THE BLOG

Are 'Gender Reveals' Problematic?

09/08/2017 16:26 BST | Updated 09/08/2017 16:26 BST
joxxxxjo via Getty Images

The latest pregnancy trend to captivate social media is 'gender reveals'; announcements which were once only of note in celebrity news have now become common among regular families. Instead of waiting for the surprise or simply being told by the doctor, many parents-to-be are choosing to discover the sex of their baby through a cake, a balloon, or even an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, and are often filmed to later be uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These 'reveals' have been carried out just between parents, as well as during big parties and get-togethers that sometimes entirely revolve around finding out whether it's a boy or a girl.

On the surface, these 'gender reveals' are the latest exciting activity for expectant parents, as well as cute videos to watch on social media. However, what do they say about our society's attitudes towards gender? Are they a manifestation of larger societal issues, or simply a bit of harmless fun?

YouTuber Louise Pentland, who is pregnant, recently sparked some Twitter controversy surrounding her 'gender reveal' video. Some critics voiced their concerns, suggesting that it should have been described as a 'sex reveal', and even going so far as to say that language like 'female' should have been used instead of 'girl', allowing the child more freedom to decide their own gender identity later in life. Pentland responded to these comments, tweeting,

"If my DR is using the word gender, I am... If the unborn child grows up and wants to be anything it wants, IT CAN. Right now, I'm calling her a girl... Might also be worth noting that the foetus in my body currently gives zero s**** about PC language, genitals, YouTube or Twitter."

Recognising that sex and gender are separate, as well as considering the lives and experiences of trans and non-binary individuals, some of the concerns around 'gender reveals' are understandable. They can be considered as representative of our society's tendency to put a child into a restrictive box, even before said child is born, simply based on which genitals they have. That being said, I'm not entirely convinced that the best solution for these problems is to completely cast aside our notions of gender when it comes to our children, nor to avoid assigning a gender to them.

I spoke to Richard, a trans man, about his thoughts towards 'gender reveals', as well as our attitudes surrounding children and gender. While he conceded that they should technically be acknowledged as 'sex reveals', he doesn't particularly take issue with them. He also disagreed with the idea that assigning a baby a gender is harmful, and is more concerned with how we explain gender to children as well as the extent to which we allow them to express their identities:

"I think that babies and children should be brought up with an idea of the concept [of gender] and be allowed to express themselves from whatever age. It wasn't until I was older that I realised being transgender was a thing, so I would say that issues around gender and sexuality should be taught from a younger age and in greater detail."

I asked the same questions to my friend Alex, who is non-binary. While they disagree with the way society treats gender, especially when it comes to children, they also don't think the real issue lies solely with 'gender reveals', nor do they support the idea that babies should not be assigned a gender based on their sex:

"I think that the way we force both gender and sexuality onto children is absurd, both from an institutional and parenting standpoint. However, I am not a gender abolitionist, and I think the harm that gender does is less about the concept itself but more about the way we handle it, forcing people into boxes rather than recognising gender as fluid. I believe the 'reveals' and the parties are symptomatic of the gender rigidity that we should strive get rid of, but that the phenomenon as a whole is the problem, not a pink cake."

What I gathered from both of their responses is that while there's no inherent harm in 'gender reveals', we should be mindful of how we as a society think about the concept of gender, and how we react to gender expression that differs from 'the norm', as well as becoming more accepting and aware of individuals - including and especially children - that deviate from the gender they were given. These are real issues that must be addressed, but through means which do not necessarily include boycotting cute videos of pink and blue cakes.

So, I say Louise Pentland should be excited about her new baby girl, as should the family whose Rube Goldberg machine ended in pink confetti, as should every other parent who has found this a fun and exciting way to learn more about their upcoming arrival. As long as they strive to support their child throughout their life - however they choose to identify - we can all have a slice of pink cake, and relax.