New Year, New Babies: Talking about Babies and Gender

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How important is it that you know whether this little baby is a boy or a girl – immediately?

I was out at a bar with Fair Play Boyfriend and some of his friends not terribly long ago when the following exchange occurred:

Fair Play Boyfriend: So do you know if it is a boy or a girl?
FPBF’s friend: We’re not going to find out. You don’t get too many surprises in life.

I was floored.

There are two reasons I was so shocked. First, I guess I assumed in my gender-fair universe that otherwise gender-fair and feminist FPBF would know not to ask an expecting parent about their baby’s gender. It seemed a little gauche. I recognize it is a question almost everyone asks of expecting parents, and we’ll talk today about why it is gender-unfair. What touched me, however, was the friend’s response. I didn’t necessarily expect him to believe in anything about gender-fair child rearing, and yet his answer was so beautiful, and so true. We really don’t get a lot of surprises in life.

So what’s wrong with asking?

Well, riddle me this: what is so important about the answer? Asking the question puts a great deal of importance on gender. It also opens the doors to relative preference for one gender over the other, which is a scary road to go down. The research is pretty clear: most Americans say they would prefer a boy. Over historical time, that number has dropped somewhat, and more people say that they have no preference, but it is still the prevailing attitude. The world over, expecting parents report they would prefer a boy. Now I know what you’re thinking, you didn’t ask “what are you hoping for?” (and I’m not going to indulge that sort of question, it is a horribly gender-unfair question at face value). But by raising it at all, you raised the importance of the new baby’s gender. Research also shows that people interact differently with a baby they believe is a boy than one they believe is a girl, even when it is the very same baby!

Needless to say, I find gender-reveal parties, where the baby’s gender is revealed in the color of the icing inside a cake or via an at-home ultrasound, utterly horrifying. I love cake, parties, and surprises, but let it be about something other than gender. We don’t need to celebrate the easing of our anxiety over the unanswered question.

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Save the cake for the birthday parties – plenty to come!

Why is knowing the baby’s gender important? So you can know what color onesies to bring to the shower? Nonsense! You are better prepared than that. Yes, I get that it is fun to eat cake (at the gender-reveal party) and fun to imagine what like Suzie or Johnny or whoever will be like when they are born, and that is easier when you know what they are. I’m actually not suggesting parents shouldn’t find out, if they so desire. I’m suggesting it’s a harmful topic for conversation. You’ll find out soon enough when the cat (baby) is out of the bag. Or not, and that will make everyone even more nervous.

Fair Play Supermom once explained why she couldn’t name me before I was born. “Well I just hadn’t MET you yet!” So although she had two ideas (Andrew and Lara), both went out the window when she saw me, met me, and decided I should be called something else. This is a little bit why knowing your friend’s baby’s gender in advance is silly. You haven’t met them yet. What does it matter? If you know their gender and nothing else, you’ll only use it to imagine very gendered things about them anyway. You don’t know that in a year they will adore applesauce or hate pigeons or live for peppermint ice cream. Those are far more important characteristics than their gender, and you can’t know those things until you meet them and come to know the amazing little person they are.

And after all, we don’t get a lot of surprises in life now do we?

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This is the second in a two-part series about new babies, called New Year, New Babies. The first post was about shopping for new babies. As always, you can request a review by leaving a comment on our review page or on our Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “New Year, New Babies: Talking about Babies and Gender

  1. I love the article, But I disagree somewhat. I do prenatal counseling with parents to be and find it can be a very important question in that context in uncovering the mother’s and father’s expectations of their relationship to a girl or boy. Exploring these issues prior to birth can be a great advantage, perhaps in any setting and any way they come up. Since these issues are there anyway, ignoring them, or pretending to have a correct attitude by not speaking of it, only leaves these normal human feelings outside of consciousness, more likely to affect parental decisions in a gender biased way….Another related issue is that mothers and fathers have psychological content to work out in their relationships with a boy, often different than a girl, based on family history, which will be triggered regardless of attitude towards gender prenatally.. It can be advantageous to get a head start on this before the baby arrives in their arms, not only for decreasing stress in labor by resolving these issues beforehand, but in parenting, too. It is not a matter of gender bias, in thinking about, asking or knowing your baby’s sex, but an opportunity to look deeper into your relationship to your child. If you prefer a girl, why is this? If you prefer a boy, why is this? If you are afraid of having a boy, and you are pregnant with a boy, mothering begins with working through these issues, prenatally. Thanks you fair play, again, for a wonderfully thought provoking article! What do others think?

  2. “Asking the question puts a great deal of importance on gender. It also opens the doors to relative preference for one gender over the other, which is a scary road to go down.”

    This the heart of my disagreement. Asking the question does not cause preference. Not asking or exploring an inevitable question keeps unconscious bias unconscious. This is a wonderful discussion to have! Thank you, Fair Play.

    • You make a great point. The purpose of this article is really to get people thinking about what they’re asking of expectant parents — not what expectant parents themselves are asking.

      “I’m actually not suggesting parents shouldn’t find out, if they so desire.”

      What expecting parents are dealing with is one issue. What the friends and family they surround themselves with is another. We can all work a little harder not to make gender the center of the conversation, something we do A LOT with babies.

      • I favor an inclusive approach that accepts our natural feelings, first, and then enables/ encourages parents to acknowledge that they have them, and explore these in any context. My concern is that parents will feel judged (shamed) -that is afraid to acknowledge a fear or preference, (ie politically incorrect, ridiculed) rather than an inspiration towards awareness.
        Thanks for the discussion, Fair Play! Your article is very valuable and your points valid, regardless. The crucial thing is that you get us thinking and discussing, which is always a good thing!

What do you think? Leave a comment!