In this article:
- Gender reveal parties turn finding out what a baby’s sex is at birth into an event that parents can share with extended family members and friends.
- Over the years, as gender reveal parties became more popular, there have been reports of disastrous gender reveal parties that result in environmental damage or death.
- Aside from the immediate effects of disastrous gender reveal parties, it may be worth considering how they shape children’s self-perception.
When done right, a gender reveal party can be a joyous occasion for expectant parents and their guests. These parties create excitement around the sex—ironically, not the gender—of the baby. Everyone eagerly awaits as the parents cut into a cake with either pink or blue layers.
Over the years, gender reveal parties have graduated from simple cake cuttings and confetti poppings to bigger, more spectacular events. Unfortunately, the ambition that goes into gender reveal parties has created destructive results, from forest fires to accidental killings.
The past years were particularly disastrous for the environment because of gender reveal parties that got out of hand—or should never have been planned to begin with. And just when we think we’re finally rid of the trend, a gender reveal party was recently reported to contaminate a waterfall in Brazil with blue dye.
No one is safe from the physical impact of gender reveal parties. Not the environment, guests, or innocent bystanders. But even the low-key and intimate celebrations of a baby’s reproductive organs can be destructive, too—at least for the baby’s identity.
How the Trend of Gender Reveal Parties Was Born
Writer Jenna Karvunidis hosted a party to celebrate her successful pregnancy back in 2008. There was a cake with colored frosting inside to represent the sex of her unborn child. Neither Jenna nor her guests knew that the inside was stuffed with pink icing.
And thus, the first gender reveal party was born. For Jenna, the celebration was less about knowing the sex of her baby. She’s had a couple of miscarriages by that point, and the sex being determinable means the baby was developing well.
Jenna’s gender reveal party, which she shared in her blog, caught on and evolved into its own trend. Parents loved the idea of inviting their family and friends over to find out the baby’s sex together. Some parents prefer small scale and private gatherings—or no commotion at all—but there are some couples who conceived of the most reckless gender reveal parties.
In 2017, a couple in Arizona planned to reveal the sex of their baby in the most spectacular way: with the use of explosives. They had the gender reveal party in a desert. The dad shot at a target that blew up into a bright blue smoke. But the couple got more than they bargained for. The explosive quickly spread into a wildfire that burned nearly 47,000 acres of land.
Another gender reveal party in California ended up in flames. The El Dorado Fire, which burned for 73 days, was caused by faulty pyrotechnics at a couple’s 2020 gender reveal party. Among the damages are 22,744 acres of land, a few buildings and houses, and the death of a firefighter. The couple was later each charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Few other gender reveal parties have resulted in fatalities. Last year, a soon-to-be father was killed in his New York home while crafting a device for a planned gender reveal party. There was a similar case in 2019 of a family ‘inadvertently’ devising a pipe bomb to prepare for the festivities. When it was blown up, shrapnel unfortunately went flying around and fatally hit one of the guests.
According to the authorities, the family wanted to record the event and post it online. It shows that, from an innocent celebration documented by Jenna in 2008, the trend of gender reveal parties has taken a life of its own online. Participants in the trend seem to want to outdo each other with every ill-conceived way to announce their baby’s genitals to their guests, and then later, to the world.
Gender Reveal Parties Are More Problematic Than You Think
The immediate impacts of gender reveal parties should be obvious. Even releasing balloons into the atmosphere, which is tame by the trend’s standards, can be destructive to the environment. And we don’t have to repeat why gender reveal parties and explosive devices are a recipe for disaster.
But there is a bigger issue at stake here. Whether it takes the shape of a cake, a pyrotechnic display, or a watermelon stuffed into an alligator’s mouth, gender reveal devices are designed to only show one of two colors: pink or blue. If you get a pink puff of smoke, congratulations, you’re having a girl. And if the watermelon oozes blue jello, you’re welcoming a boy.
Even before a baby is born, the household is already reinforcing outdated norms about their sex, gender, and identity. For starters, gender reveal parties are incorrectly named because what they really announce is the sex of the baby. It speaks volumes of how society still largely adheres to the idea that sex is interchangeable with gender—that whatever reproductive organs you are born with have to be your identity.
In case some of us are still confusing the two, sex is usually male or female. If a baby is born with male genitalia, they are assigned male at birth. If a baby is born with female genitalia, they are assigned female at birth.
However, I emphasize usually because about 1 in 1,000 people are born intersex. They could have indeterminable genitalia (making gender reveal parties anti-climactic). Intersex babies can also be born with external genitalia (penis or vagina) that don’t match their internal reproductive organs (prostate or uterus and ovaries).
Gender, on the other hand, is not a binary that can easily be determined before birth. The understanding of gender that we accept today is that it is a spectrum. A person’s gender doesn’t have to conform to the feminine and masculine binary that has been forced on us since time immemorial. It also doesn’t have to correspond with the sex one is assigned at birth.
A person, for instance, can be born a male, dress in androgynous clothing, and identify as a woman. Or they may identify as in between man and woman, or neither. The beauty of gender identity is that it is fluid along the spectrum. It is not a case of one or the other.
Whether inadvertently or not, gender reveal parties reinforce that binary. By celebrating the baby’s sex, a simple fact about a person, parents put them in a box. It’s as if to say, here is a pink bow to celebrate your femininity because you are going to grow into a woman! A gender reveal party equates a person’s sex as the most important thing about them.
Already, this can affect the way they are raised and treated. Say a baby is revealed to be female at birth. Guests who also attend the baby shower might show up with gifts like pink clothing and dolls, and later on, kitchen sets. Meanwhile, boys are gifted toy cars, balls, and plastic guns—just your average gendered toys for children.
Gifts are nice thoughts but stereotypically gendered toys create more harm than enjoyment for developing kids. Boys’ toys tend to represent action and bravery, while girls’ toys display vulnerability. Dolls for girls also create an emphasis on appearance, which many young girls grow up obsessing over. Meanwhile, boys are taught to suppress emotion and act tough.
At an early age, children are already exposed to certain expectations and stereotypes based on gender, which they may grow up internalizing. More recent studies suggest that ‘gender-based propensities’, which scientists used to explain certain traits and behaviors, are less important than the environment adults expose their kids to. We can’t blame genetics if boys don’t learn to express emotions adequately—but we can blame how we teach them, whether consciously or unconsciously, that vulnerability is unbecoming of their gender.
Celebrating Your Baby’s Upcoming Birth? Choose a Different Party Theme Instead
As innocent as gender reveal parties might appear from the outside, they could set the tone on how children are treated before they are even born. At the very least, they send a very clear message about your kid: that their sex—which many still consider their gender—is what defines them.
A kid who doesn’t conform to these norms might feel limited by their sex, confused about their gender identity, or alienated in their own body. They may grow up with gender dysphoria, or intense feelings of distress over the mismatch of their sex with their gender.
So, what are parents to do? The truth is that they have a lifetime to abandon gender stereotypes that could end up damaging their children’s well-being.
But they could start with skipping the trend of gender reveal parties and celebrate their successful pregnancy a different way. Even Jenna Karvunidis, the originator of gender reveal parties, regrets having one. She said, “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.”
Have a name reveal party, a ‘Chosen Family’ reveal party, or a Zodiac reveal party. Almost any other theme is much more fun and less damaging than an outdated gender reveal party.
Pink is actually a highly relaxing hue, which is why it’s frequently used in jail cells, physicians’ offices, and other settings. Do you really want to send the other team?