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Facebook's gender blunder

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Jul. 10th, 2008 | 01:15 pm

I've had my gender as "Select One" on Facebook since I first signed up. I have a few other friends that have it that way too. The only effect it really has is that your gender is not displayed on your profile, and that when you do certain things, the mini-feed uses a gender-neutral plural:

facebook gender

Recently, however, I guess facebook decided to address this oversight. Today when I logged into my facebook homepage, I received this message:

facebook gender

I can't imagine what they hope to accomplish by this. I don't think that most users will react with "Oh thank god, now my friends on facebook can know what gender I am, I can't believe I forgot to fill that in." There are many users like me who find Facebook's sex & sexuality options limited. I actually use the SGO application to put a box on my profile that's more informative, and in that box, yes, I do identify my sex as female. But that's hardly the point. I generally identify with "not otherwise specified" and I feel I have a right to straddle the line, if I please.

So luckily, you'll notice, facebook prompt has a third option, which is the one I'll be picking. It's "close".

Update: I've made a facebook group encouraging people to switch to an unspecified gender. This should be interesting...

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Comments {18}

The richest girl in town.

(no subject)

from: fightingwords
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC)
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It's about marketing. They want to to know if they should display ads for a guy or for a girl.

I hate everything.

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hurtstotouchfire

(no subject)

from: httf
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I figured. And I'm sure they keep general statistics of the population on facebook. I have a hard time believing though that there are all that many people who have unspecified gender & it's not on purpose. Apparently they don't mind firmly grounding themselves in normative culture. I guess all the weirdos should just go to myspace, right?

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cupcake is sleeping

(no subject)

from: icis_machine
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
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in the 90's uni's went out of their way to be gender neutral with their. in the 00's, they want proper grammar so its back to using "he/she" or simply she or he.

perhaps facebook has a grammar nazi in its midst.

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devin

(no subject)

from: mechagojira
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
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It's true, I do wince a little whenever I see "their" used as a singular pronoun. But I don't work for facebook.

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Tove

(no subject)

from: _tove
date: Jul. 11th, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)
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If you're interested in reading some genuine crotchety descriptivist grammarians on the subject of singular "they," you might like Language Log. Here is a general article about the topic, and here is one about Facebook.

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latemodel

(no subject)

from: latemodel
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
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If you're such a grammar nazi that common usage doesn't matter, shouldn't you just use "hir"?

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Free Humanoid

(no subject)

from: coatcheckgirl
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
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I got the 'his/her' thing prompt too and I just thought it was because my name is gender ambiguous. NOW I SEE THAT FACEBOOK IS JUST HELLA STooPIT.

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whit

(no subject)

from: whittles
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Sending this to miss dopp and joining your group.

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entrenched ambiguity

(no subject)

from: doppmonster
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC)
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thx, whit! I was actually just griping today about the horrible diet ads on Facebook (which show size 10-ish-looking attractive-in-my-opinion bellies and make loud statements about how they need to lose weight).

Then I saw K's facebook group invite about changing gender, and I did it...

AND THE DIET ADS WENT AWAY!!!!

WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN!!!

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Blue Sky Thinker

(no subject)

from: koan69
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)
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To lose the diet ads, I'd do it... but for a whole host of other reasons, I won't.

I agree that it is appalling the way this is being by Facebook. Idiots

Edited at 2008-07-10 10:10 pm (UTC)

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entrenched ambiguity

(no subject)

from: doppmonster
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
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Update: I just saw a diet ad.

Damnit!

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Blue Sky Thinker

(no subject)

from: koan69
date: Jul. 10th, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
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:(

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hurtstotouchfire

(no subject)

from: httf
date: Jul. 11th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)
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Apparently Facebook did address this publicly before doing it (which is wise) but I'm still not impressed. They claim it's for translation purposes, and claim that they respect people wish to leave their gender unspecified, but they obviously put out the notification in hopes that some people will pick one. It's like they're saying "it's ok for some people to be unspecified, but we'd like for there to be fewer of you."

And furthermore, they say "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." But will it affect ads? I'm going to post asking them that.

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hurtstotouchfire

(no subject)

from: httf
date: Jul. 11th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
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I can understand that. The thing I find funny is that their original policy (allowing you to not select either gender, but not actively providing any sort of trans-friendly options) was a pretty classic safe policy for a socially moderate company. And then they had to go and screw it up by drawing attention to it.

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Kevin

Also annoying because

from: turdlog
date: Jul. 11th, 2008 05:31 am (UTC)
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"Their" is perfectly grammatical. Not only is it common usage, but there are recorded uses of "their" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun in the English language as far back as the 13th century (I think). I'd cite a source, but I can't remember where I heard that and I'm too lazy to Google for it.

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Kevin

Re: Also annoying because

from: turdlog
date: Jul. 11th, 2008 05:40 am (UTC)
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Oh. Apparently I should actually read the thread before writing something. Never mind me and my redundundancy.

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hurtstotouchfire

Re: Also annoying because

from: httf
date: Jul. 11th, 2008 07:59 am (UTC)
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I love that I can count on my friends to make half these comments grammatical arguments. Yeah, apparently facehook specifically took issue with having to use the possessive "themself", and especially with having to translate it. I guess that not all languages have a gender neutral pronoun...? I feel doubtful that this presents any real translation issue.

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Update from three years on

from: exhipigeonist.net
date: Aug. 15th, 2012 05:13 am (UTC)
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Hi! My name is Andrew and I came across this entry through a ddg search. Hope you don't mind random comments a billion years since you posted.

I've been doing some research on Facebook's handling of gender and sex and have been trying to find out more about the transition a few years ago where Facebook removed the ability to not choose 'male' or 'female'.

I believe around the time of this post Facebook made it impossible for new users to sign up without declaring one or the other, but I'm not sure whether users who actually clicked on the practically-invisible-third-option 'Close' (like you did! - thanks for including photos, by the way) have been forced to choose since that time.

Are you still on Facebook? If so, are you still able to have gender-neutral pronouns referring to your profile?

Also, the Facebook group you link to appears to have been removed. Was that done intentionally on your side? (Or was it causing too much disruption?)

No idea if you're still interested in the weirdness relating to the way Facebook handles gender and sex, but I've been writing about it a little in my blog over at exhipigeonist.net (http://exhipigeonist.net). The tags are accurate =)

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