Facebook profiles: Society is beyond 'male' and 'female'

Summary:Social networks, aimed at the masses, online forms, surveys, registration pages and subscription details only consider 'male' or 'female'. What about the gender grey area?

A recent council motion in Kent Union to recognise gender neutrality has sparked a deep consideration with the gender issue and the Generation Y. Why are social networks - aimed at the masses - and online forms, surveys, registration pages and subscription details only aimed at men or women? Has the 21st century not recognised the gender grey area?

Let me mount my sociological high horse for a brief moment.

Sex is a biological factor, whereas gender is a social construction; it is something that we define ourselves or as a society. Gender is open to the considerations of sex - either male or female - but in this day and age, gender goes far beyond a Boolean value of one or the other. This could be debated until the cows come home, but what I offer is a generalisation and not a perfected concept; a subjective and academic perspective.

One thing that could be seen by 2050 - I wish I had a source, but cannot remember for the life of me who said it - that by this time, gender will be a meaningless concept. By then, the societal changes we have embraced over the last forty and fifty years will have developed into a wider negation of gender or need to specify what is essentially a socially constructed concept.

So with that lesson of sociology out of the way, onto the juicy stuff. Why has Facebook, of all networks and companies, not embraced the non-gender specific communities?

A member of Facebook PR guided me to this blog post going back to June 2008, nearly two years ago, which takes more effort in explaining the grammar of "himself" and "herself" than tackling the issue of defining gender:

"We've decided to request that all Facebook users fill out this information on their profile. If you haven't yet selected a sex, you will probably see a prompt to choose whether you want to be referred to as "him" or "her" in the coming weeks. When you make a selection, that will appear in Mini-Feed and News Feed stories about you, but it won't be searchable or displayed in your Basic Information.

We've received pushback in the past from groups that find the male/female distinction too limiting. We have a lot of respect for these communities, which is why it will still be possible to remove gender entirely from your account, including how we refer to you in Mini-Feed."

So far, Facebook has been happy to avoid the issue and not release a statement or quote to me in regards to taking into account a significant minority of non-gender specific persons. Hopefully this will change, and should any statement be made, I'll be sure to update this post as and when.

Some of the comments in the blog post were of angry people, some shaming Facebook as not allowing them a basic right to be publicly non-gender specific. This doesn't necessarily mean not specifying a gender; rather the ability to have displaying on your profile that you do not fit into the societal expectations of what gender is described.

It's important to state that I am not accusing Facebook or any other major site or social network of direct discrimination. However to raise issues like this - some will say it is liberalist propaganda - it is a hot topic of today's students. By not participating in accepting outside the social norm can be seen as discriminatory and therefore it would set a highly positive precedent for Facebook to acknowledge a large minority.

It may seem like a controversial step to many, and others will see this as simply a pointless exercise to please a minority of people. But to others and to most liberal thinkers, the concept of being able to publically say on your Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed or other social network that you are not defined by gender is an important factor to their lives.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Browser, Collaboration, Networking

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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