Etumu Schoster considers whether gender reveal parties are a cute celebration or an outdated trend.
Earlier this month, a Californian firefighter died battling flames started by a gender reveal party – but debates around the practice have been explosive long before that. When looking at the picture recently shown on The Today Show with Trevor Noah, it’s hard to believe that Jenna Karvunidis’ two-layered, sloppily frosted cake posted on her now-deactivated blog in 2008 started all this fuss. Since then, the internet has found elaborate ways of revealing a baby’s gender to the world: viral videos show relatives gathered around colourful cakes, watching fireworks, or racing in tractors with exploding smoke cannons in the background. Although the tradition is only about a decade old, it accentuates our longstanding obsession with a binary narrative of Gender.
When a Twitter thread last year made Jenna Karvunidis aware that she threw the first publicly known gender reveal party on the internet, she used the momentum to poignantly speak out about the tradition. After her small-scale celebration became viral, she said “it just exploded into crazy after that”, putting “more emphasis on gender than has ever been necessary for a baby”. Indeed, the tradition reinforces harmful stereotypes that go far beyond “not all girls like pink” - it encourages gendered gift giving and ties a baby’s entire personality back to their biological sex. With mottos like “tiaras or trucks?”, “guns or glitter” and “pistols or pearls?” we put the focus on women’s appearance or expect a temperate, soft-spoken attitude before they are even born. And we portray boys as their brave protectors, allowing violent behaviour to be both trivialised and celebrated.
Activists have also called out the practice for being transphobic. Throwing a gender reveal party based on biological sex fails to acknowledge that some babies welcomed into the world with blue confetti will grow up and recognise that their authentic self is a girl. Others will find that the gender binary to be constraining, and will not identify with blue or pink. Ohio mother, Love Gwaltney, experienced this first- hand when she redid her child’s gender reveal party 17 years later. At the time she thought she thought she was expecting a little girl, McKenzie. Now called Grey, her baby grew up to identify as non-binary. Having gotten it wrong the first time, Gwaltney wanted to give her family another chance, decorating her family’s yard with yellow, black, and white balloons – the colours of the non-binary pride flag. Just before starting their senior year of high school, the party was the end and celebration of Grey’s challenging coming-out process.
With all the unknowns for parents-to-be, pregnancy is not only an exciting time but often full of uncertainty. For many, gender reveal parties can be the first step in conceptualising the child’s personality; a glimpse into who they might be in the future, involving family and friends in the process. But a party celebrating what is between a foetus’ legs is bizarre and continuing to equate gender with biological sex only perpetuates sexist and transphobic ideology. Or as Karvunidis wrote for The Guardian: “There’s such an obsession with gender that it becomes limiting in many ways and exploitative in others. You don’t want what’s between your legs to guide your path in life. I want my kids to grow up in a world where gender doesn’t matter.”
Pink or blue smoke really does not tell us anything about who the baby is going to grow up to be. After a decade, it’s time to move past this outdated trend.
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