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Women-only baby showers: Empowering or stereotypical?

Date: October 12, 2009 | Posted By:

Charlotte on her way to a baby shower in <em>Sex and the City</em>

Charlotte on her way to a baby shower in Sex and the City

I’m really excited to be attending my cousin’s baby shower this month, but I thought it was incredibly odd when my aunt told me that men don’t come; showers are for women only. How “normal” is it to have women-only baby showers? According to popular media, it’s the way baby showers are done. No men. Additionally, the way in which showers are discussed can highlight the stereotypical disdain men sometimes have when considering baby showers.

Take, for instance, an episode toward the end of season four of Friends. Monica and Rachel decide to host a baby shower for Phoebe, and when Joey hears about the party he states, “Baby shower? That so doesn’t sound like something I want to do.”

Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe after Rachel’s women-only baby shower on <em>Friends</em>.

Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe after Rachel’s women-only baby shower on Friends.

Joey is noting that it seems like an incredibly boring event, especially when compared to the bachelor party he’s planning. Even though Phoebe is one of his best friends and will be giving birth, this celebration is something he would prefer to miss. Of course, later in the episode the shower is depicted with only women in attendance – no men.

Fast forward a few years to season eight of Friends when Rachel is pregnant. Monica and Phoebe host a baby shower, and again, no men attend. Ross, the father of the baby, comes into the apartment after the guests have left, looks around at all the gifts, and says, “Looks like we got a lot of good stuff.” He states this even though he did not attend or participate in the shower celebrating the future birth of his and Rachel’s daughter.

In season one of Sex and the City, Charlotte takes a brand name (of course) baby basket to a friend’s shower as a gift. All the shower attendees are women, although Miranda, Samantha, and Carrie aren’t overly enthused to be there. In season four, Steve is not present at Miranda’s baby shower even though he would be using most of the baby gifts, too.

(Miranda (center), reluctantly attends the women-only baby shower in her honor in an episode of <em>Sex and the City</em>

Miranda (center), reluctantly attends the women-only baby shower in her honor in an episode of Sex and the City

Some baby shower web sites, such as babyshower101.com and baby-shower.com, recognize that while showers are traditionally for women only, there has been an increase in men’s attendance. I wonder if this shift in attendance and participation possibly reflects a more equitable arrangement regarding families.

With all these depictions of women-only baby showers, is popular media just keeping with tradition? If so, does that perpetuate sexist stereotypes that only women are expected to be responsible for raising children, or is it empowering for women to share experiences regarding childbirth and motherhood amongst themselves? If you were to host a baby shower with feminist values, what would you do?

–Katherine B.

Katherine Broendel holds a master’s degree in public communication from American University in Washington, D.C. Her thesis focused on the framing of sexual violence in the media. Broendel’s professional experience includes work at various nonprofit organizations including AAUW; the National Geographic Society; Amnesty International, USA; and Defenders of Wildlife.




What Do You Think?

11 Responses to Women-only baby showers: Empowering or stereotypical?

  1. Tamsin on 10-12-2009

    I'm with Joey - baby showers are boring and awkward and the men take their chance to escape. Men stay away from them because usually someone you don't know that well throws it for you and that persons invites all her friends and not yours (same goes for wedding showers). Let's celebrate the birth of a child with dinner out with our own friends.
  2. teresa on 10-12-2009

    Giving birth is a unique and wonderful woman experience, as is being a mother. Let's keep this a women/girl event. I don't know a single man who would even want to go!
  3. Abed Yamout on 10-13-2009

    I agree, lets keep it a girl thing!
  4. dina zeckhausen on 10-13-2009

    I have been to a number of baby showers which included men, including my own 14 years ago. It was important to have the men in attendance, and I couldn't imagine it any other way! The fathers of the baby-to-be participated in all the fun games (trivia regarding the pregnancy and the impending delivery) and we also had a time where experienced parents (including Dads) offered the new parents advice, on everything from pacifiers to putting the baby in the bed with us. Dads are so much more involved in parenting babies these days, it seems unfair to exclude them from these fun (and sometimes hilarious) celebrations!
  5. sabrina on 10-14-2009

    Perhaps the traditional/stereotypical kind of baby shower is a "female thing" and the kind of event that most men would consider boring and awkward, but it doesn't have to be that way.

    My problem with baby showers being for women only is that it makes the statement that women should be alone in raising a child. Many single mothers are. But for those who are lucky enough to have the support of a partner, why shouldn't their partner be involved in the process of birthing or raising a child?

    If the partner not giving birth wanted to create a child and start a family, why shouldn't they be involved with the whole process?

    A baby shower doesn't need to be an estrogen fest with silly games. It can look however you want it to look. Maybe even calling it a baby shower is outdated.

    Basically, I think this kind of event should celebrate the baby on the way and help prepare and support the parents. This should probably involve gifts in the form of baby stuff, but what else is involved should reflect the personalities of the couple and their guests.

    I think that focusing on the pregnant mother as a separate event would be a better idea.

    Maybe having a sort of "mother shower" in addition would be more fun, and a way to preserve female bonding while still setting the tone for equal parenting in a baby shower with men and women. This "mother shower" could be a sort of girls night, and the pregnant woman could receive gifts for herself from her friends. Pregnant women have enough to go through, they could usually use the extra support and appreciation.
  6. L Joanow on 10-14-2009

    How about a blessing way to empower and encourage the birthing woman if you want to do something feminist and female centered. I think the materialistic and competative shopping focus of showers is what turns men and some women off.
  7. C Spencer on 10-14-2009

    My husband and I attended the baby shower for my grandson (who is now 14). No silly games, no female estrogen fest - and it was fun and both of us had a good time. My son was there and the Patrick's other grandfather as well. More of a family affair than a friends party. Baby showers are for family I think. If your friends want to throw a party, then do that but separate from a family get together.
  8. Abed Yamout on 10-15-2009

    In the end its just a party! does it really need that much debate. if the guy feels like it go, if not don't, the baby isnt even born yet anyways.
  9. hmmm on 10-16-2009

    A baby shower with feminist values seems like a contradiction in terms. A real feminist would advocate to end this patriarchal patronage that plays to the illusion of female power through matriarchal gate-keeping. Those patriarchs are clever and wiley critters, they leave no stone unturned in their persistent manipulations that are designed to get women to hold themselves down.
  10. Zoe on 10-20-2009

    Though men may never be able to experience the actual, physical sensation of giving birth, they play an invaluable role in the birth process and the nurturing and raising of the child. I believe it is unfair to exclude either partner from any part of the social reproduction process, and I also believe it is unfair to put more of the onus of reproduction on either partner. As a symbol of this entire birthing, raising, and social reproduction process, the baby shower should be an environment that places both partners in a position of importance and includes participants of both sexes.
  11. Sophie on 10-24-2009

    My biggest problem with most baby showers (though I know things are changing a bit and everyone is different in what kind of shower they want, etc. etc.) is that they so often involve activities and games that are embarrassing and infantilizing for the actual women in attendance. Making grown women eat baby food? What is that? Why does an all-female shower have to include women acting like babies? It's so weird! I can't imagine a man would be too psyched to take part in that kind of silliness, and I can't blame them at all.

    I agree with several of these commenters -- baby showers could just be a celebration for the expecting couple (BOTH parents), given by friends and family members of both sexes. That'd be cool.