The Gender Games -The Progressive – 6/12/12

In a breather from an epic good monster v. bad monster tickle fight with my four-year-old across-the-hall neighbor, he looked at me and asked, “Are you a boy?” I said, “No, Will. I’m a girl.” My dear partner overheard our exchange, leaned in, and explained, “She’s not a boy. She’s gender nonconforming.”

My galpal then went on to explain that people expect girls and boys to wear certain clothes, play certain sports, and act certain ways. When they don’t, it sometimes confuses people. She concluded, “But Kate is definitely a girl.” Will seemed perplexed but accepting, the very definition of free will, and we resumed our throw-down.

Will and his six-year-old sister also seem confused that we are not getting married. Lucy asked, “You mean you are just going to live together?” It came across as puritanical, but what they really wanted was the party. Some people never outgrow that.

Which is what I thought one Sunday morning while motoring through the Sunday New York Times Styles section to The Vows to find out if any lesbians had gotten gay-married. A headline, “A Boy or Girl? Cut the Cake,” stopped me. It was right under another story, “Don’t Call Her a Trophy Wife.”

According to the Times article and several popular mommy websites I perused without a maternal permit, gender reveal parties are challenging the traditional baby shower. See? People love parties.

At such parties, the expectant couple discovers the sex of their child not in the sterile confines of a sonogram room but in the bright lights and warm embrace of thoroughly mimosaed family and friends. Please, no presents.

Some couples open a sealed envelope and read the sonogram. Think Oscars. Others cut mohel-like into a neutrally frosted, special order “reveal cake” to discover a blue or pink filling. Think Hostess Twinkies. I don’t know what they do for triplets, but it might explain cupcake mania.

I have no quarrel with the parties, nor have I been invited to any. Too bad.  What I take issue with is this: Gender reveal parties are actually sex reveal parties. Maybe celebrants don’t call them sex reveal party because it has a Tailhook taint of actual girls jumping out of cakes. Sex is about Xs and Ys. Gender is about pink and blue. Gender is why I am “sirred” by harried shuttle flight attendants. And why Will was confused.

The conflation of sex and gender is either willfully ignorant or naively aspirational in an increasingly confusing (for some) gender-fluid society. At Chastity-to-be’s gender reveal party, Cher might have had a pink filling revealed unto her, but that has all changed.

Speaking of gender reveal cakes, have you seen The Hunger Games?

A dystopian futuristic movie based on a trilogy of young adult novels I have not read, it’s where The Kids Are Not All Right and The Truwoman Show meet. My galpal was quite insistent we see it. Unbeknown to me, she had read them all under the cover of Kindle. One friend chided, “How could you watch a movie about children killing children?” Apparently, she has not seen The Wire. In The Hunger Games, violence is so manically and million-dollar-a nano-sec intercut, that my thirty-three-rpm eyeballs could not register it.

What did register was the strong still presence of the hero Katniss Everdeen, an epic amalgam of gender—masculine and feminine, father and mother, tough and tender, fighter and nurturer. Her sonogram would be a baffling buzzkill at a District 12 gender reveal party.

As one of the proles who has just lived through the pomp and pageantry of the GOP debates and primary, I rooted wildly for the young woman hero of The Hunger Games. Millions of us did. That—and the desperation of the gender reactionaries who futilely stoked the fires of the war on women—is a hopeful sign.

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  1. Suzanne Marks
    June 20, 2012 @ 8:54 am

    Nicely said. However, despite recent fluidity of gender concepts, female gender in the US still means earning 77 cents to a dollar earned by males, having only 17% representation in Congress, having only 18 of the fortune 500 CEOs, and having contraception and life-saving sexual health decisions treated as a political football. All U.S. women, including lesbians, need to become like Katniss in supporting the Democrats against the GOP, who are like those running the “Hunger Games.” State teacher and healthcare workers, traditionally jobs held by women, are being gutted to placate the 1% proles who wont pay more taxes.


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