How social media displays further a cultural dichotomy
If you’ve ever scrolled through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, you’ve probably stumbled upon the popular “gender reveal,” in which expectant parents cut into cakes, shoot paint out of water guns, set off smoke bombs, and solve riddles to reveal if they’re having a boy or a girl. Even celebrities like Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, and Beyonce, revealed their baby’s gender in displays on social media with photoshoots and videos.
The gender reveal is a relatively new ritual that expecting families are adding to their pregnancy experience, according to Dr. Laura Tropp, author of A Womb With a View: America’s Growing Public Interest in Pregnancy and professor at Marymount Manhattan.
“Instead of finding out the sex of a baby at the birth, as was done in the past, or privately at an ultrasound, as was done more recently, parents are choosing to find out or reveal the sex with a larger group,” said Tropp.
The popularity of these gender reveals represents a shift in pregnancy from being a private experience to a more public one. Carly Gieseler, a professor of Speech and Communication at York College, believes that this is reminiscent of our social media culture of sharing.
“Gender reveals elevate the traditional pink-and-blue baby shower to compete on the stage of social media. From skydives to balloon drops to hair dye – the more public and visible parents-to-be can make the gender reveal, the more loudly they can articulate their child’s gender,” Gieseler said.
One reason gender reveals have skyrocketed in popularity, Gieseler believes, is that despite a culture of oversharing, many people feel disconnected from each other. The ritual can be a moment of belonging, loyalty and commitment, and a way for long-distance family and friends to feel involved in these special moments.
On the other hand, the very public nature of gender reveals can also create an immense pressure of expectant parents to prove their worthiness as parents through displays on social media. Gieseler points to the competitive element of social media to earn “likes” and “views”.
Experts point to strict gender binaries as a problematic element of the gender reveal. When the baby’s babies’ gendered identities gender identities are publicly celebrated with pink and blue balloons before they’re born, a rigid, binary view of gender is reaffirmed.
“Many of the party favors, gifts, and games involve very antiquated ideas of gender – cakes that read ‘Bows or Badges’ featuring pretty pink bows or blue sheriff’s badges reiterate traditional and limited constructs of gender,” Gieseler said.
Dr. Daniel L. Carlson, a professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, believes that the preoccupation with gender is because as a society we are obsessed with sex.
“This obsession flows from the fact that sex and gender structure so much of our daily lives. We have constructed an entire social world around sex differences, and so knowing one’s sex is essential for knowing how to treat a person and what to expect of them,” Carlson said.
Carlson adds that gender reveals aren’t even about gender, they’re about sex.
“Gender is the social and behavioral characteristics of individuals that indicate their sex, which itself is biological differences, specifically hormonal differences and reproductive organs, that distinguish men and women.”
Binary gender reveals can exclude expectant parents that have a child that is intersex or identifies as nonbinary, transgender or any other gender along the spectrum as they get older — which isn’t uncommon. According to the Intersex Society of North America, about 1 in 2,000 babies are born each day with biological sex traits that don’t neatly fit into the male or female categories.
While parents who have a gender reveal party may be accepting towards whatever gender their child identifies with, the rigid dichotomy of gender still exists within the ritual.
“With [so] much focus in society on how to move past gender typing, it seems counterproductive to then have a ritual so focused on assigning a gender so early in the process,” Tropp said.
The gender reveal doesn’t have to be abandoned altogether. Instead, according to Gieseler, some expectant parents have chosen to break the mold.
“I saw recently a Wonder Woman and Superman theme – using two powerful characters representative of each gender as a means to celebrate the baby regardless of biological sex. Further, one video shows a gender reveal in which yellow balloons pop out of a box (instead of standard pink or blue),” said Gieseler.
Rae Harris is a senior journalism major who definitely won’t like or comment on your gender reveal video on Instagram, Facebook, or Youtube, thank you very much.