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Gender reveal parties have been all the rage among millennial parents. Since they began trending in 2008, they have spread like wildfire. Literally. The fad was started by Jenna Karvunidis, a blogger and self-described “DIY’er and feminist mom of all lady babies.” She concocted the party as a way to celebrate the conception of her first child, which was a hard journey for her and her husband, as she’d suffered several miscarriages along the way. Now that her firstborn is presenting along the gender spectrum, Karvunidis has regrets about creating a cultural trend that focuses so much on the sex of a child in utero.
Back in the old days, moms and dads wouldn’t know the sex of their babies until birth. There were neither ultrasounds nor sonograms that showed what was happening inside the womb. Once this tech came about, it was possible to see how the baby was doing. A side result of that in utero vision was that, if the baby was facing the right way, their penis or lack thereof would be visible. When parents learn about the gender of their babies, they are learning what sex organs the baby has. This is not entirely irrelevant information.
In spelling out her regrets, Karvunidis asks “who cares what gender the baby is?” The thing is there’s nothing shallow about wanting to know what sex your baby is, or then having an interest in what it is. Lots of people care, and they care because it is the first thing you know about your child. Before personality emerges, before eye colour is fixed, before musical talent is revealed, biological sex is known.
Biological sex is more than mere whim open for debate as soon as a child discerns that the grass is greener on the other side of the gender divide, it is a medical designation. The sex organs of a child are relevant to their health and give an indication of what they may be in for down the road.
As soon as pregnancy takes hold, a mom begins to think about the timeline for their child. Will they be healthy? What kind of stuff will they be into? Will they learn to fly planes or play pianos or travel or study? Will they want children of their own? There is another future to consider other than your own, and while biological sex is not determinative of opportunity, each has opportunities the other does not. Girls can grow up to be mothers, men fathers, these are different roles, and ignoring that fact is more regressive than acknowledging it.
Karvunidis writes of her impulse to gender reveal:
“I did at the time because we didn’t live in 2019 and didn’t know what we know now—that 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.
PLOT TWIST: the world’s first gender-reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!”
While the gender reveal party is incredibly annoying on social media, Karvunidis reasons for now eschewing it are even more annoying. Gender is not assigned at birth, instead, biological sex is ascertained by looking at a baby’s sex organs. This is how we know the difference between the male and female of the species.
Knowing a person’s biological sex is absolutely not a judgement on “their potential and talents.” This is what feminists of the late 20th century were saying all along. Women and men have potential and talents that are not determined by their being female or male. How did we land at a place where we assume that if we know a child’s biological sex that will tell us something about them other than their biological sex, the medical and health implications of same? The designations of male and female are about a person’s potential reproductive life. When a girl is born, she carries within her all the eggs she will ever have. When mothers carry girls in utero, they are also carrying their grandchildren. How is this irrelevant?
That Karvunidis’ daughter likes to wear suits is not a plot twist. Vaginas are not anathema to trousers and jackets. We live in 2019, how do we not know that already?
This impulse to declare biological sex irrelevant is not progressive, but regressive. There is an assumption that if we know biological sex, or name it, then we are making judgements about the capability of those with that sex. That is not the answer. The answer is to consider biological sex as a component of an individual, that is determinative of their reproductive potential, but not of their standing in society or their preference for how they choose to live. The flip side of saying that girls are on the gender spectrum because they like to wear suits is that the normal way to be a girl is to wear dresses and dream of housewifery. We know how stupid that is.
People are buying into progressive language about the gender spectrum without realizing that this vocabulary actually entrenches gender stereotypes instead of liberating them.