Last Month, preparations for a gender reveal party, featuring a cannon, killed a father-to-be on the US east coast. Last year, another party started a forest fire in California. I can only say: what the f*ck?
In the olden days, a baby was born after nine months of pregnancy, and at their birth, their genders would become known. With luck both the baby and its mother would actually survive the process and a few years later the process was repeated, until no more babies came or the mother died.
Nowadays, things have changed considerably. Mother and baby usually survive birth, for example. But science now also offers the option of an ultrasound, and even a more advanced 3d ultrasound. This allows you to see your baby before they are born. The medical reason for this is to assess if everything with the baby is alright. As a side effect, you can also learn the baby’s gender months before the birth – well, most of the time, mistakes can be made.
In the Netherlands, this kind of ultrasound is typically done at 20 weeks. Again, this is for medical reasons, as severe defects that come to light allow prospective parents 4 weeks to decide an abortion is better than bringing a child into the world that is destined for suffering. Side note, I’m a proponent of allowing abortion. The point is, this ultrasound is a pretty tense experience, because you learn if your baby is healthy. It was for me, at least.
Then, during this process of looking over your baby for defects, you learn the gender. If you want to know, of course. That too is a tense moment.
Let’s turn gender into an event!
Somewhere near the end of the noughties, somebody decided it was a good idea to turn the gender part of the above process into a party. In that case, the parents don’t hear about the gender during the ultrasound. Nope. Somebody else learns about it, then helps organize a party where the gender of the baby is revealed in an exciting way.
Imagine a big cake, and at the center is a blue or pink core! Or you can set off fireworks that create pink or blue streaks of light across the sky! Of course, those fireworks can start a forest fire, if you try it in California at the wrong time of year. You could build a some kind of cannon to reveal the gender, with apparently the possibility of leaving the baby bereft of a parent.
But aside from the accidents, these kind of events are just… wrong. On Twitter somebody suggested this is intertwined with our sexist society. Placing such significance on gender is bad. It shouldn’t matter whether your baby is a girl or boy. Heck, a significant number of those born with one gender will later choose to live their life as a different gender. But, no, gender has to matter. Enough that the gender has come front and center in the baby-having experience. Given that the boy and girl baby sections in just about every store are color-coded, this shouldn’t be surprising.
So, yes, this is bad, and leads to all the more problems in society today. However, I think this is only part of the reason.
The need to be seen
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we see the rise of the gender reveal party trailing the rise of social media. These days we share a lot on-line. We have a need to connect to others, apparently because we believe that betters their lives. On top of that, the most effective social content is emotional. As evidence: reaction videos sometimes eclipse the videos they are a reaction to.
So, I think the movie EDtv said it best:
It used to be that people were famous for being special.
Now they’re considered special merely for being famous.
I think gender reveal parties are really a symptom of a social-media driven frenzy to become more interesting by sharing private, emotional life experiences. Emotional content ‘sells’ your ‘personal brand’, and so your baby becomes a tool for that.
Relationships aren’t real until the relationship status on Facebook has changed. Babies are not real until the ultrasound is on Twitter. And what better way to sell yourself than to make your ‘reaction video’ to the gender of your baby a party?
Unfortunately, being mundane is almost a crime these days. We all have to be special, and since most of us are not extraordinary, we have to pretend we are special. So we make our private moments bigger than life. We turn the emotional parts of our life into spectacles for others, to soothe our own sense of self-worth. And since all our friends have already shared their special events, we need to make the trappings around ours louder. Bigger. More Extreme!
…Until we start forest fires. Until we leave our children fatherless.
Gender reveal parties are sexist, cynical parties of people’s insecurity. If you’re having a baby, please, just make it a private moment. It’s better for you and the world at large. It’s an emotional moment. Share it with your partner. They’re the person you’re going to raise that baby with. Your real friends will be happy for you without some weird exhibitionist party.
Oh, and you know what I did when I learned the gender of my baby? My wife and I went home with a smile and told our family. Only later did I post a picture of a puppy’s ultrasound on Facebook and said we were having a daughter. And I haven’t regretted that for a second since.