Holly Bodger is the author of 5 To 1, a new work of fiction set in the near future where, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys to one girl. Tired of wedding their daughters to the highest bidder, the women who formed the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.
In the spirit of the novel, I asked Bodger to answer five questions about the book and then offer one statement.
5 To 1 is on sale now.
I woke up today and saw the following headline “The Age of the Designer Baby is Here!” While overstated (the “design” referred to correcting mutations linked to cystic fibrosis), it did remind me that we aren’t terribly far off from a time in which we will be able to select the sex of our offspring. This is, of course, what occurs in your book. Briefly, how does that work out for society, and do you think we’re in any danger of having a similar situation occur here in the real world?
In 5 TO 1, the selection of a specific gender (boys) in present day backfires when the country finds itself lacking in the opposite gender (girls) in the future. This imbalance has a negative impact on boys, which is ironic since they were the ones preferred in the first place.
While I don’t think there is a great chance the boy-to-girl ratios will rise to 5 to 1, I do think society has moved towards the idea of “screening” future children. Technologies such as ultrasounds have allowed future parents to screen a fetus for medical problems or deformities. I don’t think a lot of people have an ethical problem with these tests since they are trying to determine if the fetus is healthy. Of course, during the course of these screenings, future parents can often find out the gender of the fetus. This is where the ethics start to blur. If the parents ask for the gender so they can start debating names or so they can pick a paint color for the nursery, most people do not object to the practice; however, if they do so with the intention of aborting the fetus if the gender is not as desired, I suspect a lot more people would object.
When we approach more advanced technologies, the slope gets slippery. Amniocenteses already enables physicians to perform genetic testing on a fetus (again, with the intention of identifying medical problems.) Would said testing be wrong if it could be used to ascertain intelligence or athletic prowess? Would we want a world filler with only perfect people? If so, who would define perfect?
The truth of the matter is that there are sometimes things that are medically possible but not ethically acceptable. Mary Shelley made this point when she wrote Frankenstein almost two hundred years ago and it is as true then as it is now. I am very happy that I’m not the person who has to decide what is ethical and what is not as I suspect it would probably be like drawing a line in the sand with a live snake.
Your book features two perspectives: one male, one female. One prose, the other verse. I’ve noticed that people often talk of men and women speaking “different languages”, and was wondering if this stylistic choice was in any way reflective of this.
I chose to give them distinct styles because they are very different characters. Sudasa is a rich, sheltered girl who doesn’t really understand how the real world works. Kiran, on the other hand, is a poor boy who has been living and breathing reality since he was a child. Because of this, I felt like they had to approach the same situation with very different perspectives on things.
I do believe there are general differences between the way men and women express themselves, however I also believe there will always be people who defy these generalities. I personally try to focus more on how the specific character would act or speak, rather than how they would adhere to gender biases.
The book is set in India, and involves a high tech version of an arranged marriage. While I know that arranged marriages has been a part of Indian culture in the past, are they still a part of life now?
According to a recent study by UNICEF, arranged marriages still make up 90% of marriages in India, so yes, they are very much part of life today. In some instances, arranged marriage means forced marriage, often with a bride who is under 18 (which is illegal.) But in many others, the bride and groom choose to have their parents select a partner and then choose to go forward (or not go forward) with the ceremony once they have met. While this may seem unusual to North Americans, India boasts a divorce rate of just over 1% (rather than America’s 50%.) This is partially due to the fact that divorce is not as acceptable in India as it is in America, but one does have to wonder if there is more to it than that.
When I heard of your book, I was immediately reminded of works like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Do you see your novel as a work of feminist literature?
It’s funny that you mention The Handmaid’s Tale because that’s the book that made me decide I wanted to be a novelist. Atwood was, and still is, a role model to me both because she is a fantastic Canadian author who is willing to take chances, and because she is a proud feminist.
Much like The Handmaid’s Tale, I do believe 5 TO 1 is a work of feminism. Feminism by definition seeks equality between the genders and my novel is about what happens when you don’t have it. The fact of the matter is that an absence of equality hurts everyone, which was a key message I wanted to convey in my book.
Is the competitive testing of men who desire a wife in any way an inversion of the male gaze? In essence, are the men being treated as an objective commodity in the same way women are objectified?
The boys are competing to win a wife which, in a way, objectifies the girl by making her a prize. But at the same time, the girls are treating the boys like they are nothing unless they win, which essentially objectifies the boys, too. Both genders resent the system and yet they are fueling it by continuing these beliefs about the opposite sex. It’s a vicious circle. The only way to stop it is to break it.
Author Statement: We can see with only those eyes that are our own.