How Do I Deal With ‘Ladies Only’ Baby Showers?

I got invited to a baby shower in honor of soon-to-be parents who recently moved out of town. Yay, I thought, it’ll be so nice to see them and congratulate them.Then I reach the end: “This is a ladies-only event (sorry gentlemen!)”

WTF? The invitation lists both parents names, the registry lists both their names, but only the female friends are invited. I don’t even know if the future father is invited!

I am a cis female, and work in a fully male-dominated field, which means I put up with pretty constant low-level gender crap all day. Little things like people apologizing specifically to me for cursing in a group setting (I curse plenty in group settings, so I feel confident it is my odd gender that makes me singled out, rather than my personality), and similar things that delineate gender roles. It cuts both ways: I recently sat bug-eyed while a (female) executive complained that young men these days are taking 6 weeks of leave after a baby, because c’mon what does the father need to do?

My point is, it is near and dear to my heart that our society NOT accept these precise gender instructions, and morally repugnant to me to explicitly forbid one gender. It’s a baby shower: I don’t think we’ll be using our vaginas for anything at the party.

My question is: what should I do? If the friend were still in town, or if I knew the person throwing the shower, I could casually joke about it in a way that they might gather was a real objection; I manage this all the time for ladies lunches and the like. But here I’m not sure what to do. Not go and not say anything? Bring my husband along and feign ignorance so they have to tell him to his face? Not fair to him, not his fight. Write scathing commentary on the evite? I don’t want to taint a friend’s party. Suck it up, say nothing, and be part of the silent majority, which is to say, part of the problem? I don’t like any of my options.

The Work of Babies Isn’t Just for “Ladies”

Dear WBIJL,

First, I really wish people would put more thought into milestones and parties like this instead of just doing things the way they are always done. It puts people like you, who actually think things through, in the awkward position of being the Angry Feminist Who Ruins Everyone’s Fun.

Nobody gives a crap that they ruined YOUR fun. And they don’t have to care or think about it, because they are Doing What Everyone Always Does. Also Stop Being So Uptight, ‘Lady.’

Now. Before I answer your question, I want to talk to the person who just read your letter and rolled her eyes. Or the man who said to his pregnant wife: “PLEASE don’t invite me to the shower. Ugh. All that pink and cooing over baby booties. NO thank you.”

It seems fairly harmless that a thing like a baby shower would be all women.Tradition! Games men wouldn’t like! It’s always been done this way! This is really just harmless ‘girl’s’ fun! Why is she making such a big deal out of nothing? Men don’t like that stuff anyway. Who makes a big deal over a PARTY?

But do you see how much attitudes like this materially affect parents? A female executive was huffing about men who take 6 weeks of paternal leave at her company, when under the Family and Medical Leave Act, both parents are entitled to 12 (unpaid, and only at certain employers goddammit) weeks.  You can bet bosses remember which parents are so obsessed with fatherhood that they take half the legally-allowed leave and abandon their careers to just sit around at home doing nothing (because apparently it’s impossible for men to feed, change, bathe, or care for infants so what could they be DOING) when promotion time comes!

In addition, the vast majority of fathers are raising babies with a woman.When they feel pressured to take less parental leave, their coparents get more of the work of baby raising, and have to spend more time alone during the really exhausting first few months, and lose more earning potential.That’s bad for all parents, regardless of gender.

Not to mention the big huge fat lie that society perpetuates about how mothering is REAL parenting and fathering is just sort of sitting around goofing off and adorably screwing up the laundry. See? Men need to get paid more because they’re good for nothing but working at a job. Women should stay home and take care of babies because that’s what we naturally do better. Tradition! It’s what girls like anyway!

All of this is a steaming pile of patriarchal crap that keeps women down and screws over fathers as well.

So that’s why someone like this letter writer cannot just take a deep breath and show up at the shower and take bets on the size of the mother’s belly and play the baby food game with a tight smile on her face and a sick feeling in her gut, setting aside the fact that she is contributing to the very sexism she deals with every damn day in her male-dominated job.

Okay. Now, for you, WBIJL: you politely decline the invitation and you write a note to your friends saying that you’d LOVE to attend anything that includes all of the genders who actually take care of children in real life, and that you wish them both well in their JOINT PARENTING ADVENTURE, and then you buy them some crap from their registry and call it a day.

Rigidly gender normative showers are pretty awful anyway. You won’t be missing much.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on February 11, 2016.

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