Thursday, March 10, 2011

Social networks and gender binaries

One thing that annoys me about FB is the profile question where it asks for your sex and only gives you two drop-down options. I still have hope for Diaspora, and thought it was really interesting that one of the developers got flack for taking a stand on this (“Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora”). Now with Ning, the default profile questions follow FB’s lame pattern and asks whether you are M/F, but it does allow you to change the questions entirely. This is nice because I can ask questions that are more interesting to me, such as major or research interests.

I remember reading something about strategies for making classrooms more trans-friendly, and one of the suggestions was asking a question about gendered pronoun preference on those contact sheets that get handed out to students. SO I changed the gender question to:

At first I wondered if this would confuse some students, but this is the second semester I’ve tried it and so far, not one person has asked me about it. A very few have answered this creatively (“Supercat!”), which (as the Diaspora developer noted) can be an amusing element.

Anyway, when mentioning this to people, I’ve been surprised that some of them seem kind of dismissive (rather like the Diaspora developer who dropped out of the project). These things make me wonder sometimes if I try to extend issues of personal importance too much into other areas of my life. But I had a student recently who seems to appreciate all this, so I feel validated. Another issue that might not be immediately obvious is that LaGuardia LIVE email addresses can preserve old gendered names, and allowing students to use personal email addresses (with different names) is justified in public or semi-public, online venues.

1 comment:

  1. Ann--

    I think you are absolutely right: I feel infuriated whenever I have to choose between M and F in any kind of form. Blogger, thankfully, allows users to leave the option blank, and that is the option I recommend students to choose. I am glad that Ning allows you to create spaces for your students.

    BTW, Wired magazine had a related article on how drop-down menus constraint our view of ourselves: "Overthinking the Meaning of Drop-Down Menus"