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Emily Ratajkowski penned an essay for Vogue to accompany her digital pregnancy announcement with husband Sebastian Bear-McClard—though she is quick to point out that it is her pregnancy and not theirs. It’s her body, her symptoms, and her experience. It was a surprisingly refreshing and much needed deviation from the standard pregnancy announcements which often turn into gross gender reveals.
Not only did Ratajkowski refuse to reveal the baby’s gender, she was very clear in the fact that she knows biological sex doesn’t equal one’s gender. Her essay also explored gender stereotypes, and the damage they can do to the child and to the individuals raising a child within those expectations. She talks about white privilege, raising boys in a patriarchal society, and the need to dismantle biases in order to raise kids—no matter their gender—to stand up to systems that have been built for white, cisgender men.
When people want to know “what” she and her husband are having, Emily Ratajkowski wrote, “We like to respond that we won’t know the gender until our child is 18 and that they’ll let us know then. Everyone laughs at this. There is a truth to our line, though, one that hints at possibilities that are much more complex than whatever genitalia our child might be born with: the truth that we ultimately have no idea who – rather than what – is growing inside my belly.” In a world filled with so many celebrities willing to go along with the “It’s A Boy” or “It’s A Girl” headline splashed all over magazines, I am so thankful someone with such a large platform finally said why it’s important to do better than to go along with the heteronormative standards.
Quick note: While it’s true that until your child affirms their gender assignment at birth or questions it, you won’t really know how your child identifies, one often knows their gender before they are 18. Most children can categorize their own gender by the age of three. It can take longer for a person to know their assumed gender at birth isn’t correct, but if a child is persistent, consistent, and insistent about their gender, don’t doubt them.
This is easy for folks who have cisgender children — children whose gender identity matches the assigned one at birth — because people believe that what is between a child’s legs is what determines their gender. However, sex and gender are different, and when they don’t align based on society’s idea of what it means to be a boy or a girl, folks get all worked up.
It’s not that transgender people, kids too, don’t know who we are; it’s that we aren’t believed. For people to accept that my gender is not based on my vagina, they would have to go against what they know to be true, and people don’t like to be told they are wrong. My identity often threatens other people, because their lack of security in knowing that who I am has nothing to do with how they or anyone else identifies.
Ratajkowski is comfortable acknowledging the importance of not placing labels on a child with definitive say. But as she raises a child knowing labels can change, she knows that identity is tied to gender and the stereotypes that go with it. When her algorithms on social media kept showing her gender reveal videos, she felt the scrutiny from the onlookers waiting to place their expectations. She noticed a pattern in the reactions of the parents too: The fathers seem relieved when they find out they are having a son, as if boys are somehow easier and that girls come with more challenges, while the mothers in these cases seemed resigned to this belief too. The challenges, however, are from a quiet cycle that is often passed down from father to son. Raising a girl in a misogynistic and patriarchal society is hard because of the boys and men who have created it. Ratajkowski admits that if she does have a son, it will be hard to balance raising a child who is self-assured yet knows their place of power.
“I’ve known far too many white men who move through the world unaware of their privilege, and I’ve been traumatized by many of my experiences with them. And boys too; it’s shocking to realize how early young boys gain a sense of entitlement—to girls’ bodies and to the world in general. I’m not scared of raising a “bad guy,” as many of the men I’ve known who abuse their power do so unintentionally. But I’m terrified of inadvertently cultivating the carelessness and the lack of awareness that are so convenient for men.”
She knows the internal pressure a girl or feminine-identifying child will face too. She experienced it as a child while comparing her beauty to her mother’s. She experiences it now as a woman who has been scrutinized and praised for her looks; she’s a model for fuck’s sake. She has bought into the standards while perpetuating them too. But she is also determined to have her child define their own beauty based on factors beyond physical appearance.
Emily Ratajkowski knows all of this starts before a child is born because of ideas, biases, and expectations about who our children will be because of what genitalia they have. We need more celebrities to normalize the fact that sex does not equal gender. Announce your pregnancy, people, not your baby’s gender because it’s not your fucking gender to decide. Nor is the path they take within that label.