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How Gender Reveal Parties Reinforce a Harmful Binary

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Catherine Song / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • A California wildfire sheds new light on the potentially devastating effects of using outlandish methods to announce a baby's gender.
  • For years, LGBTQIA+ people have spoken out against these parties, claiming they promote a gender binary agenda.
  • It's possible to throw a more inclusive (and safe!) gender reveal party.

A devastating wildfire rages in the California mountains, a result of pyrotechnics used during a gender reveal party. But that’s not the only potentially damaging thing about these events. 

As much a rite of passage during pregnancy as the “big” ultrasound and throwing a lavish baby shower, gender reveal parties have become increasingly popular among today’s parents-to-be. Since the term started trending on social media in 2008, gender reveal parties have become the latest way for couples to share the news in ways that are becoming more and more outlandish.

But pink and blue pyrotechnics aside, gender reveal parties are problematic due to their reinforcement of the gender binary, and it's important to consider the consequences of assuming a child's sex and gender identity are one and the same.

A Dangerous Trend

In addition to the two wildfires associated with gender reveal parties—the 2020 fire in California and a 2017 fire that destroyed 47,000 acres in Arizona—there have been a number of increasingly dangerous gender reveal stunts in the news.

One couple chose to use an alligator to reveal their baby’s sex. And there are plenty of viral videos on YouTube showing party-goers receiving injuries from fireworks and getting hit with exploding projectiles. 

Social-Emotional Concerns

But supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community have deeper concerns about gender reveal parties. “Gender reveal parties are one of the most socially acceptable ways to encourage a gender binary (even before the little human is out in the world). This is done by reinforcing the idea that blue (quite literally) means boy, and pink means a girl, and that gender is the same as the sex assigned at birth,” says Margarida Rafael, a licensed psychologist.

Those not in support of the traditional gender reveal reject the assumption that a child will behave in a certain way or prefer certain things, colors, or toys as a result of the sex organs with which they were born. Rather than accepting that and embracing a gender fluid mindset, Rafael calls a gender reveal party “limiting.” 

Margarida Rafael, PysD

Gender reveal parties are one of the most socially acceptable ways to encourage a gender binary. This is done by reinforcing the idea that blue (quite literally) means boy, and pink means a girl, and that gender is the same as the sex assigned at birth.

— Margarida Rafael, PysD

“It’s limiting to the unborn child, as the parents, the family, and all of those involved in a gender reveal party are assuming that the sex of the baby is how he or she will undoubtedly identify, creating a structured, binary, and limiting environment for the child's development.”

Gender and Sex Are Not the Same

Societal norms see gender and sex as synonyms. But as we shift away from that traditional mindset toward a culture that seeks to accept those of any identity, more and more people are beginning to see the two as different. Indeed, one’s sex is directly related to the genitalia they have at birth, while gender is a much more fluid concept.

“Sex identification does not necessarily have to do with gender characteristics,” says Rafael. “The problem with this issue begins exactly here when we consider gender and sex the same thing and use the word gender to describe the sex by linking both of those different concepts."

Doing so can lead to consequences for the unborn child that include a feeling of not belonging or of feeling judged for their identity. "Regardless of whether these expectations are overt or subconscious (as is often the case in gender reveal parties), they may not identify with their own body and may ultimately feel that they are worthless and unlovable, as the way they feel does not match the expectations or imposed standards of their social circle.”

Even Jenna Karvunidis, who’s credited with coming up with the notion of a gender reveal party, now feels enlightened as to their potential toxicity. In a post on her Facebook page, she recently wrote about what changed her mind. “Who cares what gender the baby is?” she said. “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."

Ways to Throw an Inclusive Gender Reveal Party

Does this mean parents shouldn’t celebrate each exciting milestone that comes during those nine long months of pregnancy, including the ultrasound that reveals the baby’s gender? Of course not. It’s a matter of celebrating in a way that’s inclusive for all, including the unborn child. Rafael shares some ways to celebrate the news of baby’s gender in a way that’s less pink/blue focused: 

  • Change the name to sex reveal party or anatomy reveal party. Have a celebration to disclose the sex of the baby, making it clear it does not equal the gender of the baby. 
  • Avoid gender-normative themes. There are plenty of ways to celebrate without resorting to gender-focused themes like tutus or trucks, guns or glitter, tractor or tiaras, and others. 
  • Throw a name reveal party. Have everyone write out possible names for the baby (including the parents), and let the parents reveal the name in a creative way.
  • Zodiac reveal party. Disclose the possible date of birth and have fun discussing possible traits or characteristics of the baby.

What This Means for You

If you’re not comfortable with the way traditional gender reveal parties underscore gender norms, it’s a perfect opportunity to think outside the box when it comes to your own. Or, you could skip it altogether and celebrate with friends and family at your baby shower. If you do choose to have a gender reveal party, remember to celebrate responsibly and choose a safe, environmentally friendly way to announce your baby’s gender. 

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  1. Hyde JS, Bigler RS, Tate JD, van Anders SM. The future of sex and gender in psychology: Five challenges to the gender binary. Am Psychol. 2019;74(2):171-193. doi:10.1037/amp0000307