Thursday, July 3, 2008

Facebook Can't Tell If You're a Girl or a Boy!

A few days ago, I got this article posted on my Facebook wall: He said, she said: Which is it? Facebook asks. The article basically says that Facebook will begin urging its members to start specifying what the sex of each member is (or I suppose what the gender is, I guess it depends on which the particular person chooses to specify).

Today, I got the question:

Which example applies to you?

Right now your Mini-Feed may be confusing. Please choose how we should refer to you.

  • Theo edited her profile.
  • Theo edited his profile.

The article says that this is a move made because Facebook has gone from English-Only to supporting multiple languages, and many languages do not have a gender-neutral pronoun like English. This is, of course, only partly true, as English has no gender-neutral singular pronouns. The pronoun "they" just gets bastardized and used incorrectly (my grandfather would rail against this endlessly, as he got his PhD in grammar or something). The problem is many languages, such as French, don't even have a gender-neutral plural pronoun.

This leads to the point: How can we fight a gender binary system when it is embedded directly in the ways we communicate in the world: Language. Returning to French, when you want to say "they" you either use the masculine (ils) or the feminine (elles). As it was taught to me, it wouldn't matter if there were 1 million women and one man, if there was a man you would use ils. The rhetoric behind this one grammatical rule is that the presence of one man negates any number of women.

Language is inherently sexist, but it is what we use to communicate ideas that combat sexism. What is one to do? Well, the most effective way would be to create new language (Esperanto 2.0), but definitely not the easiest or most likely. I think the only thing we can do now is to just break the rules of language and reform it from below. Sort of like linguistic grassroots sabotage.

As for now, I will continue to keep my sex off of Facebook, and force it to guess whether "Theo updates his profile or her profile."

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