to a son. It is quite disgraceful that a man’s accomplishment in life is measured by having a son to succeed him. And it doesn’t matter if the son turns out to be a spoiled loser, which exactly what happened to the teacher’s son, since the boy was treated like a crown prince. Just imagine ten women looking after one child.
Under that roof, the message that was engraved in the minds of these girls was that their worth value was negligible in comparison to the boy. And vice versa, the boy was fed from birth that he was the most important member of this household. And most likely, these beliefs will be passed over to their children.
Quite saddening that in this time and age a person’s worth is judged according to their gender…
1- Suspicion: Palestinian killed wife because she was carrying girl, by: Ali Waked, Israel New, May 13, 2010, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3889131,00.html
2- Killed for being pregnant with a baby girl, by: Phyllis Chesler, May 13, 2010, Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/05/13/phyllis-chesler-palestinian-husband-wife-ultrasound-girl-honor-killing/
3- Mungello, D.E. (2008). Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650. Rowman & Littlefield.
4- Mungello, D.E. (2009). The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800 (3rd edition) Rowman & Littlefield.
5- Murky fetal clinics in illegal ultrasound service, Shanghai Daily, June 4, 2012, China.org.cn, http://www.china.org.cn/china/2012-06/04/content_25557578.htm
6- China’s Unwanted Babies Once Mostly Girls, Now Mostly Sick, Disabled, By Li Hui and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, Tianjin, China Sun Feb 2, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/02/us-china-babies-idUSBREA110M120140202