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Gender Reveals: Dangerous in More Ways Than One?

In Southern California this week, nearly 11,000 acres lit up in flames, the scorching heat and destruction being some of the worst ever seen in the area--and it all started because of a gender reveal (it was a boy, by the way). 

A couple in the area set off a pyrotechnic device meant to release smoke, blue or pink, to reveal the gender of their baby. The device sparked the massive El Dorado wildfire, causing mass destruction and evacuations. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. 

In 2018 in Arizona, a couple shot a target meant to reveal the gender of their baby with blue or pink smoke, sparking a fire that put 47,000 acres of grasslands and forest in flames. These fires have sparked a larger conversation about whether gender reveals are necessary, and the notion that they may not be as harmless as they seem, whether it’s cutting open a cake or using a dangerous device. 

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Jenna Myers Karvunidis, the woman who began the idea of gender reveal parties, did so as a fun way to get her family excited about her pregnancy after another relative just had a baby--the anticipation and enthusiasm had died down, and she wanted some love and attention for her and her baby too. Jenna bought a cake that revealed she was having a girl--but now, she regrets ever making the idea popular, particularly after her child told her that they were nonbinary. She is especially regretful about the parties that have caused destruction and injury, like wildfires, but the simple idea of an event dedicated to a baby’s sex doesn’t sit right with her anymore. 

When she was interviewed by The Guardian, Jenna stated that “At least when the child is born you are getting all the information at once: the sex, the colour of their hair, who they look like, how long they are, what their heart rate is. With the gender-reveal you’ve isolated one aspect of this person. When it gets elevated as being central to your identity that’s problematic.” Being a staunch feminist her whole life, Jenna feels that gender reveals put too much value on one part of the baby’s identity--their sex, which can become problematic to transgender and non-binary communities, and even the child themselves later in life. When so much value is placed on a child’s sex, they may feel that they are disappointing their parents later in life if they do not identify with their sex assigned at birth. Additionally, gender reveals reinforce the gender binary--people equate sex (which is assigned at birth) with gender (which is based on identity).

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Many argue that gender reveals are harmless: they are just a fun way for the soon-to-be parents to get some excitement over their new arrival, and it’s simply celebrating an exciting milestone. While this is not entirely false, some gender reveals go further than a simple color--they assign a child an entire personality based on their sex, reinforcing damaging gender roles. 

Many gender reveals have themes that reinforce stereotypical gender roles; some examples are “wheels or heels,” “ruffles or rifles,” “touchdown or tutus,” and “tiaras or trucks.” These themes give a child a hypothetical personality merely based on their sex, and reinforce stereotypical ideals of what masculinity and feminity are meant to look like. Instead of moving toward being accepting toward all genders, these reveals and themes fall back into the ideals of the gender binary while reinforcing harmful stereotypes. 

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In actuality, there are many ways to express masculinity and femininity and everything in between--and there is no “one right way” to do so. The problem with gender reveals is that they create the notion that there is “one right way” to exist, which is aligning with the stereotypes assigned to a person’s sex at birth. In theory, gender reveals are a cute idea, and a way to celebrate a very exciting milestone for parents. However, they may have more repercussions than any parent can imagine when they are simply shooting a target, cutting into a cake with a football and a tutu on it, or breaking open a pinata.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Photos: Her Campus Media Library

Sana Mamtaney (she/her) is a third-year student at American University studying journalism and political science. She loves writing about social justice issues and how they affect our daily lives. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, watching reality TV, and listening to Hozier and One Direction.
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