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

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?

SHARE:

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

32 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • If you have a y chromosome you are male. If you don't

    you are female. It's called biology. Anything beyond this is an attempt to
    legitimize a behavior.
    frgough
    • In sex, yes. In gender, no.

      If you have an XX chromosome, you are female by sex. Gender is something we can define ourselves. For example, those undergoing a sex change operation from female to male, are considered pre-op male transexuals (I think that's the right way round, apologies if not). This means they define themselves as the gender they feel they are - whether biology says differently or not - therefore gender is a social construction - something we as society have created, rather than that of God, nature or science.

      So - my point is - to legitimise this social construction - something that the vast majority of society understands and agrees with - what's wrong with that? If society, the majority of people, agree with one line of thinking, that becomes a societal norm, thus making it "normal".

      Therefore, legitimising this "behaviour" as you so put it, should be done.
      zwhittaker
      • Define themselves as the gender?

        I do not agree. For those that are born with the rare condition that allows them to be both male and female, yes, I agree there, as they are biologiclly both.

        Otherwise, is gender really a social construct, or a small part of a larger biological construct called Homo sapiens?

        Have we defined or answered that question yet?
        GuidingLight
      • Gender is only a grammatical term

        It is not "self defined" and it is not an identity. Learn English please.
        T1Oracle
      • My dictionary says you can use "gender" to say "sex."

        My dictionary says you can use "gender" to say "sex." So yes, it's perfectly acceptable to use "gender" to refer to biological sex.

        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gender

        Yes, a lot of people want to define gender as a social convention. But not everybody wants to define it that way. There really is no true "social convention" on this, as it's something that we are divided over as a society.

        "Therefore, legitimising this 'behaviour' as you so put it, should be done."

        Under the (I believe to be false) premise that "social norms" should determine what is ultimately right.

        Yes, some people have decided that nature or God determines what is right, and I am yet to be convinced that these people are wrong to believe in a different determiner of what is right.

        Why must we discriminate against those who have different beliefs of what determines what is right?
        CobraA1
    • It is wrong...

      The Bible says it is wrong, it is wrong period.

      People can make the WRONG choice and live with the consequences of their actions...
      tux_engineer
      • Not really...

        If we treat the bible as the absolute truth, we would be living in a radically different society today. But we don't. Instead, it changes with society. What you consider right or wrong is so subjective and such a moving target that you can argue both sides till you are blue in the face.

        In anycase, I am a very happy and proud partnered gay man with a penis. Who said consequences are bad?
        gotq
    • Legitimize this

      People can do whatever the hell they want in the privacy of their own homes, it doesn't have to be "legitimized." Go back to your bible thumping.
      Droid101
    • Before birth we are all female.

      At first we are all female. Then genes on the Y chromosome would change the baby's body to male. But sometimes - Google the part in quotes - the "Y chromosome doesn't work".

      It only takes a hormone to make a man grow breasts. Even without that, breast cancer is rare but not unknown in men.

      How could that be, except that human sex differences are only skin deep?
      Robert Carnegie 2009
    • What is illegitimate about a behaviour? Biologists wouldn't say that

      Do you see biologists going out and studying animals - and when an
      animal does something they don't agree with, do they say 'that's an
      illegitimate behaviour'?

      So you are using pseudo-science to justify your moral position and
      control over others.
      richardw66
  • RE: Facebook profiles: Society is beyond 'male' and 'female'

    Bite me !!!
    chuckleberry
  • brilliant

    Gender does not equal sexuality, sexuality does not equal physical parts.

    IT, Tech and Social Media have not done a good job at being human. Nice to see an article on this topic!

    Chris
    @serviceSphere
    ServiceSphere
  • Genders are only Male and Female

    Pathologic behaviors do not qualify to create a new
    gender. If that is the case any mental imbalance like the
    schizophrenia, depression, etcetera, will be considered
    like a new gender? God or mother nature (any way you want
    to call it) created two physical genders and failure to
    that is called defect.

    Imageine, Gender? Depressed, schizophrenic, Child Abuser,
    Sexual Depraved, etc.
    carlosafloresr@...
    • Gender is a human construct and is a part of language

      Gender is a part of languages, as some other poster pointed out.

      God did not decide to call someone He or She - and the bible did not
      have these words in it.

      God or mother nature created all of the things you refer to as bad as
      well as the 2 genders - so by your logic these are OK.

      But in reality the existance of something created by god/mother
      nature
      is not a proof of it's right or wrong.

      And that is assuming that there is a god or mother nature - and you
      clearly are not sure of that as you can't commit to one or the other.

      So why should I or anyone else need to be labelled by their
      chromosones?

      This is the real issue - not the existance of chromosones and sex
      organs, but the need to be primarily associated with them.

      People like yourself keep bringing everything back to Sexual Acts -
      which is actually not the point at all- you have a one track mind.

      And for the record - you are also way out of line associating what is in
      your head (which appears to be sexual preference) with child abuse
      and mental disorders.

      Your mind goes straight to F***ing and then to child abuse - really
      interesting what that says about you.

      PS - I fall into the same trap - I see myself as male - and a lot of my
      behaviours are as such. But I do not decide if something is acceptable
      based on it being male or female - I would not say 'that is woman's
      work' and refuse to do the cleaning, but many would find that a
      breach of the gender rules, especially in the past.
      richardw66
    • Genders are only Male and Female?

      Yes, we were either created as, or evolved into, two SEXES--male and female. But there is no evidence to think that God or anyone else created us to have two distinct GENDERS or gender role assignments. One's SEX and one's GENDER are two entirely different things. You will never understand gender unless you understand this concept.

      Females as a gender (not as a sex) evolved, most likely because they carry the child and must remain close to home to raise the child while males (as a gender) developed because they did not have to stay close to home and tend to the kids and because they evolved to be larger in size due to hormone differences. Over time, our physical characteristics (body size, for example) and our sex roles (women have the kids so they care for the kids) led to a much more defined binary gender system with specific roles. This led to different clothing and styles for men and women and different expectations by society of men and women. It could just as easily have developed that men wear skirts and women wear pants. Since in fact the clothing we wear changed over time and that at varying times men were the ones who painted their faces, this must be a societal construct.

      There is also little dispute that men and women think differently in many ways. Women as a general rule like sparkles and bangles and men as a general rule do not. But rules are made to be broken--unless society interjects itself and punishes those who break the rule. In this way, gender roles are enforced and is a societal construct.

      Nature, God, nor anything else created genders, only sexes. Genders were created by society and largely further defined by religions which made the rules of society before there were governments. Their rules were made to keep order and assure the propagation of the species. For thousands of years the gender roles were logical and were based on our physical attributes and our child bearing capabilities. But today we don't forage for food, we have daycare centers, Dad's want to raise kids or stay home and be Mr. Moms and women want to assume "men's jobs". To break free from this artificial gender role assignment that has evolved now requires bucking centuries of refinement of society's gender rules. But they ARE nonetheless, society's rules. And we are changing them with women making far more progress than men. Why is this? Because society sees the male gender as the more powerful and important and the female gender as more frivolous. For a woman to want to be more like a man is Ok but for a man to want to be more like a woman somehow diminishes all men in society.

      SEX is generally binary. There are men and there are women. Occasionally nature creates people who are both or neither or somewhere in between but that is not GENDER and the vast majority of all people fall into two sex categories--those with a penis and no womb and those with a vagina and a womb.

      Gender is how I feel inside. Do I feel masculine or feminine? There is no reason that feeling feminine can't be acceptable for someone in a body with a penis or feeling masculine isn't OK for someone with a vagina. This is difficult for someone who has a penis and feels masculine to understand. But it is a fact. Many people have a gender identity that differs from their sexual body.

      What clothing we wear, whether we wear make up or not and similar accessories of gender have nothing to do with our sex. These are reflections of our gender and they change with society's rules and even with styles. In Europe men commonly wear what we call Capri pants while in the U.S. the fashion blogs are full of discussions of how this is not acceptable here. Some posts get quite aggressive and critical of any man who would wear Capris even though in the 1950's men commonly wore "clam diggers" as beachwear in the US.

      Do some research under Google images for photos of Jesus, Moses, St. Michael, Gabriel, and others or look up Braveheart to see pictures of men in "dresses" and "skirts" but don't try wearing one to work today unless you can show a vagina to prove you are entitled to do so. I know a man who regularly wears a Utilikilt and combat boots to work and is scorned even though he is such a manly man he could kick the asses of the office males collectively and not wrinkle his pleats doing so.

      There are three things people get confused: Sex, gender, and sexual preference. All three of these can be on sliding scales. While there are primarily just two sexes with the exceptions I noted, there CAN be exceptions, so even sex is on a sliding scale and not totally binary as one writer said. But certainly gender can be on an even more fluid sliding scale with people identifying as masculine or feminine or anywhere in between such as neither masculine nor feminine or largely feminine but sometimes masculine.

      I do not need to be either masculine or feminine. I can assume the masculine gender's role if I want to if I feel more comfortable in that role. As a woman I can wear pants or choose not to wear make up. But a man does not have that freedom. He can't wear a skirt or lipstick without suffering punishment from society for doing so. This is evidence that gender is indeed a societal construct. If you as a man want to be feminine, you can assume that gender with some risk, but you can do it. It is not tied to your body in any way biologically. It is purely based on society's rules of what a person with a penis does and how he acts.

      Neither our sex (which body we were born in) nor our gender (whether we mentally identify as masculine or feminine) has anything to do with who we want to mate with. And sexual preference is also on a sliding scale. I can be hetero, bi or homesexual or anywhere in between.

      Now let add gender to this mix: I can be a lipstick lesbian or a dyke. But who I want to mate with has nothing to do with my gender. A lipstick lesbian may feel feminine and a dyke a bit more masculine and that is their gender expression but it is independent of their biological sex.

      Sex is biological. Gender is a societal construct, and sexual preference is still up in the air but I personally feel it is biological in definition.

      Think of it this way. Let's define a PC as male and a Mac as female physically just for the fun of it. Now, let's load an operating system--Windows or OSX--on them. Generally we load Windows on the PC but occasionally someone buys a Mac and loads only Windows on it. Wow! We have a female computer whose brain is programmed with an operating system normally found on a male computer. Oh, shit. Now I'm confused! Send the Mac straight to hell because if she doesn't straighten up she will corrupt the office and pretty soon every Mac will want to run Windows and where will we be then?

      It is not inconceivable that a normal condition exists where someone with a male or female body has the mental operating system normally found in the opposite body and this causes the brain to think a bit differently with regard to whether it likes mud baths or bubble baths or whether it has an uncontrollable urge to ask for directions or decides to drive around endlessly trying to find its way home. So what!

      Why is it so hard to think that someone can't be born feeling different inside from how you feel? The fact that literally millions of people worldwide in every geographic location and over every recorded time period have experienced this condition should be evidence enough that a simple request to allow users of Facebook to identify as they wish with regard to gender, or not identify at all, is perfectly reasonable.

      Facebook is a social network. Social is the key word here, as in a mini-society. It is desirable within society for everyone to fall into a category--male or female, White or non-white, American born or not American born, young or old, educated or not, etc. This furthers society's goal of allowing everyone to pair up with someone else so we continue as a species. Haven forbid that I meet and become friends with someone who used to be a woman but who had her sex changed to match her gender identity. We wouldn't want me to become friends with her, now would we. We might be childless if we tried to mate.

      Get my point about gender roles and how we identify ourselves--as being something made up entirely by society--to protect society's interests? These rules were important a millenia ago but today they are irrelevant to our survival. I can tell a man wearing a Utilikilt from a woman in a skirt. I know if the person I am speaking to who is wearing guyliner is male or female just as I learned to tell the difference when my brother began borrowing my earrings decades ago. And if my husband wants to stay home and raise the kids while I go out and earn the living, that's Ok as long as he puts the toilet seat down after he uses it and has dinner on the table when I walk in!

      Kelly
      GirlinDaytona
  • Back to the tech story...

    Should Facebook, Twitter, other social networks etc. include "non-gender specific" availability?
    zwhittaker
    • I'm missing something...I think

      I can choose to leave my "sex" blank on FB and/or choose not to display that. I can also leave my "Interested in" unselected. Of course I can also choose to intentionally mislead in both cases too.

      What would the other choices be?
      psquared007
      • "Other"? (nt)

        :)
        John Zern
      • It.

        It.

        This article is total BS. Software and service providers do not need to be
        dragged into these stupid political dramas.
        aep528
  • This is just too funny

    You are splitting hairs, contorting yourself and your language so that no offence can possibly be taken by those far outside the mainstream.

    You REALLY need to get out more. There are much more important issues to worry about.
    Dorkyman