Is “gender disappointment” a mental disorder?


Tereza Hendl1, Tamara Kayali Browne2

1 Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, Medical Foundation Building, University of Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia,
2 Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, ACT, Australia,

“Gender disappointment” is the feeling of sadness at the conception and/or birth of a child of the “wrong” sex. This feeling is experienced by parents who have a strong preference for a child of a particular gender and their desire is not realised. This article explores the phenomenon of gender disappointment that is increasingly being raised in the context of sex selection for social reasons and the parental drive to pursue it. Gender disappointment tends to be framed as a mental disorder in the media, on sex selection forums and among parents who have been interviewed about sex selection. Our aim is to investigate whether gender disappointment would qualify as a mental disorder under the current definition. We agree with Rashed and Bingham who call for attention to the origins of distress related to a particular “condition” and contend that if the distress is socially constituted, then it should not be considered a mental disorder. We argue that the distress related to gender disappointment is socially constituted, as the parent’s desire for a child of a particular gender is grounded in gender essentialism, a socially harmful set of beliefs which underlie sexism. It would therefore be wrong to state that the suffering within gender disappointment is the result of a mental disorder, or a dysfunction within the individual, which should be treated by sex selection. Rather, this suffering is the result of accepting sexist beliefs which are all too-prevalent within society. The solution is therefore not to permit sex selection, but to challenge gender essentialism.


Tereza Hendl completed a PhD in Philosophy at Macquarie University with a dissertation exploring ethical aspects of sex selection. She received the 2015 Max Charlesworth Prize. Currently, she works as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at VELiM on a project focusing on the regulation of autologous stem cell therapies in Australia.

Dr Tamara Kayali Browne is a Research Officer at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University. She was awarded her PhD from Cambridge University in 2012.

Her research focuses on the ethics and philosophy of reproductive technology and mental illness.

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