It’s usually one of the first questions that comes up in conversation with someone who’s expecting. There are even celebrations centered around the theme, and specialty party items and cakes to complement a festive “gender reveal” to family and friends. While it doesn’t necessarily seem like a controversial topic, one doctor is questioning the possible effects of this usually well-intentioned tradition and how it may be impacting society.
In a piece entitled “The Gender Reveal: Implications of a Cultural Tradition for Pediatric Health” published in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Leena Nahata, a pediatric endocrinologist who is a part of the THRIVE program specializing in care for differences and disorders of sex development and gender concerns, poses the question, “Are these traditions truly harmless?”
Difference of sex development (DSD) is a group of about 60 conditions where the reproductive organs and genitals don't develop as expected and a newborn’s biological sex, or being male or female, is not clear. An estimated one out of every 2,000 births is affected by DSD, and Dr. Nahata suggests that “In an era in which gender issues have emerged at the forefront of both pediatric medicine and the popular press, this question [is it a boy or a girl] has become far more complex.”
Dr. Nahata wonders if “By celebrating this single ‘fact’ several months before an infant’s birth, are we risking committing ourselves and others to a particular vision and a set of stereotypes that are actually potentially harmful?” She continues to point out that “In some regions of the world, sex determination of the fetus has often led to sex-selective abortion; laws have thus been passed in these countries prohibiting ultrasonography for the purpose of sex determination. Although this has not been a problem in the United States, there are scenarios in which a sex assignment may later be questioned or reversed, leading to a significant amount of distress.”
In what she describes as an “increasingly elaborate” trend emerging over the past decade, others have also expressed concern regarding overly publicized and celebrated gender reveals. “Although some still choose to open an envelope privately, many expectant parents throw large parties where blue or pink cakes are cut or boxes are delivered with colored balloons flying out. Widespread use of social media has expanded the size of the audience exponentially,” said Dr. Nahata.
While Dr. Nahata’s article may ruffle the feathers of some gender-reveal enthusiasts, it’s but one perspective when considering the bigger implications of what can happen when families set expectations based on gender.