I like this a lot, Michael. Much has been written on gender reveal parties, but I think you have an original angle here in your analysis of the desire for scientific certainty and the irony that they are actually ignoring other aspects of science. I would expand on and foreground that angle ("What’s weird is that these folks eagerly embrace the bits of science they like... " and "Grasping for certainty in uncertain times...) to increase the essay's usefulness to people who have already grasped the broader cultural critique and may otherwise miss that you are contributing something new here.

On 9/9/20 11:42 PM, Michael Goldhaber wrote:
[log in to unmask]"> If anyone is interested, I just wrote this, and would appreciate comments.

According to the NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/07/us/gender-reveal-party-wildfire.html , gender reveal parties have caused fires, a death and other gruesome accidents. But no one seems to mention how bizarre the whole idea is. Years ago—maybe up until the late 60’s— prospective parents had to wait until the birth to find out whether their baby was a boy or a girl, at a time when those were widely understood to be immutable categories. Because of strong gender barriers, back then, the child’s future path in life could be very roughly foreseen—except that the feminist movement and other developments have changed that—which is all to the good. Who would want to go back, except the sort of people who are against egalitarian progress—and mostly don’t believe in science?

What’s weird is that these folks eagerly embrace the bits of science they like, including the ability to foretell ostensible gender either from ultrasounds or from detecting fetal DNA in the mother’s blood. Many of these people are then  excited to use some violent means like pink or blue smoke bombs to “reveal” (to whom?) this not-so-significant fact about the future child. 

Gender itself, of course, is not a scientific but a cultural category, so the term “gender reveal” is nonsensical. Even sex, the biological category that very crudely corresponds to gender, is not straightforwardly determined by any scientific data available at birth or before. Given the contemporary understanding of gender as fluid, the only appropriate time for  a “gender reveal party” would be after death—or not even then—and certainly not before birth. 

If the point were simply to use the coming arrival of a new baby as an excuse to party, why not just do that? Or have a “predictably healthy” child party? Or a party for those present to vow to try to ensure a better world for the forthcoming person? That wouldn’t lead to anything as macho as smoke bombs, or the color coding of the unborn’s future as forever pink or blue. Grasping for certainty in uncertain times is more likely to lead to a forest fire than an accurate prediction. 

Best,

Michael


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Sigrid Schmalzer
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University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

Science for the People: Documents from America's Movement of Radical Scientists (University of Massachusetts Press, 2018)

Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming (Tilbury House, 2018) -- picture book