I graduated high school in 2007 and in the ten years since I have watched many of my friends get married and have kids. Many of them post gender reveal pictures which often involve the classic gender signifiers pink and blue (pink for girls and blue for boys, of course). I am occasionally asked about my opinion of gender reveal parties and to tell you the truth, I don’t have strong opinions about them–even as a transgender woman. However, I do acknowledge some of the problematic implications of assuming a child’s gender based on their anatomy and I acknowledge how they can be a source of frustration, or even pain, for some people.
In order to understand why, we must consider what it is we are actually doing when we throw parties based on what kind of genitals a baby has. Our ideas about gender generally come from the notion that gender is an inborn, biological trait, i.e., boys have penises and girls have vaginas. Interestingly, many proponents of gender reveal parties also acknowledge the existence and validity of transgender people. In other words, they accept that genitals aren’t perfect predictors of gender.
I often observe that many of these individuals will justify their attitudes by saying that though genitals aren’t 100% reliable, they typically are (let’s say for the sake of argument) 98% of the time. If a child happens to be an exception to the rule, parents can adjust. Therefore, no real harm is done.
I don’t really care to argue against this, but I do care to point out that gender is an identity that is central to an individual’s sense of self. Regardless of whether or not gender is a natural (biological) fact or a purely cultural phenomenon, gender norms exist and they play a significant role in determining how we view ourselves and how we live. For example, it is often assumed that if a child has a vagina, they are going to grow up to be feminine and have heterosexual relationships. You may observe adults at a gender reveal party making comments about how the child will one day get married and have children with a male spouse. If the child had a penis, you might here those same adults talk about how the child would one day go to school and become a businessman, an engineer, or some other occupation that is viewed as masculine. The child will end up learning many of these same notions and will make decisions influenced by them.
In essence, what we are doing is perpetuating a set of norms that have a lot of power to shape us into who we are and what we will become and with cultural practices such as gender reveal parties, we are limiting certain possibilities for our children–even for those in the 98%.