Beyond Pink and Blue: the Long-Term Consequences of Gender Reveal Parties
Marie Antoinette’s infamous scoff, “let them eat cake,” preheated the fires of revolution (whether or not she uttered the line is beside the point). In Roald Dahl’s Matilda, elementary-schooler Bruce Bogtrotter is brutally humiliated by the principal, Miss Trunchbull, when she forces him to devour an entire chocolate cake before the eyes of his terrified classmates. Befitting the millennial generation, blogger Jenna Karvunidis unwittingly kicked off one of social media’s most polarizing and outrageous trends... with a cake.
The dessert in question was baked in 2008 and, from the outside, it appeared to be plain and simple. Yet it was the inside of the cake that would leave millions of copycats to decorate your social media feed: the buttercream layering the dessert was tinted pink - to signify that the baby that Karvunidis was pregnant with would be a girl.
When asked by The Guardian about the event years later, Karvunidis recalled that “it was a milestone… I had had several miscarriages. It was like, ‘oh yay, I’m finally at a point in my pregnancy where I know if it’s a boy or a girl’ rather than ‘let’s saddle this kid with a whole identity”
Now though, Karvunidis realizes that the celebration of a gender reveal party leans toward the latter; and it only took two wildfires.
The first of these fires was in 2017 when an Arizona couple chose to reveal their baby’s gender by shooting a target emblazoned with the words “boy” and “girl...” which housed not just the requisite pink and blue powder, but also an explosive called Tannerite. And explode it did. The subsequent wildfire spanned 47,000 acres, $8,000,000 in damage, and 5 years of prison for the father; it was a boy.
Again, this September, in the midst of California’s already-deadly wildfires, another exploded to life through a celebration of an unborn life. A pyrotechnic smoke bomb set 8,600 acres of the El Dorado Ranch Park aflame, causing four neighboring communities to completely evacuate, 600 personnel to fight off the blaze, and seven Californian national forests to close.
Karvunidis took to Twitter, her anger burning hotter than any fire could: “It was 116 degrees in Pasadena yesterday, and this tool thought it would be smart to light a fire… toxic masculinity is men thinking they need to explode something because simply enjoying a baby party is for sissies.”
The very nature of that “baby party,” is laden with toxicity itself. The key ingredient in that poison is simply calling it a “gender reveal party.”
Gender is not literal. It is an idea, the idea that a person has of the way they identify. It could be male, it could be female; it could be both and it could be neither. All we know is that it is. Using this definition, a gender reveal party does not live up to its name. Instead, it continues to perpetuate the harmful misinformation that gender and sex are intertwined.
Sex, contrary to this logic, is different from gender. It is literal. It can be seen within our reproductive organs. With the exception of those who are intersex, it leaves little room for interpretation. There is no could about it. It is either male or female.
One thing sex and gender do have in common is this: neither is a choice. A person does not choose which pair of chromosomes combine to designate their sex, nor do they choose the thoughts and tendencies that shape their gender identity. However, a gender reveal party seeks to make them choose.
As its name suggests, the primary objective of a gender reveal is to share the baby’s gender with friends, family, and the 4.6 billion other people on the internet. Despite this, it fails in its mission. A balloon full of pink powder fed to a crocodile for a girl or a car flaming with blue smoke (and actual flames for good measure) for a boy does not reveal either as a gender. Instead, it reveals the sex. By calling the celebration a gender reveal party, it implies that sex and gender are one and the same, narrowing the spectrum of gender identity into an exclusive binary.
Conflagrating these two incredibly different concepts is a falsification of science that is incredibly damaging to societal mentality. Equating sex with gender is a denial of the rights of those who are transgender, non-binary, genderfluid, and/or don’t fit into the restrictive margins of the gender binary. Teaching children before their birth that sex and gender are one and the same can lead to a lack of the acceptance of those who don’t conform to the gender binary, and moreover, if they don’t conform to it, they are left with a lack of resources and safe spaces to forge their own identities. The celebration of a gender reveal party effectively cancels the celebration of that child’s gender identity throughout the remainder of their life.
The aesthetic of a gender reveal party is tailor-made for your Instagram feed, yet also to fit the stylings of decades-old gender norms that seek to limit children’s aspirations before they know the meaning of the word. While gender identity is a spectrum, the palette of a gender reveal only showcases two gradients of it: pink and blue. More specifically, pink for a girl and blue for a boy. The association of these two colors with these two genders originated long before they made their debut as gender reveal party decorations, and as decades passed, their ties to each other were all but wrapped in a perfect, marketable ribbon. Today, that ribbon is fraying rapidly, yet consumers are still so enraptured with the ideals of traditional masculinity and femininity. That image traps children within the confines of a pink or blue frame, separated from their full potential by the glass outside of it that, no matter how many times it’s been shattered, will remain impenetrable until outdated gender stereotypes can no longer hold it up. In the social media age, gender reveal parties have become a solid reinforcement for these stereotypes, with themes such as Touchdowns or Tutus? and Ruffles or Rifles? (yes, really).
It is alright for a girl to appreciate more “feminine” hobbies, and for a boy to appreciate more “masculine” ones. Of course, a girl can be a ballerina, and a boy can be a football player. The error of gender reveal party themes such as these is, once again, boiled down to a lack of choice. A girl can choose if she wants to be a ballerina, but if she wants to be a football player, that option needs to be there for her as well. Perpetuating these stereotypes robs children of their individuality, stifles their potential, and limits on their futures by refusing to consider all possible outcomes.
While gender reveal parties had a sweet beginning, the cake has now gone stale. We are completely stuffed after being force-fed the misconceptions of sex and gender, and the harmful stereotypes surrounding them. Instead, let society make room in its stomach for the acceptance of all gender identities, not just male and female, and for them to be a choice made by the person themselves, not their parents; no matter how many likes it gets them.