Have a daughter? You wimp

A researcher finds a link between a mother's testosterone level and her baby's gender. Oh, boy.

By Carol Lloyd
Published March 27, 2008 5:00PM (EDT)

Oh boy, oh boy. Mothers of daughters, don your boxing gloves cuz we got somethin' to prove. If a new study of cow follicles is to be believed, then, as a mother of two daughters, I am probably unambitious, insecure and powerless and suffer from a weak sense of self. Perhaps I shouldn't be so prickly -- maybe I should embrace (big hugs!) my nurturing, empathetic and tolerant essence.

I know there's all sorts of discomfiting science in this world, and we shouldn't take it personally, especially if it's true. But earlier this week an article about some ongoing research out of New Zealand downright infuriated me. Or perhaps I should say it raised my testosterone to levels even the Incredible Hulk might have found painful.

The article covered the new (and old) research of Valerie Grant, a reproductive scientist at the University of Auckland, who has been studying the connection between testosterone levels in women and their tendency to have boys or girls. The higher the testosterone level, her research finds, the higher the incidence of producing a male baby. Her more recent research focuses on cows: High levels of testosterone in bovine ovulatory follicles reliably predict the sex of the embryo.

If that had been the sum total of Grant's conclusions, I would have been interested but not irritated. After all, there's lots of research showing that testosterone in female mammals influences the incidence of male births, and last time I checked, we were still mammals. But the scientist's willingness to make blanket generalizations about the personalities of certain kinds of women seemed to veer far beyond the beaten path to her laboratory.

In an earlier study, Grant took blood tests of women for testosterone while quizzing the women about how often they would describe themselves as proud, vigorous, rejected, self-satisfied, fearful, etc. The article sums up her findings: "She found that women who are confident, assertive, influential and with a strong sense of self have high levels of testosterone (you normally know one when you've met one) and produce sons, whereas mothers of daughters tend to be more nurturing, empathic and tolerant and have lower testosterone."

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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