The Dark Realities Of Gender Reveal Parties

You've probably at least heard of gender reveal parties. You know, those celebrations wherein expectant parents learn about the biological sex of their baby, often complete with some sort of visual display coated with either pink or blue. Sometimes, these things are quiet affairs, the message conveyed with a colorful cake or a couple of balloons. But other times, these parties are quite extravagant displays, involving smoke cannons, fireworks, planes, and plenty of other ridiculous props. Really, those videos that you might've seen blowing up on social media just seem to get more and more outlandish by the year.

But whether you enjoy watching these reveal parties genuinely, or would rather prefer to let the hours pass with a compilation of gender reveal fails (of which there are plenty), there's a far darker truth behind gender reveal parties. After all, while there are those who support these parties and the celebratory mood they can bring, there are just as many who are questioning whether they're really worth it. And when those criticisms point to cases that involve either psychological or physical damage — occasionally even deaths — well, it's hard to just cover your ears and pretend like everything is fine. Here are just a few of those dark realities associated with gender reveal parties.

Playing with fire

If you play with fire, well, you probably know how the saying goes. One couple's extravagant gender reveal involved a whole lot of fireworks, which they posted on TikTok for all to see. But those online were quick to notice that there were a whole bunch of trees in the background, and even quicker to berate the couple for courting destruction. Sure, a forest fire didn't start, but it so easily could have.

That's not a criticism without any backing, because gender reveals starting forest fires aren't unheard of. All you have to do is look back at the El Dorado Fire, back in September 2020. This was a massive fire, burning tens of thousands of acres and destroying 20 buildings over 23 days — a situation that wasn't helped given that this all happened in hot and dry California. And to top it all off? It was started by a couple igniting a smoke bomb for their gender reveal party. 

But that's not even the only time gender reveals have led to hugely destructive fires. You could also look back to Arizona's Sawmill Fire of April 2017. In that case, an off-duty Border Patrol agent had gotten his hands on a very powerful explosive and shot at it, causing a blue explosion. In the middle of a field of dry brush. Of course, the grass caught fire, and the flames burned for a week, destroying over 40,000 acres and amounting to $8 million in damages.

Using animals

There's a perhaps disturbing trend starting to emerge when it comes to gender reveal parties: the use of animals. And that's a problem that's fairly multifaceted, dealing with physical harm to both the animals and the humans involved.

Regarding the former, a pretty good example can be found in Flamingo (pictured above), a pigeon dyed bright pink, presumably for a gender reveal. According to posts on Instagram from the Wild Bird Fund, who found and cared for Flamingo, he was found malnourished in Madison Square Park. He was a domestic bird (and not fit to be released into the wild), and that pink dye would've only made him easier prey for predators. And there's the fact that the dye was releasing toxic fumes, which his caretakers believe caused his death only a week after he was rescued. Was a gender reveal worth killing an innocent animal?

There's also the matter of posing dangers to humans, and what better example is there than the time an alligator was used? Basically, the couple decided to throw a dyed watermelon into an alligator's mouth, which would explode blue when the animal chomped down (via BBC). Oh, and there was a kid rolling around on the ground next to the alligator. People also objected to the alligator being used like a prop, but the dangers of this one shouldn't need to be explained. (What's more, the alligator in the video had bitten people before. So safety should've probably been a bigger concern.)

Dealing with death

A gender reveal party sure seems like the exact time to celebrate life. Except for when those same parties end up acting as harbingers of death. The irony is both tragic and odd.

One straightforward example of this is when parents hosting such a party made a pipe bomb. No joke. Granted, that wasn't the intended effect. As reported by the Des Moines Register, the couple wanted to rig up a homemade, explosive announcement — essentially a metallic base filled with gunpowder, topped with colorful powder that would shoot upwards like a geyser. That was the idea, but maybe explosives should only be handled by experts. Upon lighting the gunpowder, the explosion wasn't directed upwards, but rather, outwards, sending shrapnel flying out to over 100 yards. And for shrapnel to fly that far, it had to be traveling pretty fast, meaning that when a piece of metal struck one of the family members only 45 feet away, she died instantly.

But that's not the only time death intervened at a gender reveal party. ABC News reported on a gender reveal in Mexico where the couple arranged for a plane to trail pink smoke behind it. One moment, things were fine, and the next moment, the plane was crashing into the ocean, killing both people aboard. Or, of course, there's the El Dorado Fire, which was started by an explosive gender reveal and led to the death of one of the firefighters trying to quell the flames.

Large-scale pollution

Pollution is already a big problem — that's something that everyone is pretty aware of. But, maybe, exacerbating that problem via gender reveal parties is something that people should try to avoid.

Seriously, though, gender reveal parties have had very notable environmental impacts, few of them good. For example, take the announcement put together by a couple in Brazil. According to The Washington Post, this particular party took place at the waterfall known as Cachoeira Queima-Pé. Your normal staples were there — balloons, smoke cannons, the works — but then, all of a sudden, the entire waterfall began flowing a bright blue. Of course, those present were delighted, but Brazil's environmental protection agency was far less amused by people dyeing a waterfall blue. Not only was it illegal, the waterfall flowed into a river that was the main freshwater source for a nearby town. And now that water was colored vibrantly, unnaturally blue. While officials judged the dye to have had no negative impacts to the water, it's still pollution, plain and simple.

But even in less dramatic cases, pollution and environmental harm are still factors. Fireworks have become an apparent staple of many gender reveals, and Forbes summarizes quite a bit of research, saying that they aren't too great for the planet. The explosions release plenty of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and those pretty colors? They come from metal particles which can very easily pollute both the air and water, causing long-term health complications.

Real legal ramifications

Considering there are multiple cases where gender reveal parties have led to severe property damage, it only follows that there would be legal ramifications as a result. And they're often not pretty. The party that dyed a Brazilian waterfall blue? The environmental law they broke tends to result in thousands of dollars in fines, according to The Washington Post. The couple that started the El Dorado Fire? The Guardian reported that they were charged with 30 crimes, ranging from recklessly starting a fire to involuntary manslaughter.

Here's the thing that's a little strange, though. While those are just two examples of gender reveal parties leading to legal repercussions, it's clear that these are at least somewhat regular problems. After all, Gannon Associates Insurance posted an entire article on their website talking about the dangers of elaborate gender reveals and explaining the details of liability insurance, urging people to consider the possibilities of accidents occurring. In a similar vein, the Larson Law Firm also made its own post regarding gender reveals. They explain the legal end of Arizona's Sawmill Fire and the civil suits that could have come from that. That post ends by promoting caution: "[We] urge our clients to act with care when celebrating family milestones."

When insurance companies and law firms are taking pre-emptive actions to mitigate damage from gender reveal parties, that says something on its own.

Bringing out the worst in people

You'd think that any sort of celebration for a pregnancy would be something light and happy, right? But here's the thing: That's not always the case, and sometimes, gender reveals make people into the worst versions of themselves.

You know when parents-to-be say that they want their baby to be one gender or another? Well, take that concept, and ramp it up to 11. And then record it all and put it online. That's been the case in the past. Newsweek reports on a gender reveal gone wrong when the expectant father threw a fit, all because he learned that his baby would be a girl, not a boy. He then proceeded to pout and sulk for the rest of the party, refusing to let anyone explain how childish — and just plain awful — he was being. The saddest part of this entire thing? Incidents like this are hardly unique.

But parental temper tantrums aren't the only potential problem to come from gender reveals. As Inside Edition explains, there was an incident where the members of a gender reveal party literally got into a fight in an Applebee's parking lot. After being asked to leave the restaurant, they decided to launch their confetti in the parking lot, but upon being asked to just clean up their mess, they chose violence, screaming at the staff and throwing menus. They left before police arrived, so further explanations as to why they were so mad aren't exactly forthcoming.

Hurting the LGBTQ+ community

While there are plenty of instances where gender reveal parties have caused physical harm and damage, other problems are perhaps more insidious. See, as an article published in the International Journal of Child, Youth & Family Studies puts it, "gender reveal parties" isn't accurate; the author likens them to "genital reveal parties," and really, that's all they are. Using ultrasounds can only really tell expectant parents their fetus' genitalia, but sex is a more complicated topic than that. And when you're talking about gender, you're looking at something entirely different — something far more personal and based on factors that aren't necessarily biological. In short, the terms "sex" and "gender" aren't interchangeable. And that's where gender reveal parties become harmful, because not everyone fits neatly into this binary of "boy" or "girl." The argument is easily made that gender reveals inherently exclude or misrepresent transgender, non-binary, and intersex kids (and genderqueer folks in general).

But that might be the point. The director of NYU's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality told Vox that the simultaneous rise in the popularity of gender reveals, and the increased visibility for the trans community, might not just be correlation, but also causation. In essence, extravagant gender reveals might be a violent reaction to increased acceptance, a way to try and hold fast to traditional ideas about gender. In other words, people are resistant to change and just become louder about their ideas, even if it might hurt the child they claim to be celebrating.

They're escalating for a reason

Gender reveal parties can vary a lot. You've got your simple cases of cakes and balloons, and then you have those that involve planes, alligators, or at least some bright explosions. That's quite the range, but it's hard to deny the fact that gender reveals that more closely fit the latter category have been cropping up a lot more on social media. But why?

Well, there's a chance that social media itself is at fault. Professor Peter Glick explained to Vox that society as it stands now thrives on things going viral, and that things go viral by standing out above the rest. Essentially, staging larger and more elaborate gender reveals are the key to getting more views on Instagram or TikTok; if you're not unique, there's no way you're getting your five seconds of fame. 

It's also inherently performative, as is all of social media — you get to curate the version of yourself on Facebook or Instagram. And gender reveal parties, especially those posted online, follow that trend. They allow couples to show off just how good they'll be as parents, according to the International Journal of Child, Youth & Family Studies. Not only that, they can also project a certain level of status; even if this was a one-time expenditure, well, all anyone else needs to know is that it was affordable at all. So long as it looks good for the camera, isn't that all that matters?

Reinforcing gender stereotypes

When you see gender reveal parties, chances are that you end up looking at a whole lot of pastel pink and blue. Or maybe you saw something more creative, in line with the examples given by Vox: "'Pistols or Pearls?' and 'Tiaras or Trucks?'" Because, you know, it's clear that pink, pearls, and tiaras are meant for girls, while blue, pistols, and trucks are meant for boys, right? And, well, there's the problem in a nutshell. Gender reveals have a pretty bad tendency of doing more than assigning a presumed gender to an unborn child; they start dictating what that kid should like or how they should behave. 

And those gender stereotypes are a big problem, one which propagates — and is further propagated by — things like gender reveals. The Fawcett Society did extensive research on the topic, finding that those imposed gender stereotypes have huge effects on society. Teaching kids to associate so many different things — as simple as toys or as complex as entire personality traits — with gender ultimately affects how they think, how they feel they're expected to act, and how they actually act. Ultimately, those views seem to beget negative results in the long run: violence in men and diminished career choices for women, among other things. And then those views just get perpetuated, whether consciously or subconsciously, and the cycle continues.

The effects of traditional masculinity

As is becoming plainly clear, this trend of elaborate — and occasionally dangerous — gender reveals seems like something that's going to continue. But, really, when you take a look at those dangerous stunts, do they start seeming particularly violent? You know, like the people involved really just want to live on the edge by, say, feeding an alligator by hand? As it turns out, there might be an explanation for that particular violent streak.

As Vox explains, pregnancy has been associated with femininity in general (at least, that's true in America), but as time passed, there was a desire to start allowing men to be more involved in that process. Gender reveals are a way to do that, which is, in theory, a good idea. But in some cases, doing so might threaten traditional views of masculinity, and that might be pushing some men to try and project their masculinity in the most obvious way possible. In many cases, that ends up being violence, and that desire to perform in a traditionally (and perhaps toxically) masculine way might be seeping into the ideas behind some of these gender reveals.

Interestingly enough though, as an article from the International Journal of Child, Youth & Family Studies explains, this influence of traditional views of masculinity and femininity doesn't only affect men. Gender reveal ideas catered toward women tend to feature the pastel pinks and blues you often see — things that might be soft, cute, and traditionally feminine.

The original creator of gender reveal parties no longer agrees with the concept

You know a tipping point has been reached when the creator of something starts regretting their creation. And that's exactly the case with gender reveal parties.

Jenna Karvunidis is widely credited as the person who popularized gender reveal parties, although the reason behind her throwing this party seems to have gotten a bit lost over the years. Karvunidis actually threw the party due to past miscarriages; the pregnancy she threw the party for was the first that had lasted long enough for her to learn the sex of her child (via The Guardian). It was just a quiet affair, but her blog post about the event went viral in 2008. A trend was started, but it would eventually become one that Karvunidis couldn't quite agree with.

In talking to The Guardian, she explained that raising her children led her to understand gender in a new light. She saw immediately how hurtful gender stereotypes could be and has stated, "I want my kids to grow up in a world where gender doesn't matter." While crediting her daughter with teaching her more about LGBTQ+ identities, she's also shed light on the effect her creation has had on transgender and non-binary folks — something which she feels partially responsible for. And despite the hate she's received for it, Karvunidis has begun urging parents to reconsider their obsession with gender, putting it perfectly: "Let your kids just be who they are."