It’s time to talk about gender reveal cakes.
Frankly, they are ridiculous and involve some pretty outdated ideas about sex and gender.
If you’ve not seen one of them yet, gender reveal cakes are a staple of gender reveal parties, where an expectant parent discovers the gender of their baby with friends and family.
The inner colour of the cake (either pink or blue) is kept a secret from everyone and so when cut into it acts as the announcement of the expected baby’s gender.
You may be wondering why the apparently wholesome cakes are bad. After all, it is only a cake.
For starters, gender reveal cakes grossly mix up the ideas of sex and gender.
Gender is how a person feels inside (their gender identity) which is often shown by how they dress, their name and the pronouns they use (their gender expression.)
Contrary to many people’s opinions, there are more than two genders, and gender exists on a spectrum.
Admittedly binaries are probably easier to put onto cakes.
Gender takes a while to form as part of a child’s development, as it requires things like self-awareness.
Babies don’t really have anything other than their basic instincts.
That’s not to say that only older children can understand their gender. Children as young as three are often able to express their gender and start to understand themselves as girls, boys or something else.
But babies are still a bit young to be so aggressively gendered, especially before they’ve been born.
Telling the world that your child is a boy or a girl with an elaborate cake and party can also be harmful if it turns out that your child isn’t actually the gender they were assigned at birth.
Transgender people do exist and by elaborately stating that ‘it’s a boy’ or ‘it’s a girl’ the cakes (and the people who bake them) assume that someone’s gender is fixed to the one at birth.
Coming out as trans with a gender reveal cake when transitioning might just be the only acceptable use for them.
When a gender reveal cake is cut open to show off blue or pink sponge it’s really talking about biological sex, as that’s what the ultrasounds pick up.
So there’s actually not as much of gender in the ‘gender reveal’ as you might think.
However, even if these cakes were ‘sex reveal cakes’ they would still be incorrect.
Biological sex isn’t a binary.
The sex of a fetus or baby is typically determined by an ultrasound on the external appearance of the baby’s genitals at around 14 weeks. These external genitals (such as a penis or labia) aren’t the only parts of biological sex, though.
Sex also includes internal genitalia, sex chromosomes and hormone levels, which can vary wildly even between people assigned as the same sex at birth.
Intersex people also exist. Intersex people have variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that don’t fit the typical “male” or “female” gendered definitions.
The idea that certain sets of genitals are either male or female is a very common one, reinforced by these cakes.
It’s also a false one, as sex and gender are separate things and have no influence on one another, it’s just more common that sex and gender ‘match’.
Intersex people may not have any difference from the ‘norm’ visible in their external genitalia, and some intersex people may not realise that they are intersex until after puberty or into adulthood.
However, if a baby does have a visible difference in their external genitals, surgeries are often performed to align the baby with one of the binary sexes in order to allow the child to grow up “normal”.
These surgeries are known to cause permanent harm to the child.
The gender binary causes real damage, and sadly the ideas behind gender reveal cakes are a part of that.
A lot of the cakes are also pretty sexist.
All of these cakes hinge on the idea that there are two opposite genders, boy and girl, and that these genders have highly binary roles.
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Whether it’s “football or princesses”, “pistols or pearls” or even “‘staches or lashes”, the cakes show that we’ve still got a way to go with gender equality.
It’s 2018. Girls can like football, boys can like princesses, children of any gender should be free to like whatever they want.
Children aren’t the ones insisting on wearing blue or pink (or if they are, it’s because they actually like blue and pink, not because they think they should) it’s us adults.
There is a growing movement of parents who are stepping away from gendering their children, raising them gender-neutrally until the child decides their gender for themselves.
Singer Paloma Faith made headlines earlier this month after revealing that she was not publically gendering her child.
“I’m not in denial of gender but I want my child to feel that everything is available to them,” Faith said.
Gender-neutral parenting is new and scary to a lot of people, however raising children free of gender roles until they’re old enough to decide for themselves may be the way to go.
Whilst the concepts of cake and announcing significant life events through food are great, gender reveals and gendering babies do more harm than good.
So celebrate the upcoming birth of your child and eat some cake, but if someone asks you whether your child is a girl or a boy, reply: “We don’t know, they’ll tell us when they’re ready.”