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Why parents should not be told the sex of their fetus: a response to the commentaries
  1. Tamara Kayali Browne
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tamara Kayali Browne, Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Robertson Building 46, Acton, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia; tamara.browne{at}

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I am pleased to see that my article, ‘Why parents should not be told the sex of their fetus’, has generated some thoughtful commentaries. The article challenges a number of commonly held ideas, so I am glad to have this opportunity to emphasise and extend some of the points in the article. I will focus on Davis' commentary and Mikhalevich and Powell's commentary primarily because I agree with Kane and Rothman's views. (Although I will also respond to Rothman's concern.)

Mikhalevich and Powell do not believe that the disclosure of fetal sex plays into or promotes gender essentialism. Yet many people hold gender essentialist beliefs. In studies conducted thus far, parental reasons for sex determination or sex selection often conflate sex and gender and express beliefs that, for instance, a child with an XY karyotype will be naturally inclined to play sport and do ‘boyish’ things. This is why I see gender essentialism as a significant part of the disclosure problem, and not because I am myself committed to biological essentialism. Information regarding fetal sex will therefore constitute misinformation for most people. At the very least, providing such information without informing parents of the problems with gender essentialism provides gender essentialist beliefs with, as Seavilleklein and Sherwin would say, the scientific and medical veneer that perpetuates them.

Nevertheless, let us suppose there is no gender essentialism involved—that parents are aware of the difference between sex and gender and are aware that there is no evidence that the sexes are naturally inclined towards certain roles, norms and behaviours yet still wish to know fetal sex because they believe that social determinants will cause their child to acquire stereotypical gender traits. Such a view is still premised on incorrect and sexist beliefs for two reasons:

  1. Despite social learning and pressure, it appears …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i Further, the child who is born may later make claims of harm by the imposition of gender stereotypes, as argued above.

  • ii In Germany, telling parents the sex of the fetus is only permitted after 12 weeks gestation (ref. 11).

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