On Boys and Girls, Part II

Back in April, I wrote about an article about research that suggested a birth mother's diet prior to pregnancy may influence a baby's sex. My concern was mainly with the framing of the article, which was disproportionately focused on whether it was possible to "raise the odds of having a boy."

I was particularly struck by one quote used to set the article's departing tone:
The last line of the article is a quote from Dr. Michael Lu, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and public health at UCLA, who sums up the science thusly: "The bottom line is, we still don't know how to advise patients in how to make boys."

It's not like they do know how to advise patients in how to make girls. But what kind of asshole would want to deliberately make a girl, right?
This morning, I got an email from Dr. Lu, explaining his quote, and, with his permission, I'm posting it—because it's enlightening to see how the fix was in, as it were, right from the interview stage, because it's encouraging (as I told Dr. Lu, we rarely get responses as thoughtful as his; they're generally of the "dumm bith" variety), and because, as he told me, "Rarely in life do we get to say something over again after we said something wrong."
Dear Ms McEwan,

I came across your blog tonight and found my quote the subject of your article On Boys and Girls. I would like to explain my quote.

I was asked by the reporter: "So Dr Lu, if a couple comes to your office and ask you how they can make a boy, what would you tell them?" I was answering her question directly when I told her that we still don't know how to make boys.

I should've said we still don't know how to make boys or girls (which we don't). I wish I did. I am still learning how to talk to reporters.

As father of two daughters, I really appreciate the story about your father. I feel the same way about my girls, and wish someday they will remember me the same way as you do about your father.

Anyway, please accept my apology for what I said, and for all the unintended consequences of what I didn't mean to say. And thank you for what you are trying to do with your article and with your blog.

Most Sincerely,
Thanks very much for writing to me, Dr. Lu—and for letting me share your note and for being someone who thinks about this stuff. Welcome to our Teaspoon Brigade. I hope you'll stick around.


As an aside, I want to note that Dr. Lu is not apologizing for being deliberately malicious, but because, irrespective of intent, he still said something problematic. His apology is one of the "Pardon me for unintentionally stepping on your foot" variety, about which I've written before. Maude knows, I've had to issue those kinds of apologies myself, and I appreciate the lack of defensiveness that takes.

(The reporter—from the AP, natch—by contrast, appears to have had an agenda, making her role more akin to a sucker-punch to the gut than an inelegant step on someone else's toes.)

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