“Revealing my baby’s gender by crashing a tanker full of pink oil into a delicate coral reef,” one person tweeted sarcastically. Others expressed anger at the decision to host such an event in the midst of a global health crisis and the most devastating wildfire season in modern history.
Gender-reveal parties have divided Americans for nearly a dozen years. Born out of the social media age, these parties turned the private experience of family-making into a public spectacle. And while many parents choose to learn the biological sex of their children for practical reasons, the events — which revolve around a pink-or-blue binary — hammer home essentialist ideas about gender. The template for these events was established back in 2008, when a blogger named Jenna Karvunidis shared photos of a gender-reveal party for her firstborn on her blog, High Gloss and Sauce. A wave of copycats soon followed, many of them mommy bloggers. The tradition quickly spread on social platforms.
Throughout the 2010s, gender-reveal parties were being captured by professional photographers and staged for Instagram. By 2015, parents on Pinterest were creating elaborate vision boards for kitschy gender party themes like “cowboys vs. tiaras” and “guns vs. glitter.” YouTube hosts hours and hours of gender-reveal party footage; some parents in those videos erupt with joy when they learn the sex of their child, while an entirely separate genre captures family members’ intense disappointment.
As if the very notion of these events is cursed, gender-reveal parties seem to have become increasingly hazardous. At a party last July, a car inadvertently burst into blue flames. That September, a crop-dusting plane crashed after dumping thousands of gallons of pink water across a field in Texas. The following month, a woman was killed by flying debris from a device meant to shoot out colored smoke in Knoxville, Iowa.
The fire this week wasn’t the first that resulted from a gender-reveal party. In 2017, a fire was sparked at an Arizona party, resulting in more than $8 million in damages and 45,000 acres of destroyed land. Sometimes the mistakes are more benign. A stream of videos documenting mishaps and mistakes at gender-reveal parties have amassed millions of collective views. Many of the videos include tears and tantrums from young future siblings. Many critics of gender-reveal parties say the events are out of step with current times and over-reliant on the notion of gender as a binary. And then there’s the pandemic. Many states remain on lockdown as coronavirus cases continue to rise. Asking family, friends and loved ones to risk their health to find out whether a baby is expected to be a boy or a girl can seem selfish and reckless.
Why on earth are we still having these things? Part of it may be a result of societal pressure. As Alia Wong noted in The Atlantic in 2018, young Americans are formally “over-celebrating” many life events that their parents might not consider notable.
As anyone with young children knows, giving birth and raising children in these times is incredibly taxing and isolating. Many millennial would-be parents are crushed with financial insecurity and stress about the future. Last year, the fertility rate in the US dropped to the lowest level in recorded history, according to the World Population Data Sheet. Many people who want children are also unable to conceive. More women are postponing pregnancy, some relying on the help of reproductive technology like IVF. For these thousands of women, carrying a pregnancy to the point when a baby’s sex can be read is an achievement worth celebrating.
Taylor Lorenz is a technology reporter with NYT©2020
- The New York Times