The Ritual Construction of Fetal Personhood : A Voyage through the Gendering of the Unborn in Peruvian Baby Showers

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Genusvetenskap


The purpose of this research is to analyse how gender is ‘done’, represented and reproduced in a Peruvian baby shower ritual. The study is situated geographically in the urban Andean setting of Cusco, and theoretically, in a feminist framework combining an ethnomethodological ‘doing gender’ perspective, anchored in social interactions, with a linguistic performativity approach, as formulated by Judith Butler. In the latter, gender is understood as performed through discursive practices of iterability. The ethnographic material, collected from two baby showers and additional interviews, demonstrate several ways and sites in which gender is done and performed in the Cusqeanean baby shower. This occurs, for instance, by the means of gendered gifts, decorations and performances of gender-crossing and hyperbolised displays of masculinity, femininity and sexuality.

            Furthermore, to help make sense of the notions of prenatal gender, as well as the strictly gendered cultural norms for invitation cards, decoration and gift-making, which made me unknowingly brake conventions when bringing gender-neutral wooden toys to a Peruvian baby shower, I draw on theorisation of fetal personhood. Adapting van Gennep’s (2004[1909]) concept, I propose that the baby shower could be conceptualised as a rite of passage, in which the unborn transcends from the state of fetus to a gendered baby. The acts of naming and attributing gender in the baby shower ritual, I argue, are requisites for incorporating the child into the society, as family members and, ultimately, as human beings. The baby shower can, thus, be regarded a crucial site for the ‘social birth’ of the Cusqueanean baby.

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