On my way to work this morning I heard a radio ad from a local 3-D/4-D ultrasound company that was touting its giant screen and seating capacity for 20 so you can host your very own "gender reveal party" during your pregnancy. For those of you who read my previous post on boys will be boys, you won't be surprised to find out that this was troubling to me for several reasons:
Is anatomy destiny? Freud famously stated that, "anatomy is destiny," arguing that one's genitals were the most important factor in determining one's personality traits. However, more contemporary gender theorists such as Anne Fausto-Sterling and Judith Butler have argued that gender is a social construction, and so is sex. In her book, Sexing the Body, Fausto-Sterling clearly provides evidence of how the medical institution has repeatedly "treated" otherwise healthy bodies because a child's genitals were not immediately recognizable as a penis or a vagina. There is more variety and diversity in animal biology than our legally recognized two-sex system recognizes. Approximately 2.7% of all babies born have some natural variation in their body that does not clearly place them as male or female. These bodies are designated as having a "disorder of sex development" or DSD and many of these individuals come to identify as intersex while embracing a gender identity that could be: man, woman, androgynous, or other term that best represents them. I wrote more about this phenomenon in an earlier blog post here.
It is true in our culture that one's anatomy at birth does set us up for a series of social interactions that have a strong influence on shaping our personalities as well as our educational and career paths. But this is not to say that these differences are "innate" or "natural", just that our socialization of children is heavily shaped by the expectations that we place on them and the influences they are exposed to.
I actually really like the idea of "gender reveal parties"—it can be a radical concept that allows a child to assert their gender and then give the family an opportunity to share it with their community. My concern is about having this party while the child is in utero. It would be amazing if it became a tradition to do on a child's 5th birthday (or any other time the child has fully asserted their gender identity, but it is usually between the ages of 3-7) and a way that we could allow a child to develop in their early years free of gendered socialization and stigma and become the person they most want to be. I look forward to living in a world where I will be invited to a family's "gender reveal party" where the guest of honor gets to make a debut as they want to be seen and they get recognized and celebrated for all of who they are.