Jenna Karvunidis accidentally created a monster. Now she argues that the concept of gender is limiting
n 2008, while pregnant with her eldest child, Bianca, Jenna Karvunidis threw a party at which she announced the baby’s sex by cutting into a cake filled with pink icing. She wrote about the event on her blog, and her post went viral.
Soon “gender-reveal parties” became a massive trend, one that has come to involve increasingly extravagant choreographed “reveals” and sometimes even deadly stunts. One such party led to a 47,000-acre wildfire in Arizona; another involved explosives that killed a soon-to-be grandmother.
Jenna Karvunidis on gender reveal parties: ‘The problem is they overemphasize one aspect of a person.’ Illustration: Linda Liu/The Guardian
Karvunidis now considers the parties problematic, partly because they’ve gotten so out of hand, but also because of the message they send. “Who cares what gender the baby is?” she asked in a Facebook post in 2019. Her post again went viral, alongside a photo of her family featuring her daughter wearing a pale blue blazer and pants. “PLOT TWIST,” Karvunidis wrote. “The world’s first gender-reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!”
She spoke to the Guardian about the trend she unwittingly started, and its limitations.
I was certainly not anticipating creating an entire identity for my child. I was just looking for a way to up the ante and get everyone excited and involved. And I have a flair for theatrics and love to throw parties – we had a party for the goldfish once. We have a blowout for the dog every year. I just kind of invented an occasion out of it.
It was maybe a year or so later that I started seeing people I didn’t know having parties kind of copying mine with gender reveal cakes. It was really weird to me. I kept thinking maybe someone did one before me but NPR did this whole exhaustive thing and got to the bottom of it.
When I first saw that a gender-reveal party had caused a forest fire I cried because I felt responsible. But here’s the thing – when planes crash no one goes after the Wright brothers. I think the parties probably would have happened anyway. I put form to it, but it’s not that crazy of an idea.
Now I think the whole thing is not great at all, though. The problem is they overemphasize one aspect of a person. I had two more kids after Bianca, but I never had another gender reveal party.
Secretly, when I was pregnant with Bianca, I wanted a girl. But it wasn’t that I wanted to dress her up in tutus. The nursery was blue and yellow. The playroom was all primary colors. For her first birthday we put her in a black blazer. Maybe I could just feel who she was. But my thinking about gender really changed with my second daughter, who’s pretty girly.
The Karvunidis family portrait from 2018. Photograph: Courtesy Jenna Karvunidis
On Christmas morning when she was three, she opened up a set of Legos in primary colors and started crying. She said, “Santa Claus brought me a boy toy.” – she thought because they weren’t pink they weren’t for her. That’s when I was like, “You know what? Something has to change.” There’s such an obsession with gender that it becomes limiting in many ways and exploitative in others. You don’t want what’s between your legs to guide your path in life. I want my kids to grow up in a world where gender doesn’t matter.
Now I just try to cater each child. The middle one loves dolls so she has 100 dolls. Whereas Bianca rocks her suits. She is the most confident 11-year-old you’ll ever meet. The way that started is that it was time to get dressed up for our family Christmas pictures a few years ago and Bianca had been saying for a while that she didn’t want to wear dresses. I was like, “That’s fine. What do you think about a suit?” We both looked at each other and she said, “Can girls wear suits?” I said, “Absolutely. Let’s get you one.” That’s the photo that ended up going viral.
I get a lot of emails from transgender or non-binary teenagers who see themselves in Bianca. And they see her family supporting her. This one girl told me she wanted to wear a suit to Easter and her mother said she couldn’t live in the house if she was going to dress like that. I was horrified.
My parents threw me out when I was 17 years old. It wasn’t about gender or sexuality, but I know how it feels to be a teenager who’s not loved or accepted. I absolutely would not tolerate it. I mean, we have rules – she has to have lights out at 9pm – but my child is welcomed for all of her personality.
Whatever flavor we get, we’re happy with. Bianca’s pronouns are she/her, but you might be surprised how many girls might wind up in suits if they were allowed to do whatever the hell they wanted.
(Source: The Guardian)