This article originally appeared on VICE US.
The small plane has reached 14,000 feet when Joseph Deak decides he's ready to jump out into open air. Moments later in the 2016 video clip, we see the skydiving instructor that Deak is strapped to pull the ripcord on their parachute releasing a large, blue canopy. "It's a boy!" Deak yells to the camera as he and the instructor sink to the ground. The father-to-be has just jumped thousands of feet through the air, risking his life for a cheap stunt all in the name of heralding his baby's genitals. While watching the clip, I couldn't help but think of how pissed I'd be if my dad had went splat before I was born because he wanted to announce to the world that I've got a vagina.
But as extreme as Deak's video is, he's just one of thousands of soon-to-be parents who have tried to create epic "gender reveals." Gender reveals, which should really be called sex reveals, aren't anything new. The trend for expectant parents to make a spectacle over whether their bundles of joys have peens or vageens started around ten years ago and have garnered a good deal of criticism and have become increasingly extreme.
Many have pointed out that these events push forth an outdated concept of gender at a time when our understanding of identity goes beyond "boy" and "girl." They also perpetuate the idea that gender is a result of genitalia, when anyone who's taken a 101 gender studies course will tell you that gender is a social construct. As Dr. Elizabeth J. Meyer explains for Psychology Today, "Gender cannot be 'revealed' in the womb. Gender will be revealed over time as a child makes choices and develops language to express themselves and how they want to be treated." Still, all of that hasn't stopped parents from concocting obnoxious and increasingly dangerous videos for social media.
"There is a competitive element to this trend as parents-to-be are compelled to create increasingly lavish public rituals to prove their worthiness in having and raising a child," Dr. Carly Gieseler, an assistant professor at the City University of New York who has studied this growing trend, shared with me. "In an era of social sharing obsession and mediated self-absorption, gender reveals gain traction precisely because they are highly visual snapshots of parenthood."
It wasn't always like this. In the early days of gender reveals, couples would simply open an envelope and announce the sex of the baby to their anxious family members. Around five years ago, the centerpiece of these events became color-coded cakes that bakers would dye pink or blue and disguise with neutral colored frosting. When the parents cut a slice of the dessert, they would be surprised by what they found inside.
By 2012, the trend had really taken off, with thousands of gender reveals being posted to social media. Today, a search on YouTube brings up more than 620,000 results. Right now, we're at a point where the growing trend, fueled by YouTube views and Facebook likes, has inspired many expectant parents to really up the ante.
Just take a look at daddy blogger Taylor Calmus's Rube Goldberg reveal video, which he posted in March and has already been viewed more than 13 million times. For the clip, Calmus spent three days building an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, which took over several floors of his house and played out like something from Home Alone. In the video, you see toy cars snake through his hallways and children's books topple like dominos. The video ends with a confetti cannon that spews pink paper all over Calmus and his wife.
"If we were going to do a gender reveal, I wanted it to be epic," Calmus explained to me over email. "This little person is going to change our entire world. Cutting open a cupcake just wouldn't suffice."
As these reveals have gotten more extreme, it appears men are increasingly taking their partner's pregnancy as an opportunity to conduct over-the-top stunts. This dynamic essentially puts the spotlight on the dads instead of the moms who will actually give birth, making the whole thing a weird performance of trumped-up masculinity.
Last year, a couple went viral when they decided to incorporate explosives into their reveal. The dad-to-be Keith, a member of the special forces, shot a cardboard box that was filled with chalk and tannerite. The bizarre video captures the mom, Jamie, happily holding her stomach as her fiancé fires off an assault rifle to create a powder blue plume of smoke.
As weird as it might be to whip out a deadly weapon at a celebration for your unborn child, they weren't the first or last ones to do it. This January, one dad-to-be in Nebraska decided to take part in the combustive fad by shooting at an explosive target to reveal the sex of his new child. According to the Omaha World-Herald, the blast was so loud that residents felt it three miles away. Now, he faces up to one year in prison for firing off an explosive without a required state permit.
In addition to chalk explosions, many expectant couples are using fireworks to reveal the sexes of their babies. Phantom Fireworks, a nationwide fireworks retailer, has even dedicated an area on its website specifically for birth-related pyrotechnics in pink and blue. "Phantom Fireworks has designed two special fireworks that will light up the sky for you and your loved ones to witness," the site reads. Sports car and motorcycle burnouts as gender reveals are also a growing trend. Videos of dads spinning the tires of their Supras and Camaros to create a blue or pink clouds of smoke are all over YouTube right now.
While it appears that no one has been seriously hurt engaging in these rituals yet, it feels like it is only a matter of time before someone blows off a limb or shoots themselves in the foot in an effort to create an "epic gender reveal."
"As the more extreme performances and stunts of gender-reveal gain more views and likes," explained Dr. Gieseler, "it is completely plausible that parents-to-be will keep striving to make their celebrations even more extreme, public, and visible."
Follow Erica Euse on Twitter.