On The Pulse

Women-only baby showers: Empowering or stereotypical?

By October 12, 2009 11 Comments
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.