Has the Gender Reveal Become Obsolete?

Cake by Amrit Kaur of @cakeboutiquesydney on Instagram

I was admiring a clever gender reveal cake with a stork motif on Instagram recently and had to stop and wonder when I might ever see a gender reveal cake or party gathering in real life, ever again. Do parents-to-be still organize events for friends and family to come together and share the surprise of what sex the expected baby will have?

It seems these events were all the rage just 5 years ago and then they fizzled out, both figuratively and literally. And I don’t just mean because of Covid either. They were on the decline before the world shut down and I’m wondering why.

I asked Amrit Kaur of Cake Boutique Sydney about the change and she agreed that in the last 3 years her customer requests for gender reveal cakes have dropped at least 50%. She says, “Today, people look for unique ways to showcase their lives. Gender reveal cakes have become too mainstream and ‘boring.’ There are way more options today that people opt for over cakes.”

Kaur listed balloon popping, burnouts (with cars and bikes), confetti pops, sports based reveals (such as weight smashing) and smoke, as more unique alternative methods to disclose the sex of your upcoming child. Weight smashing? Some of them were new to me. But we all know about the cakes. The parents arrange for the ultrasound results to be placed into a sealed envelope that is delivered to the baker or, as Johnny Carson might have said: ‘As a child of four can plainly see, this envelope has been hermetically sealed. It has been kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls’ porch since noon today. NO ONE knows the contents of this envelope except for your custom cake baker in her mystical and borderline divine way.’

In presenting one of her cakes on her feed, Kaur posted what a privilege it was to be the first one to know the gender. Bakers make a pink or blue filling for the cake, depending on the ultrasound results and then cover the cake with ambiguous icing, so it is only when the cake is sliced that the sex is revealed to everyone present, including the parents, by the presence of a pink or blue interior.

Blue for boy. Pink for girl. Even as I type those words, an antiquated must wafts into the room. Could it be that one reason there are fewer gender reveal parties is that there is a reduction in the number of people who want to define newborns by gender, even before they’re born?

Increasingly, just as we no longer only define parents as a mother and a father. We no longer define all children as boy or girl.

In the old days, you’d hear one of those hip (or hippie) parents declare, “We haven’t chosen a name yet. We want to see the baby first and then decide what name fits him or her.” I’d always smirk a little at this smug proclamation. As much as you might want to pretend that your 2-hour old infant is already displaying a personality, can you really say that he looks like a “Matthew?” And heaven help the babe who looks like a “Gertrude” as soon as the cord is cut!

But somehow, when parents say they want to get to know their child before assigning blue and pink definitions to them, that makes a lot of sense to me. Obviously, sex is revealed during the delivery. There are male or female genitalia on the newborn.

Furthermore, I am not one of those people who would use gender neutral pronouns with a baby. I’ll let the child get old enough to tell me that he/she prefers the pronoun “they,” themselves. I will call it a “he” or “she” based on sex genitalia, but I’m no longer willing to foist pink (soft, ballerina, princess, doll) and blue (tough, trucks, wrestling, toy tool box) labels on them, prior to birth. I’m willing to wait two to three years and watch their personalities unfold and learn what they like in terms of toys, habits and colors, themselves. That means, if I was becoming a new parent, I’d be excited to learn the sex, but I’d have to admit that it probably won’t determine the color I’m going to paint the room any longer.

And although I’m all about the tiny baby clothing, I think maybe I might mix and match more today than I would have 5 years ago. That means, I would not only buy things that can be worn or used by both genders, but I’d go a bit out of my way to buy a baby boy something you’d traditionally expect a girl to wear and vice versa. It seems that this was more common one hundred years ago than it is today. Remember those old photos of your great, great grandparents when you couldn’t tell which babies were the boys and which were the girls? Let’s go back to that.

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy with her children, from left to right: Rosemary, John Fitzgerald (Jack) and Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr.

Maybe gender reveals are fewer and farther between because parents want to celebrate the arrival of their children without placing as much undue weight on gender as we used to in the past (with the “past” being just a couple of years ago). Maybe we’re letting go of the stereotypes and reveling in the child’s individuality more, from the point of conception. That can only be a good thing.

Furthermore, we did take the gender reveal to the “this is why we can’t have nice things” extreme. Turns out, danger is a pretty strong deterrent when it comes to fun trends.

We all heard of the father-to-be that died in an explosion while making a bomb for his child’s gender reveal party. Yes, I said BOMB.

In upstate New York this last February, Christopher Pekny of Liberty in Sullivan County was killed while building the explosive device to be used at his baby’s gender reveal party. Pekny’s brother was also injured in the same blast, but survived.

In 2020 a device that shoots off blue or pink smoke, to reveal the baby’s gender caused a large wildfire in San Bernardino County, California. The El Dorado fire started in Yucaipa but burned over 22,000 acres throughout two counties. The couple who hosted the deadly gender reveal was charged with 30 crimes, including involuntary manslaughter for death of a firefighter.

In 2019, a grandmother in Knoxville, Iowa was killed when a homemade gender reveal device started shooting shrapnel. A 56 year old woman, Pamela Kreimeyer, was hit in the head and died instantly, but five other people were injured, including a pregnant woman who was 45 feet away when the device went off.

Kreimeyer’s family made a homemade stand, filled it with gunpowder (colored to reveal the sex of the baby) and attached it to a metal base. They drilled a hole for the fuse and placed a piece of wood on top. They splayed the colored powder over the wood and then taped down the entire concoction. They unknowingly created a pipe bomb. They gathered together and lit the fuse. Instead of shooting the colored powder into the air, the thing exploded.

After a series of such tragedies, people have veered away from some of the more dramatic reveals or been forced to do so by local authorities. The thing is, instead of being a moment for an excited family to commune and celebrate, the gender reveals were being used for YouTube clips. It got so they were used to cause a media sensation, not capture sentiment. Maybe we’re turning the corner, making a u-turn, and easing back from that precipice.

So, we now return to the gentler balloon pop.

Here’s a weight gender reveal that I didn’t even know was a thing, until now.

There’s the venerable gender reveal confetti, which even outdoors is still too messy for me. This kid’s got you cleaning up after her, even before she’s born!

There’s the burnout gender reveal:

Reflecting on the decrease in gender reveal cake requests she receives, Kaur of @cakeboutiquesydney cautioned about jumping to conclusions about the 50% drop. “However, due to Covid, this isn’t a true measure as many people were unable to travel, etc.”

Now, that we’re emerging from Covid restrictions, I guess we’ll find out. Kaur isn’t giving up on her batter just yet. “There are a handful of people that still like the traditional way of revealing the gender of their baby.” Well, I’d argue that the “traditional way” was when the obstetrician pulled the baby from the cervix and said, “Guess what?”

But yes, cakes will always work, too.

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