the great baby gender reveal question

i subscribe to “bitch” magazine. the latest issue showed up a week or two ago & i left it laying around on the coffee table while i finished reading library books with looming due dates. jared was flipping through it one night & he pointed out that there was a point/counterpoint feature on gender reveal parties.

i just heard of gender reveal parties recently, like right around the time when i got pregnant. the “new york times” had a feature of the newest trend: having the ultrasound tech or doctor write the baby’s sex on a piece of paper & sealing it in an envelope. the expecting mom then goes to her local bakery, hands over the card, & requests a cake that is chocolate or vanilla or whatever on the outside, & dyed pink or blue or filled with pink or blue frosting on the inside. at her baby shower or specific gender reveal party, she can cut the cake & be surprised along with all of her friends & family.

another variation that seems to be popular is giving the sealed envelope to someone who prepares a large box filled with helium balloons that are either pink or blue. at the party, the mom or couple opens the box & everyone gets to ooh & ahh over the big news.

the point/counterpoint in “bitch” was…honestly, pretty silly. the writer that was opposed to the gender reveal trend got up on her high horse & made a great big stink about how these kinds of events gender children before they are even born, & leave no room for the possibility of intersex or trans babies. (to which i say, not to be a jerk, but don’t you have to have some concept of your sex or gender before you can come to the realization that your body isn’t matching up with your self-perception? babies don’t even know they have genitalia, let alone that their genitalia is incorrect for their self-identity. they don’t even have a self-identity. i’m all for supporting trans people, but i am very dubious that there are any trans newborns out there.) it was your typical gender polemic, & the counterpoint made the good point that gender reveal parties are actually kind of cool because the guests, by definition, have to bring gender-neutral gifts. so you don’t have that whole icky dynamic of all the guests being forced to wear tiaras to “welcome the little princess” or being pressed into a touch football game in order to celebrate the “little man” on the way. “plus,” she added, “you get to eat cake.” yeah, pretty much.

there is a metric assload of stuff about baby gendering that bugs the crap out of me. i HATE it when people learn they are having a little girl & they constantly refer to her as “a princess,” “the little princess,” “our princess,” etc etc. i also hate it when people seem to struggle with buying their baby gear because they fear that a lot of the flowery/pastel stuff out there is not “masculine” enough for their baby boys. i recently witnessed a woman cooing over a really pretty yellow floral crib sheet, & then talking herself out of buying it because she didn’t know her baby’s sex yet & didn’t want to risk buying something so “feminine” if she was having a boy. i tried to tell her that a baby doesn’t care what color his sheets are. babies can’t even see color right away! a baby doesn’t know what a flower is, & there is really nothing intrinsically feminine about a flower. i tried to encourage her to just buy what she likes, because she’ll be the one washing the sheets, making up the crib, looking at them everyday & having feelings about them. but her attitude is really more the norm, at least in the united states. & that makes me sad.

in my internet due date club, the vast majority of women chose to learn the sex of their babies, & most said they were doing it so they could “plan & prepare.” by which they meant, come up with a gender-appropriate nursery theme, buy gender-specific baby clothing, etc. a few women who were either choosing not to find out or, like me, wanted to find out but weren’t planning to do the whole gender-specific shopping spree thing, tried to point out that you can “plan & prepare” with gender-neutral pieces, or even buy what you like, pink or blue, & use it with baby regardless of sex. that’s pretty much what i did. i found some kimono-style newborn tees at a consignment sale for fifty cents each & i bought them, even though they were specifically labeled “boy colors” (blue, orange, red, yellow). at the same sale, i found a newborn booster for a convertible car seat. i bought it, even though it’s hot pink. at the time, i didn’t know if my baby was a boy or a girl. either way, it will need some tees & an infant booster may be useful if its car seat is a little too big when it’s a newborn. i sincerely doubt the baby will care about the colors.

but i will also say that being pregnant for real & thinking about what you would do if you were pregnant are two very different things. i never expected to have as powerful of a gender preference as i did, & i never expected to be overwhelmed by intuition about my baby’s gender (which only added to the preference problem). i still think the idea of a gender reveal party is kind of silly & definitely not for me, but i now have an intimate perspective on how weird pregnancy can make a person feel. there’s a real sense of powerlessness. sure, you can try to take care of your health & you can hope for the best, but there’s no way to control everything. there’s no way to tell if your pregnancy will be easy or horrible, if labor will be brief or interminable, if the birth will go as planned or completely off the rails, if the baby will be an easy sleeper & natural feeder or a colicky all-night screamer, if the child will grow up to be kind & smart or a big stupid jerk. learning the sex can give a pregnant lady some tiny sense of knowledge or control–even if she acknowledges that it doesn’t really tell her anything about who her child will really become. while i don’t advocate taking that info & rushing right out to enroll baby in peewee ice hockey or ballet, i understand the impulse to want to know SOMETHING, & then to share that tiny shred of knowledge with all the people you hope will be invested in your baby’s life & well-being. hollering about how it reinforces the gender binary & marginalizes the gender-non-conforming among us misses the point & is needlessly divisive, in my opinion.

(standard caveat: in this post, i use the terms “sex” & “gender” more or less interchangeably, not because i don’t know the difference, but because i am usually using the most popular terms when i talk about “gender reveal parties” & “gender-appropriate clothing,” etc. most people prefer to use the term “gender” when talking about babies, because they don’t know there’s a difference between sex & gender, they are intentionally conflating sex & gender because they’re kind of jerky that way, or because they just don’t like using the words “sex” & “baby” in the same sentence.)

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