By Sam Allen

As I’m writing this, my 9-month-old cat is roving around my apartment. She knocks stuff over. It’s funny, in these COVID times, because even her most annoying antics usually make me chuckle. Isolation, man. I could really use a party right now.

One popular gathering right now-ish (i.e. before the pandemic caused such chaos) are gender reveal parties, but I’m not sure I’d go to one. Basically, they’re a reception by a (usually) young person organised around announcing the sex (not gender) of that said expecting person’s baby.

From capitalistic trendiness to combating loneliness to the problems of actual gender that they raise, gender reveal parties are emblematic of the fight over meaning that is happening in our culture right now.

Beginnings With A Blast

If you haven’t heard of them, gender reveal parties originated around 2008 when the American Jenna Karvunidis documented a party with a pink cake on her blog and was later profiled in a Chicago magazine. Fast-forward a decade, and the elements of the gender reveal party have become a bit more elaborate. There are pink and blue party favours specifically for these occasions, and guests can even “pick a side” for what they hope the new baby will be.  

Then, usually near the end of the party, there’s some kind of pyrotechnic release where the sex of the baby is “revealed” with either pink or blue smoke, sand, or streamers. It’s theatrical and is generally considered the climax of the party.

Recently, one such “explosive” aspect of a party caused an enormous fire, and the death of one firefighter, in Southern California. Nevertheless, even if we were to take away any fire hazards of these parties, people will probably still throw them.  

So let’s assume they’ll continue.

Buy Now, Pay Later(ish)

Party planners benefit from the events they organise. So do the businesses that have sprouted up selling doodahs and party swag for the events. My niece bought a crockpot for her gender reveal party so that she could warm up a dipping sauce that she wanted to share with us. Pretty benign, right?  

Well, maybe. If you’re on a fixed income, all of those purchases might add up – or discourage you from throwing a party altogether. Social pressure, especially on people even before they become pregnant, is a real thing. That, in combination with all of your friends doing it, could make you feel left out if you don’t throw (yet another) party for your baby. It could be that this is just a ploy of capitalism to get you to buy and do “the latest thing.” Good for the economy, but potentially bad for your bank balance.

Technology-Assisted Connection

Although I’m hesitant to blame everything on today’s youth, I am intrigued by a study that indicates that reducing the usage of technology among 18 to 22-year-olds can make them feel less lonely. With all of the YouTubing that happens for the “reveal” part of these parties, I wonder whether the people who are uploading the sex of their babies to social media are doing so with actual people in mind. 

Another study, albeit one conducted among older adults, seems to indicate that ties to substantive relationships, not random followers, can be strengthened by the use of social media and technology.  

Either way, young people who grew up using social media could be using it as an adaptive strategy–and end up either more or less lonely, depending on how it’s used. So, filming your “It’s a Girl!” celebration so Grandma can see it is one thing, but doing it for people you’re not emotionally bonded with might actually end up making you feel alienated in the long-run.

Boy, Or Girl, OR…..Something In-Between!

I’m non-binary. That basically means that I don’t identify as either male or female, but something “other” or something “else” entirely. Gender binaries make me uncomfortable, as well as generalisations about “boys being boys” or about “girly things.” I know from the people in my life that gender isn’t the simple dichotomy we make it out to be and that a child knows their gender identity at about age three. 

Why should we complicate things for them if they turn out to be gender non-conforming? 

Focusing on a child’s gender before even they know it themselves can lead to harmful stereotyping for the child by their families and their circles. I know this is a larger issue, but, hey, I said it.

Since I’m pushing 40, I’m decidedly out of the Gender Reveal party demographic. Which means that if I’m ever in the position of throwing one for myself, beyond the smoke and mirrors of the announcement, I’ll announce, “Yay! We’re having a person!”

And I’ll actually be adopting a cat. Because they wreck stuff regardless of the parts they’ve got.