End of Gender: It's a [Heteronormatively Gendered] Girl!

When it comes to raising little ones these days, parents are chucking tradition out the window. Yet even in the most progressive families, some traditions are inescapable, and they trap us in gender boxes before we’re even born.

Last week I attended a baby shower for my partner’s sister. Charged with picking up the decorations, my partner and I wandered up and down the aisles of a suburban Party City in search of something that didn’t scream “It’s a [heteronormatively gendered] GIRL!” Our options included “pink safari” balloons, “Queen of the Jungle” tableware, and a magenta banner that read, “A New Little Princess.” We cringed, bought some crepe paper, and called it a day.

Before the era of Party City stores with conveniently gendered aisles, baby showers did without the decorations. The ancient Greeks shouted strident noises to signal peace after birth, while ancient Egyptian festivities included the ritualized disposal of the afterbirth. When dropping off your placenta at the local shrine went out of style, Victorian era mothers held tea parties with their closest friends a few days after the birth. Participants played games to predict who else might end up with a bun in the oven, precursors to the “guess what’s in this diaper” shower games we suffer through today.

Post-World War II, consumer culture gave birth to the gift-giving baby showers we have today. Academic Alison Clarke writes that while gifts eased the financial burden of raising 2.5 kids and a dog, they served the additional purpose of constructing a social identity for the fetus.

Modern parents have taken the “social identity” part to new heights with “gender reveal” parties. Here’s how it works: the mother-to-be asks an ultrasound tech to stick a baby crotch shot in a sealed envelope. She takes the envelope to a baker with instructions to dye a cake pink or blue, depending on the baby bits, then hide the color beneath a layer of frosting. The next day, the parents-to-be gather their friends and family, slice into the cake, and learn the sex of the fetus. Surprise! It’s a boy! And a hidden layer of chocolate pecan crunch!

My partner comes from a family of many queers and gender non-conformists (i.e., if there’s a special occasion, don’t expect to see any of the aunts wearing anything other than pantsuits). While these folks would probably laugh if the baby shower hosts wheeled out a “gender reveal” cake, the sex of coming baby was still a huge part of the affair. I doubt that they wanted it to be that way—the mother-to-be is definitely not invested in gendering her child as a “girl”—but when you’re buying disposable tableware at Party City, your options are limited.

The food was served on pink paper plates, the champagne poured into pink plastic cups. The presents included onesies in hot pink, pepto pink, fuchsia, and magenta. By the time we started in on the pink-frosted cupcakes, the aunts were dreaming of the fetus’ future wedding gown.

When this baby is born, even though she won’t be able to eat, walk, or poop by herself, she’ll be branded a girl. She will wear “pink safari” onesies and bows in her first tufts of hair. If she grows up to be a tomboy, a dyke, or a transsexual menace, her family will embrace her (after all, they’ve managed to embrace my partner and me, and we’re as gender-funny as it gets). But first, like most kids, she’ll have to pass through a designated gender box, regardless of whether or not it fits.

Is it too late to go back to the age of placenta rituals? Perhaps—we definitely won’t find those supplies at Party City.

Previously: Reading List for the Genderpocalypse, Bringin’ Out the Bono

by Malic White
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8 Comments Have Been Posted


This is a small thing, but you write that the decorations and cupcakes were pink--was that the choice of the mother? I went to a baby shower of a friend who is having a girl, and the decorations were multi-color with a kite and balloon theme, the food wasn't pink or blue, and only one gift of a few onsies was pink (I bought an adorable grey and white onsie for her, myself). I erally dislike the gendering of toy stores, but at least in this instance there was a choice. Party City has plenty of colors besides pink and blue.

Similar with bridal showers

I had a somewhat similar feeling when I attended my sister's bridal shower. She was 21, and her friends were all just as young. The party was a frickin penis celebration! There was a penis cake, plastic penis straws and necklaces, penis balloons, penis wall posters. And then the live penis when the stripper showed up. WTF! I tried to get the girls to tone it down--tried to get them to realize that this party was to celebrate my sister, not the penis she's apparently going to "serve" for the rest of her life. It was all just so bizzare and archaic, in a way. I was tempted to just blame it on lack of creativity--but it was disappointing that her party was a collection of Made in China Spencer's novelties and there was no celebration of womanhood/sisterhood. :( If I'm ever pregnant, I'm not going to find out the gender ahead of time. It's not the important focus for the baby shower. Great article.

I am happy that my friends

I am happy that my friends did not do that to me for my bridal shower. If a male stripper showed up I would have left. (Mainly because I don't care male strippers) And I wouldn't have appreciated penus stuff either. We went out and played laser tag (and I came in first!) Then we went to my favorite Japanese Steak House and later went out dancing at bars.

And the equating of men to

And the equating of men to penises would be a bit crap and triggering too (body essentialism, etc)...

I was one of the few

I was one of the few moms-to-be in my social circle who chose not to find out the gender of my unborn baby. Believe me when I say that doing so means you might as well wear a sign that says "batshit crazy." People are freakin' obsessed with gender. The baby's not even born yet, I would say, so why go putting a bunch of expectations on him or her? Mostly I didn't want a wardrobe of Pepto pink outfits or blue onesies that say, "daddy's champ." on them. You get that crap anyway, don't get me wrong, but why not force people to start out buying a little brown, orange and green?

My point is, every single damn time I would tell someone that I didn't want or need to know the gender of my baby before he or she was born, they all said the same thing. "Oh man, not me. I'd need to know because I like to plan things." I my head I would always ponder what planning I was missing by not knowing if my baby had a penis or a vagina. Still not sure about that. Our son seems blissfully unaware that his stroller is not a gender-indicating color.

Even after all my obsessive attempts to NOT find out what gender I was carrying, eventually somebody spilled the beans. As I checked into the hospital for the delivery an employee ask me if I planned to circumcise my son, only to backpedal and say awkwardly, "I mean, you don't know the gender of your baby, so that's a silly question." At that point it was too late to be mad, but seriously why do we care?

Genitals aren't the only things parents want to know about

When I was pregnant, I wanted to know so many things about the little person inside of me. What sort of a sense of humor would they have? What would their personality be like? I didn't care if I was having a boy or a girl, but I wanted to find out everything about my baby that I could. You can't find out the color of your babies' hair, you can't know whether their eyes are blue or brown, but you can find out what sort of genitals they have. You can assume they will have five fingers on each hand and two nostrils, but you can't assume they will have a penis. People are obsessed with knowing things about their fetus, and the sex of your fetus is one of the only things that is a big reveal.

Also, I had no idea that gender reveal parties were a thing, but I didn't know until the baby shower what the gender of my baby would be. The decorations were awesome, but didn't take gender into account (maybe a little creativity on the part of the designated party planner helps avoid the pink/blue issue). The gifts weren't gender specific either. I didn't know that having a fun surprise at the party meant that I was obsessed with gender. I don't feel obsessed with gender, even now. I buy my son pink and purple stuff sometimes, because pink is a cool color and shouldn't be outlawed just because princesses wear it.

My sister has two kids, a boy

My sister has two kids, a boy and a girl. At a young age, they are both into sports because both their parents were athletes. Many would consider her daughter to be a tomboy. They have gender neutral toys, "girl" toys, and "boy" toys, but they both play together. They both play with barbies, toy power tools, the toy kitchen gagets, and the super heros. they both love lincon logs. A few weeks ago, my sister painted her nails. Both her children were intrigued because like any kid, they think that having different colored nails is cool. So my sister painted both of their finger nails and toe nails. You would not believe how many people had a fit over her putting nail polish on her boy. She was accused of being a bad mother, trying to make her son gay, trying to feminize him. Seriously, painting his nails isn't going to determine which gender he is attracted to! That is up to him to decide. And why do these people care so much if her son is going to be gay? I bet if their mother dyed her hair pink or green, the kids would think that was awesome and would want the same for their own!

chiyo-- i had the same

i had the same experience. i have 2 kids, a boy and a girl, and my son is younger than my daughter. He idolizes her and wants to be just like her and do everything she does. She asked to have her nails painted, and he promptly asked for the same thing, and I accommodated them both, fingers and toes for both of them. A few days later a lady that worked for my day care provider asked if his sister had been experimenting on him. I told her no, I had painted his nails, that he asked for it wanting to be like his sister. She proceeded to chastise me for doing so, and requested that I take the polish off. She told me other kids at daycare were picking on my son for having painted nails. I promptly refused to do any such thing, and demanded that she do her job more effectively and stop or prevent the other kids from picking on my son. I requested that she teach tolerance by example. Who is she to determine what is good or bad for my son? I am his mother and until he is old enough to make those decisions for himself, *I*, and I alone, will make those decisions for him. I see no need to put him in a gender box because he was born with a penis. He plays with dolls and kitchen toys, plays dress-up in his sister's dresses, and if he wants to be a princess for Halloween, then my baby will damn well be a princess!! Whether he grows up to be straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or any other "classification", I will accept him and everything about him. A mother's love knows no bounds.

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