Many people might have taken the weekend off, but the gender binary was working overtime. As wildfires continue to set California ablaze during a particularly brutal fire season, one of them was reportedly started by a gender reveal party.
On Saturday morning, a fire started at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa that has now burned over 8,600 acres of land. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection stated in a news release that the El Dorado fire was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party, where parents-to-be gather to dramatically announce their unborn child's assigned gender.
According to CNN, surveillance video from the park shows a couple walking with children in the park. Then, someone lights the device and flames began to spark. An investigation is currently underway — but the fire has continued to grow, and is only 7% contained. Many communities have now been forced to evacuate the area, while already dealing with struggles caused by the pandemic.
But this isn’t the first time that a gender reveal party has proved to be dangerous. In April of this year, a gender reveal party in Florida also led to a 10-acre brush fire. In 2017, another party in Arizona also caused a wildfire that ended up burning nearly 50,000 acres of land and caused over $8 (£6m) million in damages after a father shot explosives with a high-powered rifle. Even high profile public figures have experienced the consequences of reveals gone wrong — last year, Shay Mitchell’s friends were nearly trapped without the ability to breathe in Power Ranger costumes while trying to reveal their baby's assigned gender.
But the dangers of this practice go beyond just physical and material damage. By hosting these kinds of parties, focus is placed on someone’s assigned gender at birth, what a child’s genitals are, and ultimately how they're expected to behave because of it — which only upholds gender norms, and boxes people into certain stereotypes and expectations as they grow up.
Studies have even been conducted to qualify the effects of binary obsession, with one study published in 2017 in the Journal of Gender Studies that rounded up cultural criticism of this type of event. Ultimately, it analysed how gender reveal parties perpetuate the need to perform gender and ritualise binaries, saying that they “often negate the significance of understanding gender as an identity construct and performance unbound to biological or physiological characteristics.”
And after this most recent disaster sparked by the need to binarise, even the woman best known for popularising these kinds of parties has expressed regret. Jenna Karvunidis, the unofficial founder of the gender reveal party, posted on Facebook on Sunday, condemning people from holding gender reveal parties.
"For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid's penis. No one cares but you. It was 116 degrees in Pasadena yesterday and this tool thought it would be smart to light a fire about his kid's dick. Toxic masculinity is men thinking they need to explode something because simply enjoying a baby party is for sissies," she wrote.