Talking about Babies and Gender

BabyTowel

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

This week we are revisiting some favorite posts geared toward talking about gender. Monday we took up how to discuss gender fair values in your family. Today we examine talking about gender with prospective new parents.

I was out at a bar with a Fair Play Friend and some of his friends when the following exchange occurred:

Fair Play Friend: So do you know if it is a boy or a girl?
FPF’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 FPF 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.

BabyCakeWhy 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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Originally posted 1/20/13

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