I knew since I was fifteen years old that I might never get pregnant. When I found out thirteen years later that I was, I was elated. Due to my status as high-risk, scans were a normal part of obstetrician visits. It didn’t take long to discover I was having a boy. Still elated. The joy I felt wasn’t affected by this information, for every flutter and eventual kick as he stretched and danced within me was already more than I could have hoped for.
Less than two years later, I was pregnant again—with a girl. I was equally elated. Some said I was lucky to have “one of each.” Others encouraged me to try for another boy so my son could have a brother. Opinions I didn’t ask for came from all angles, and I replied that I was grateful to have any child I got.
Eventually, I learned about gender reveal parties. Most were tacked onto private family events (like a holiday dinner), or fairly intimate gatherings. They didn’t sit well with me, but as someone who understood the thrill of a successful pregnancy, and was done having kids, I let it go. I assumed it a passing fad.
Then “private” and “intimate” were tossed out the window by a boom of smartphones in peoples’ hands loaded with cameras, the popularity of reality TV shows featuring celebs revealing all, and a desire by regular people to become famous, too.
From 2011 to 2017, the number of American adults with smartphones more than doubled, to 77 percent of the population. In that same timeframe, a new non-invasive maternal blood test to accurately determine the sex of a baby as early as seven weeks was announced, YouTube put out a slick smartphone app, Pinterest launched as the perfect party-planning platform, Facebook climbed to 1.3 billion users a day, and social media fans proved with their clicks that they loved both babies and feel-good stories.
This all added up to the perfect recipe for gender reveal parties exploding in popularity online. But should they have? I think not. First, consider the name: “gender reveal party.” Inviting family and friends to a “sex reveal party” sounds rather inappropriate, which is probably why this phrase isn’t used.
But I need to make one thing very clear: sex and gender are not interchangeable.
Sex is determined upon fertilization and generally presents itself via genitals. Gender is more abstract, covering both how the individual identifies themself in regard to maleness, femaleness, and the space in between, and how they choose to express that identity.
A doctor can test for sex, but there are full-grown adults who haven’t decided on what gender they are. Also, one out of every 1,500-2,000 births results in an intersex child, one whose sex cannot be defined without question due to a variety of factors, and it is estimated that 0.6 percent of American adults are transgender.
So if you have a gender reveal party, you’re making a great presumption about how your unborn child will identify.
Sure, a “genitals party” doesn’t sound too appealing, but an “identity party” at which the guest of honor doesn’t get to choose their own feels like a depressing dystopian novel.
Second, there’s the gender stereotyping. Born a girl in the mid-seventies, it was no secret that I had expectations assigned to me. I was to help with cooking and cleaning. I was to avoid getting messy. I was to make boys think they were bigger and stronger than I was.
Those messages were ridiculous. They went against my nature. I was a terrible cook and even worse at cleaning. My favorite place to daydream was up in a tree. My observation skills made me able to pick up any sport, and determination made me a tough opponent. Not only that, but I was taller than most boys my age until I was a junior in high school, and I really, really hated the color pink. I saw the gender stereotyping affect my brothers, too. It was so unfair to see them struggle with rules like boys should bottle up their feelings.
When I had my own son and daughter, I tried to avoid stereotypes. There weren’t boy toys or girl toys, there were simply toys. I didn’t automatically dress him in blue and her in pink. They could both read or play or wear or do anything they wanted to, even if it was something that was traditionally viewed as not in line with their sex.
It has been such a relief seeing them free of the restraints so many of us had, moving forward equally, that I cannot imagine being tempted to start a new child’s life off by throwing a party featuring a “Pink or blue: Which team do you choose?” theme, then inevitably following up with a baby shower hyper-focused on the pink or the blue results, all buying back into those old restraints and capturing it on film for all to see.
Which brings me to my third concern: sex/gender disappointment caught on camera. I understand dreaming of having a child of a particular sex. These are natural feelings to have, whichever way the baby comes out. However, gender reveal parties thrown on camera with colorful fireworks in front of a crowd aren’t designed for privacy. They catch every little expression on film forever.
Do you want your son to see your disappointment as blue confetti rains down? Or witness a group who chose “team pink” get mad they lost the game? Is that fair? Is catching genuine emotion in response to your child’s sex all for the sake of clicks by strangers on the internet worth the risk of your child eventually seeing the footage and realizing they weren’t what mommy or daddy had initially wanted? Sure, they might eventually get over it, too, but should they have to?
What if one day their gender doesn’t match their sex, the sex that they watched their parents cheer for on camera? Is this party worth the possible hurt?
Once you’re a parent, your life is filled with celebrations. Big ones, like baby showers and birthdays. Little ones, like first giggles, first steps, and the first time they confide something in you that they trust no one else with. I’ve found the latter to mean the most, those quieter moments with your child that don’t get caught on film because you’re focused on each other.
As fun and well-intentioned the spark that started the idea of gender reveal parties was, I worry it has come to a point where that special moment is lost in the desire to set a hashtaggable stage for an internet audience.
When babies are born, they do so without labels, shying away from the light, wanting only to curl up in the loving arms of someone ready to discover whoever they might be. Maybe it’s time to get back to following their cue.