The Current

Gender reveal parties trend is full of confetti cannons, cake and controversy

Gender reveal parties have picked up steam in recent years as a creative way to use colour to share with friends and family what you're expecting. But critics say they reinforce gender stereotypes and a binary gender identity.

Three people weigh in on the popular social media trend

Pink powder was shot out of a cannon to reveal the gender of Ashton Smallman's baby. (Submitted by Ashton Smallman)

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Gender reveal parties have picked up steam in recent years as a creative way to use colour to share with friends and family what you're expecting — pink for girl, and blue for boy.

Some are investing in these parties as much as their weddings, even using coloured powder with extravagant reveal methods such as canons and explosives. One gunshot in Arizona sparked a massive wildfire. In Iowa, a 56-year-old grandmother-to-be died Saturday when a homemade device, intended to throw coloured powder into the air, exploded.

But critics are questioning the aim of these parties, saying that they reinforce gender stereotypes and a binary gender identity.

"I don't think this would have become a trend without social media blogs and YouTube … sharing is actually part of the ritual," Florence Pasche Guignard, philosophy instructor at Ryerson University, told The Current's  interim host Laura Lynch.

Guignard has studied the history of gender reveal parties, and says that the spectacle is a product of the times and part of a bigger consumer culture that reinforces gender stereotypes.

"We'll see what happens in terms of society as more and more people criticize these gender reveal parties. We'll see if trend keeps up, or if people gradually will shift to celebrating something else that is beautiful about pregnancy and becoming parents," said Guignard.

Elaborate reveals as grand as weddings

In 2008, Jenna Karvunidis was one of the early adopters of gender reveal parties.

But after seeing what the parties have become, Karvunidis now regrets contributing to its spread.

"They've become ever more aggressive and outlandish," said Karvunidis. 

"I think it's putting the focus somewhere it doesn't necessarily need to be with a new baby."

Glenn Needham, owner of Needham’s Market Garden near Ottawa, fires the "Pumpkin Modulator" canon to reveal the sex of Kendra and Brandon Holmes's unborn baby. (Submitted by Kendra Holmes and Brandon Holmes.)

One father, Jon Reilly, co-founded a business in 2015 selling gender reveal-tailored party products missing then from the market.

Reilly said that his business, Poof There It Is!, provides expecting parents the power to do whatever they want.

"We had one client that purchased 100 cannons and she goes, 'There's been two events in my life that I've dreamed of, and that was getting married and having kids. How much did I spend for my wedding? I assume I'm going to spend the same for when I'm announcing the birth of my children.'"

Gender versus sex

Guignard questions calling them "gender reveal" parties.

"What is really revealed through the ultrasound is fetal sex," said Guignard. "So it's not the gender of a baby. These parties tend to conflate sex with gender."

Karvunidis is concerned that the trend she contributed to is harming young children, transgender and non-binary people.

"Right out of the gate, [children] walk into a world that's been pinkwashed for them," said Karvunidis. 

"They've walked into an expectation. You're really limiting who they can be."

She sees potential for lots of other celebrations, such as name reveal parties, that may sidestep prickly or controversial gender conversations.

Who the party celebrates

Karvunidis is also concerned that the reveals are erasing women's autonomy.

"She is not a vessel, a vehicle for the personality that's been assigned to this biological sex that she's carrying," said Karvunidis.

Reilly disagrees.

"I think baby showers really focus on the baby," said Reilly.

"And one thing we're seeing with gender reveals is the gift etiquette is focused on the one that's pregnant."

Reilly sees the gender reveal parties as a way to bring community members of all genders together.

"[The] eruption of colours is such a[n] amazing photographic moment," said Reilly.

"I think if we can find that spiritual focus on the pregnancy and create something that's very photographic that people will love to post on social media, I think that will really influence the intent behind these [parties] and maybe it won't be as focused on that pink and blue colour."

Written by Chelsey Gould. Produced by Jennifer Chen.


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