Gender Reveal Parties are Starting Wildfires…That’s Half the Problem

A gender reveal party just started a wildfire in California — again.

In case you aren’t familiar with them, gender reveal parties often use creative methods of revealing the genitalia of an unborn child to expecting parents and their friends and loved ones. The ones responsible for disasters usually involve pyrotechnics, which have repeatedly caused wildfires, explosions, and in at least one case, the death of a grandmother.

There are two problems here: the irresponsible use of pyrotechnics and a tradition that upholds harmful gender norms.

First, the obvious point: Gender reveals do not need to involve explosions. What happened to cutting a cake to reveal pink or blue icing? Cake won’t burn down a forest. Cake won’t kill grandma, unless she’s a diabetic.

Second, the assumption that a baby’s genitalia determines their gender is scientifically incorrect. A person assigned male at birth may actually be a woman, and a person assigned female at birth may later realize they’re a man. Others may grow into a nonbinary identity.

What these parties really reveal and celebrate is a baby’s genitalia, which is odd if you think about it. But even there, they oversimplify things.

Although many people have either XX or XY chromosomes and the hormones, genitalia, and secondary sex characteristics associated with them, intersex people don’t. Being intersex is as common as having red hair, and some children identified as male or female at an ultrasound are actually intersex.

When parents throw a gender reveal party, they are expressing their excitement and hope about their new baby and sharing it with the people they love. However, they are also investing in an idea that might not turn out to be true once their child arrives.

Furthermore, often the parties are themed with dated, binary gender stereotypes: Girls like ballet but boys like football, or girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Many children, even those who identify with their assigned gender, don’t fit these stereotypes.

Naturally, gender reveal parties are one part of a larger system. Getting rid of them won’t result in automatic acceptance for people who are intersex, trans, and nonbinary. Nor will it solve sexism or gender bias.

What will have a bigger impact on your child’s life is what you and your community do after they’re born.

Teach them that some boys like ballet and some girls like trucks. Teach them that trans and nonbinary people exist, and that they can live happy, healthy lives. Teach them there are people who don’t identify with either binary gender, which is fine and normal.

Allow your child to be themselves even if they don’t conform to gender stereotypes. If your child is intersex, trans, or nonbinary, love them and accept them exactly as they are.

Raising kids with healthy attitudes about gender involves a lot more than deciding whether or not to have a gender reveal party. Whatever you do, just don’t burn down a forest.

Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.