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Sugar and spikes 

On Britney Spears, baby showers and gender identity

There's no shortage of homegrown Warhols peddling Britney Spears pop art on Etsy. You can easily find an American Apparel V-neck with "It's Britney Bitch" emblazoned over a paparazzo shot of her sneaking a cig, or a primitive pipe cleaner stick figure topped with a photo of the pop star's head. But scour the online craft fair for Spears-bedecked party decorations, and you'll come up empty.

I'm not particularly proud of possessing this knowledge. My excuse is that I picked it up planning my sister's baby shower.

That's also the reason half my desk is presently covered with the materials needed to spray-paint stenciled, hot pink portraits of Brit-Brit on newborn-size onesies, which I'll ultimately string up on a pink-and-white candy-striped clothesline using tiny pink clothespins. Sounds cute, right? Maybe also obsessive?

I've co-hosted and attended showers that were less labor-intensive — a coed backyard cornhole hang, a neighborhood bar meet-up, a catered karaoke party — but I felt like this occasion called for compromise in the form of an improvised "... Baby One More Time" theme.

It's not like my sister is a product of debutante balls and finishing school. Still, growing up, she seemed to have an easy time living up to the ideals of conventional feminine allure, while I made half-assed attempts at best. She was the manicured cheerleading captain to my proudly idiosyncratic, loudly thrift store-attired girl drummer.

Now that she's an accomplished career woman who rocks designer stilettos, she takes pleasure in putting up her Martha Stewart-caliber color-coordinated Christmas tree each year, while I take equal pleasure in unpacking my collection of kitschy souvenir ornaments from Gatorland, Graceland and the Grand Ole Opry.

Not that it's a competition.

The idea of being told what femininity ought to look like continues to rub me the wrong way, and my stubborn streak is only egged on by dense theories espoused in the copy of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble that sits on my bookshelf. Alas, Butler wasn't exactly speaking a language applicable to real-world baby shower planning when she wrote, "There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results."

Gender-reveal parties are apparently a thing now. I only know that because I read the advice column Dear Prudence; people are always writing in to complain about the over-the-top demands made by loved ones who crave captive audiences when they open their sealed envelopes and learn what biological equipment the doctors say their little bundles will arrive with.

My sister, mercifully, wasn't into that. She told me she's having a girl during a touching yet lighthearted phone conversation. And she even took it good-naturedly when I ribbed her about what she'll do if her offspring winds up identifying as goth, butch or redneck, or staking out virtually any social niche her 16-year-old self wouldn't have readily related to.

When it came to celebrating the fact that a gloriously unformed human being is about to enter my sister and brother-in-law's lives, I decided the thing to do — besides resisting the temptation to seize the opportunity to make a self-righteous feminist point — was to steer clear of "IT'S A GIRL!" banners and balloons. Those strike me as rooting for sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice quintessential girliness, which is not a fair deal for my niece-on-the-way. So, I'm sticking with what I know, and I'm planning a party for the kind of fun, smart, pop music-loving girl my sister turned out to be.

It doesn't matter that it took me a good long while to wrap my head around the flirtation, danceability and escape she found in Britney's music all the way back to the star's first perky, post-Mickey Mouse Club album. I get it now.

More importantly, this coed, drop-in, Saturday afternoon baby shower is going to have "Oops! ...I Dipped It Again" hummus and "Oops! ...I Sipped It Again" punch, "Not That Innocent" chocolate truffles, a nostalgia-inducing iPod playlist, those customized onesies and tons of other special touches.

When it's all said and done, I hope my sister feels loved and supported. And I sure as hell hope she knows I have enough sense not to expect a baby to sport any article of clothing with Britney Spears' likeness spray painted on it. That's just for looks.

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