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Gen(ital)der reveal parties are now the latest for prospective parents

  • Humorously referred to as 'genital reveal parties'
  • Sociology graudate India Pearson examines the latest trend

The term gender reveal is a misnomer. The 12-week scan, completed as a prerequisite to the celebration, in fact infers the foetal sex- of a baby, not its gender. 

Commentator Astri Jack humorously presents the ‘genital reveal party’ as a revision.  

Despite Jack’s satirical undertone, their commentary highlights a certain perverseness rooted in such parties. The notion that adults gather to eat cake, coded pink or blue, to celebrate the genitalia sex? of a foetus, possesses a somewhat dystopian quality. 

However, the gender reveal party is more confounding still. 

Notwithstanding its mis-termed name, the celebration is inextricably tied to gender, and Jack’s emendation, while factually accurate, does not underscore the conflation of sex and gender in layman discourse [most people’s understanding].

The two concepts are distinct categories but not unrelated. 

Artificial

In short, sex is the biological characteristic that determines anatomy to be male or female. However, an acknowledgement of intersex existence is important. 

Gender is the cultural meaning ascribed to the body. For example, the idea that little girls play with dolls. 

This definition echoes Judith Butler’s seminal ‘Gender trouble’ publication. Butler posits that gender is not natural, but artificial and continually reproduced. Butler rejects the idea that gender is the same as sex but asserts that it is the result of cultural norms which define man and woman. We can see this in the very premise of the gender reveal party.

Expectant parents are not gathering to celebrate vaginas and penises, but to affirm their expectations of girl- and boyhood.

This is evident in gender reveal decorations, most noticeably the sex-colour designation of pink and blue. In contemporary Western  life, pink and blue are signifiers of femininity and masculinity, respectively. Thus, an explosion of pink confetti signals the arrival of a girl, and vice versa. 

Outwardly, this appears inconsequential. In fact, it is a well-established and unmistakable symbolic code. Imagine the confusion of cutting a gender reveal cake to find green filling, for instance.

Pregnant

For example, a post by Aimee Horton in Metro details the ‘gender disappointment’ and sadness felt by the pregnant mum of a son who wants a daughter. In the article, the expectant mother states that no part of herself had anticipated ‘standing on the side-lines of a football pitch’. Until, alas, she cut into the blue frosting of her reveal cake. One could argue the triviality of the statement and  disregard it as a tired cliché. In subsequent excerpts, the mother yearns for her hypothetical daughter.  She describes her best friendship with her own mother,  the nights spent watching films, drinking wine and ‘putting the world to rights’. A relationship that she deems impossible to replicate with her son.

In pining for a daughter that does not exist, and dreading a son that does, a ‘pre-birth personhood’ is assumed. In other words, the coloured reveal is used to predict how the foetus will exist in the world. Hence, blue frosting signifies being boyish, over being a boy.

A slew of videos shared to streaming platform TikTok further exhibit this. Witness this dad's reaction when the ballon bursts; or this example of gender 'disappointment'. 

The videos aptly demonstrate Butler’s argument. In their disappointment, expectant parents subscribe to the rigid, culturally informed notion of gender  and highlight how this is translated via the coloured reveal.

However, these coloured signifiers prove as malleable as the gender construct they herald. Gendered colours appear to date back to the 19th century. During this  period, pastels began to dominate the previously white clothing worn by children. Blue was labelled as dainty, and therefore assigned to girls. Conversely, pink was seen to be masculine, akin to fierce red.

Advance a century to 1960, and the sex-colour designation was seemingly eradicated, owing to the Women’s Liberation Movement. Amidst this time of socio-political change, a move towards gender neutrality was seen.

The mass introduction of prenatal testing by 1970 spearheaded the commodification of parenthood, reinstating the binary divide. 

Signifiers

This dynamic history highlights the instability of the coloured reveal. Expectant parents wait to be submerged in their son's machismo, or bite into their daughter's kind nature. Yet, a century ago, these signifiers would be reversed,  arguably, diluting their effect. But as shown by TikTok, this is not the case. In fact, these signifiers appear more powerful than ever.

In today’s socio-political climate this is perplexing as political correctness deems gender a social quagmire. For example, the implementation of gender-neutral language by the NHS in which the title “mother” is deemed exclusionary and replaced by ‘birthing parent’. One no longer breastfeeds but rather, ‘chest feeds’.

Amid  this discourse, the gender reveal party appears almost radical.

Yet the celebration receives little backlash. Additionally, and somewhat ironically, the generation that honed this reveal is the same generation calling to cancel universities for being ‘unwoke’.

Thus, risking the future liberal education of those vaginas and penises so loudly heralded by pink balloons and blue confetti.

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