We have all seen the countless videos centered around the big question everyone seems to want to know: is the new baby a bouncing boy or a glittery girl? You’ll find your answer in cakes filled with sprinkles, balloons filled with confetti, baseballs filled with colored powder and, recently, pyrotechnics gone wrong. Gender reveal parties have become a rite of passage for many new parents – and it may seem like this tradition has been going on for a long time – but in reality it is fairly new.
Originating in the U.S. in 2009, gender reveal parties began in the backyard of Jenna Karvunidis, during a barbecue celebration of her pregnancy. After the recent birth of her nephew, many members of her family were not as excited by the announcement of her baby as she would have liked. So she came up with a theatrical plan to introduce some fun back into the baby shower with a surprise sex reveal.
She baked two rubber duck-shaped cakes, one filled with blue frosting for male and the other with pink for female. At her 20-week ultrasound she asked her midwife to keep the sex of the baby a secret and instead write it down on a piece of paper that would determine which cake would be used. She is credited with being the first to really popularize this trend after posting about her pink frosting filled cake on her blog, High Gloss and Sauce.
The post garnered some local attention and was eventually picked up by a Chicago magazine The Bump, which was popular in the waiting rooms of obstetricians and midwives in the area. That was where the phenomenon started, but the internet really popularized it as videos started to appear of the parties. The first videos of reveals are dated in 2009 and really seem to start to trend in mid-2011. Google trends correspond to this as well with the first searches of the term “gender reveal” appearing mid-2010.
What started as an innocent cake reveal has now become a massive competition. It seems with each new video the reveals have become more and more extravagant – and dangerous. It has become less of a celebration of new life and more a showcase of parents-to-be hellbent on one-upping each other. In 2018, an alligator was even involved in a reveal with a video circulating of its jaws clamping down on a watermelon filled with blue jelly. Simple sprinkles, confetti or streamers don’t seem to cut it anymore, and these new parents have gotten very creative – and sometimes deadly.
In July of 2019, on the Australian Gold Coast, a car burst into blue flames after a reveal gone wrong. That September, a gender reveal in Texas led to a plane crash when the aircraft stalled after dumping thousands of gallons of pink water over a crop field. Just that next month in October, a grandmother was killed in Knoxville, Iowa, by shrapnel from a homemade pipe bomb meant to explode in blue smoke. In 2017, almost 50,000 acres of land in Arizona were destroyed from a brush fire that started when a gun was fired at a target filled with blue colored chalk and tannerite, a highly explosive powder. And most recently, over 8,000 acres of land in San Bernardino County, California, have now been destroyed after another pipe bomb explosion gone wrong.
In the short time these parties have been around they have garnered a lot of attention, good and bad. Many controversies surround these get-togethers, from the dangers involved in the creative surprises to the question of whether these parties are perpetuating gender binaries. Even Karvunidis has changed her mind about them and took to Facebook and Twitter to condemn these over-the-top events.
“Stop having these stupid parties. For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you,” Karvunidis said.
She also shared another surprise – that her views on sex and gender have changed.
“Who cares what gender the baby is? I did at the time because we didn’t live in 2019 and didn’t know what we know now — that assigning focus on gender at birth leaves out so much of their potential and talents that have nothing to do with what’s between their legs. PLOT TWIST, the world’s first gender-reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!” Karvunidis said.
She and many others have found the parties are actually very restricting and that they perpetuate gender stereotypes. The parties have been known to be centered around themes like “guns vs glitter,” “tractors vs tiaras” or “ruffles vs rifles” that separate children into two distinct categories – hyper-masculine and violent or hyper-feminine and dainty – based solely on the basis of the child’s genitalia. Before they can walk, talk or even think for themselves, they are thrust into a binary role full of constricting guidelines on what it means to be a boy or girl.
Many people have rejected this binary and are vocal about the struggle of growing up in a world so heavily focused on those restrictions. Children should be free to grow, learn and change in a welcoming environment with the option to be whoever they are. This is a struggle when there are those being pushed into ill-fitting boxes with feelings of shame for not living up to their parents’– and society’s– expectations of who they should be and how they should represent themselves.
The very term gender reveal is problematic and comes down to the difference between the words gender and sex. Sex, in this case, means reproductive body parts and chromosomes. Gender, on the other hand, is much more complicated. Gender is a socially constructed concept and can be described as more of a spectrum. It is something that can change as a person is continually being developed and doesn’t always fall into neat categories. It’s a way for people to present themselves and define themselves – and it’s personal. Each person has to find their own way and is in charge of declaring their own gender.
Gender expectations are stifling to everyone – even those who are not transgender. With themes like “tutus or touchdowns” and “bows or badges,” the children in the audiences of these reveals can be misled to assume that it’s wrong if they don’t fall into these stereotypes that reek of sexism. Who is to say that little girl won’t grow up to be a firefighter? Or what if that little boy finds he loves ballet? And why should any of that matter? Countless videos have ended with family members and even parents of the soon to be children extremely disappointed when their predictions of the babies gender are wrong. This can be damaging to a child’s self esteem and sense of well-being.
This debate, like anything else, is ongoing and has many different viewpoints, and there are definitely those who feel gender reveals should not be taken too seriously. Pregnancy is exciting for a lot of women, and they want to share that with others. That little bit of information on a baby’s sex is sometimes all a mother has to cling to and create an image of her future child. But there are many alternatives to a gender reveal party that are a lot less harmful – including a zodiac reveal or a birthstone reveal.
It is important when planning these events to take into account that what we should really be celebrating is life and who that baby will become – not what body parts they were born with.