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Bring On The Love And Supplies: The Baby Shower Ritual

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog about planning a baby shower with a “village” of lesbians and the unique context and challenges.

Yesterday was the culmination of all the time, sweat and tears (I am pleased to say very minimal amounts if blood were shed) as we gathered I help our friends Ellen and Lisa (soon to be known as “Mom and Mommy” or “M&M”) welcome their expected daughter Anna McClean int the world.

I have never actually attended a baby shower, so this was my first full-on participant-observer encounter with this ritual and I should say that as a woman an anthropologist who studies consumer culture, this is one of my favorite and perhaps most quintessential experiences in both regards.

I would also like to say that regardless of the sapphic skew of the participant community in his instance, my research has corroborated that the ritual pretty much stayed true to its mainstream form.

The baby shower is like a reverse-potlatch if sorts. A Potlatch is a tribal ritual whereby one household gives a demonstration of wealth to gain social currency by hosting a festival-style feast at their home and essentially depleting their resources of food and shelter to demonstrate generosity and hopefully experience reciprocity in the log term. I say that the baby shower is the opposite of this as the community essentially depletes their own resources to host a feast and shower the expectant mother with gifts for the care and comfort of her new baby.

While there is the literal demonstration of gifting in this case, there is also the symbolism of support that comes with the gifts. It is a promise to be a part of the community of people who care for this child an act in its best interest and the best interest if its parents as she makes her way into the world.

This is perhaps best demonstrated by the silly whimsical games played as a part of the baby shower party ritual: word scramble competitions to decode terms like “vaccinations” an “receiving blanket”, or diaper changing races (with baby dolls) and baby food spoon-feeding relays. All these are designed to generate empathy and inject a little humor into what will be a frightfully serious task if caring for a newborn child without incurring permanent damage on the part of he infant or the parent.

The consumer significance of this ritual is one that has astounded even me. The amount of specialized gadgets and furniture and attire and toys that are available to care for baby and make it easy on mom is remarkable. From strollers with detachable car seats and booster seats for the kitchen table and breast feeding pillows and video baby monitors, to itty-bitty leg warmers and Timberland boots and “blue jean” style diapers to teaching toys and bath tub toys and washcloth puppets. The industry has no end to the potential revenue draw from hormone-drive purchases.

And the party decor is last but not least. Do a simple Google or Pinterest search and you can find infinite terabytes of pre-packaged inspiration and creative genius for making Mom’s special day a customized, appropriately boujee love-showering wonderland.

Here are some pictures from yesterday’s festivities to illustrate the cultural ritual that is the Baby Shower (with a very slight subculture twist).

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Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, Gay and Lesbian Lifestyles, Participant Observation, pop culture, Rituals | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Bring On The Love And Supplies: The Baby Shower Ritual

  1. Using melted candy bars in diapers to make it look like poop, and the guests have to smell them to figure out what kind they are! A friend of mine used jelly, peanut butter, taco dip, mayonaise, mustard, and other things. It would be funny.

  2. echo

    I recently attended a friend’s bachelorette party and experienced many of the same rituals you describe in your baby shower. It is ridiculous how much money is made from buying ridiculous and unnecessary items that will never be used again (think penis hats, lollipops, etc) and the extent to which one must ‘prove’ their friendship and strength of their ties with to the bride to be by buying into the system.

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