Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oh Google, Why Can't You Just Let Me Love You?

Jess and I have complained before about the lack of options for one's gender choice in Google profiles. (FYI, Alsica's gender should be "fembot.") Now they've done it again (with even fewer options) in their new social network, Google+, which requires you to choose from "male," "female," or "other."

This is a logistical problem for me; I am female-gendered but refuse to enter this information on social-networking sites. I feel that should be my prerogative. It's also extremely shitty that anyone who does not identify as either "male" or "female" is forced to identify themselves with the flavorless catchall of "other." Obviously, that is explicitly othering.

A whole bunch of people, including some who do not usually blog about gender, have pointed out why this is a problem; check out The Mary Sue, Randall Munroe (yes, he of xkcd!), Sarah Mei (I may have to check out this Diaspora thing), and Dopp Juice. Their arguments against the mandatory gender field include allowing women to mask their gender in a potentially hostile online environment, not being dicks to non-binary-identified folk, and just plain rethinking gender.

As faithful readers may guess, the last reason is the most important to me. First of all, my online presence does not have a physical body, and it is absolutely absurd that gender is considered its single most important characteristic.

Second point: on every social site I've used, people like to get creative with their profiles. People tweak names, nicknames, relationship statuses, interests -- you name it -- to reflect their personalities and senses of humor. Why not gender? I would love to see even those who adhere to the gender binary get creative with that field. (And for that matter, Facebook, why will you not let me declare my relationship with Mathematica? YOU CANNOT STOP OUR LOVE.)

I can only assume that sites like Google+ wish to know my gender for the purposes of targeted advertising. Now, I'm not totally anti-capitalist. I don't begrudge Google the opportunity to make money off the services it provides. But I question the effectiveness of using gender to try and target ads. How about instead of a mandatory gender field, you have a mandatory interest field, like a list of a hundred or so common topics of interest from which you have to choose five? Instead of constantly getting ads for yogurt, cleaning products, and weight loss tips, I could instead get ads for hiking gear, computer peripherals, and booze. Do you realize how many more ads I would click on in that kind of advertising utopia, internet? Do you? Please, take this idea for free, from me, and fucking use it.


  1. Apparently, you can simply choose to keep your gender private now, according to the latest update.

  2. I thought it was because they might occasionally use 'she' or 'he', like "it's her birthday" warnings on FB.

  3. Facebook manages to cope without it.

  4. Actually, it doesn't! From today:

    "Mike Butler
    It's his birthday.
    Say Happy Birthday
    See all"


    "Rachel Asselin also commented on her link."

    Do you have the choice to not state your sex in FB? I wonder what it does then :\

  5. You do have that option in Facebook. It's not terribly visible because most people choose to declare their gender, but last I checked it was handling my refusal to declare with the singular they: i.e., "Althea updated their profile picture."

  6. That's what I meant by coping, btw, not that the site never uses gendered pronouns. Sorry if I was unclear.

  7. Ooh, I see. I didn't realise it did that. Yeah, that is better.