When given the chance to learn the sex of her baby in April last year, Jenny Metellus Pierre said the answer was a “no-brainer.”

She decided to have what’s commonly known as a “gender-reveal party.” It’s an event where parents discover the sex of their baby. These parties take many different forms, but most include an element of surprise for the parents as well as close family and friends in attendance.

Over the past few years, gender-reveal parties have increased in popularity — and become more extravagant. Take Johnna and Cameron French, who arranged for the Ferris wheel at the National Harbor in Maryland to light up the color of their baby’s sex. (The color ended up being pink.)

“The early parties were very simple, cutting into a cake, opening a box and it’s blue or pink balloons,” said Linda J. Murray, senior vice president of consumer experience and global editor in chief at BabyCenter. “Today these are really choreographed events. Couples are trying to reflect something about themselves, their interests and their points of view.”

Nar Hovnanian, planning director at Taylor and Hov in Washington, D.C., said she has gone from organizing “little intimate gatherings to full-blown parties” for the occassion.

The events they’ve helped organize have cost expecting parents from $7,000 to $25,000, Hovnanian said.

More people are sharing the moment, too. In 2017, YouTube saw a 60 percent increase in U.S. views for gender reveal videos compared to 2016, said Stephanie Shih, a company spokesperson.

Why are the parties popular now?

Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Scott Osmun hypothesized that gender-reveal parties have increased in popularity because of new medical technology.

“In the past several years, most patients are doing a first-trimester blood test that screens for things like Down syndrome, in which you can also find out the baby’s sex,” Osmun said. “The concept of finding out baby’s gender has moved up a lot earlier in pregnancy.”

The problem with gender reveal parties

Kathleen Guidroz, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, questioned whether these parties represent a reassertion of stereotypical gender norms.

“There are increasing numbers of people who are not identifying as a gender or identifying with both genders. We have to wonder, ‘Why have [gender-reveal parties] became more popular in the past decade when so many people are not ascribing to the gender binary?’ Sociologists talk about gender socialization starting the moment the child is born, but this phenomenon actually starts the socialization before that,” Guidroz said.

Osmun explained that babies could be born as intersex or with disorders of sex development (DSD), a group of conditions where there is a discrepancy between the external genitals and the internal genitals.

“Gender is a complex subject,” Osmun wrote in an email. “Genetic gender doesn’t always match the physical manifestation of gender or preconceived notions of what a boy or girl should look like. And gender identity may change as we grow up and start to self identify as male or female.”

Northwestern University communications professor Kate Baldwin agreed with Guidroz that this trend could represent a backlash to a more recently recognized transgender community.

However, she added that parents might not realize or agree with the larger societal implications of a gender-reveal party. They may just be participating because it has become culturally popular.

“The reason that it is the most pernicious is that people while they’re consciously buying into it, they’re unconsciously buying into a system that upon further reflection, they might not support,” Baldwin said. “Maybe it helps to make things predictive in a way that people would like things to be predictable, but they never are.”

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