One of the most exciting parts of being expectant parents is finding out whether you’re expecting a girl of a boy and hosting a gender reveal party seemed like a fun way to go. Most parents schedule an ultrasound at around 20 weeks into the pregnancy and ask the sonographer to write down on a piece of paper and seal it inside an envelope. That way, the gender reveal will be a surprise to the expecting parents, family, and friends during the party. But sociologist Jenna Drenten, who studies how social media is used to navigate identity, gender, and life transitions, said that gender reveals have spiraled out of control these days.
When gender reveals go out of control
Green, who is also an Associate Professor of Marketing at Loyola University Chicago, cited a gender reveal party in Southern California, US. The plan was to use a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device to reveal a color pink or blue before the onlookers. Instead, it sparked a fire and burned 7,000 acres (2,800 hectares) of land. Drenten said that she watched over the years how gender reveal parties became a mini-industry of their own.
The extravagant celebration, fueled by a pursuit for viral and unique stunts reflects the new pressures that parents face in today’s digital age. However, this does not mean that parents-to-be of the past generations did not try to make predictions of the gender of their baby. Gendering kids before birth is even a phenomenon in the 20th century, the sociologist highlighted.
The cultural tradition of gender reveal
For instance, the traditional belief was that having a baby bump that is closer to the pelvis (carrying low) means that a baby boy is on the way. On the other hand, if the mother craves for sweets, it means that the mother will more likely give birth to a girl. In the past, the baby’s sex is announced at birth, and gender reveal happened in local newspaper listings, church bulletins, or postcards.
It was only in 1958 when a group of Scottish physicians conducted the first fetal ultrasound. At that time, gender identification using ultrasound wasn’t widely practiced in US hospitals. It was only in the late 1970s when advances in the technology allowed experts to produce high-quality photos of babies while they are in the womb of their mothers.
In the 1990s, the popular gray-scale images marked with body parts of the baby became the norm. Soon, expectant parents are displaying these sonograms or call their loved ones to share the good news. When social media platforms became a boom, celebrations that centered on the revelation of the baby’s sex have also become commonplace.
Blogger Jenna Myers Karvunidis is the mother who started the gender-reveal party in 2008. She cut into a cake with her family and inside the cake was a pink frosting. Everyone in the room got the idea that she would be having a girl and her blog went viral after that. Today, most gender reveal parties involve gathering family and friends who will weight their predictions before the big reveal. Parents-to-be can either cut a custom cake, set off a glitter bomb, or pop a confetti-filled balloon that will reveal the blue or pink color as guests cheer and couple kisses. The celebration is captured in video or camera.
Back in 2008, Karvunidis thinks that it is important to mark moments of joy but in late July last year, she is far from happy about the trend she unleashed. She confessed via The Guardian that she has “major mixed feelings” when asked about her role in the gender reveal phenomenon.
Karvunidis eldest daughter Bianca, the world’s first gender-revealed baby, has grown older and had been busy giving her mom an education in gender politics. Bianca expresses herself in non-binary ways and prefers to wear suits. “Bianca tells me there are more than two genders and many sexualities. I hadn’t considered all this before,” the blogger shared. In a Facebook post, Jenna Karvunidis also wrote “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.”
Sex ratio at birth
There are differences in the sex ratio at different life stages across the world. According to Our World in Data, births in a given population are typically male-biased in the absence of selective abortion practices. This means that the chances of having a boy are very slightly higher than having a girl. In China, there are 115 male births per 100 female births in 2017. Other countries where there are more boys born than girls includes Armenia (113 male births per 100 female births), Azerbaijan (113), India (111), Vietnam (110), Pakistan (109), Uzbekistan (108), Georgia (108), Papua New Guinea (108), Samoa (108), Albania (108), and Singapore (107). South Korea is a country that provides a significant example of where male bias can be successfully addressed.
The attention economy
The American Psychological Association has defined attention as a state in which cognitive resources are focused on certain aspects of the environment rather than on others. In social media, the more absurd, unique, gripping, or the funnier the photo is, the more likely it is to go viral. People who know how to tap the proper algorithm may even become microcelebrities, explained Drenten. Meanwhile, babies can become “micro-microcelebrities.” Some parents have even given their future kids custom hashtags and have their social media accounts. This taps into the attention economy, which uses likes, shares, and views to monetize life experiences.
For many people, the news of expecting a baby causes unparalleled joy and one of the most common questions parents may have is, “Do you know what you’re having?” The cultural tradition of gender reveal party may seem innocent and fun-filled but parents should question what they are truly celebrating in a gender reveal and whether the nature of such a party may lead to distress. After all, their ultimate goal is to deliver, support, and raise a happy and healthy child regardless of whether it’s a girl or a boy.