Facebook begins conversation about gender


Maggie Olson

Maggie Olson

Facebook is under fire from all angles this week because of their decision to provide over 50 new options under the website’s “gender” link. There are the anticipated objections, mostly from the religious right about the “unnaturalness” of anyone who does not fit inside the categories “male” and “female.”  Others say this is just a publicity stunt.

The left also has its objections. Some say Facebook has not gone far enough with the current update. There are three options listed under “gender” that users can select:  male, female or custom.

By selecting “custom,” Facebook users can type in their own option to reveal a longer list.

While it sounds nicer to call the third option “custom,” it really means “other.” It means “everyone else who doesn’t fit into the established male-female model.” Some advocates for the LGBTQQIA community think this is just as problematic as not having any “custom” options at all.

Also, the section for Facebook users to indicate whom they are “interested in” still only includes the options “male” and “female,” which seems to indicate no one will be interested in anyone who doesn’t fit squarely within conventional gender roles.

Others say Facebook has gone too far in allowing over 50 gender options. By having more gender options, some claim Facebook will now be able to target ads more specifically to its users.

Personally, I think Facebook’s motives are irrelevant. It’s probably a marketing ploy, and it certainly is gaining them publicity. The most important thing, though, is that Facebook has begun a world-wide conversation about gender.

We are now part of that conversation, and we have a responsibility to educate ourselves.

Much of the fear and hatred directed at the queer community comes from a lack of education. Many people are simply not aware that gender is not binary; gender is a spectrum.

In a box of 64 crayons, you’ll find red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black and white. Those are the basics.

The other 56 crayons will be all over the color spectrum. You can create new colors by mixing them. You can create shades of color by drawing firmly or lightly.

Gender works in a similar way. Male and female are the basics, and there are many, many shades in between.

Gender is a social identity. As we grow, society presents ideas and images of what men and women are “supposed to” be like, but those expectations evolve as a culture evolves. Any woman on campus who is wearing pants instead of a dress is living proof.

In the not-too-distant past, women who wore pants faced serious discrimination. They were called “sick,” “freakish” and “unnatural.” We look at the women who fought against that oppression and revere them as heroes.

Today the LGBTQQIA community faces discrimination on a scale that is difficult to imagine, which is why we must educate ourselves about the complexities of gender, sex and sexuality.  Gender, sex and sexuality, by the way, are three different things.

Education will create understanding. Understanding will eliminate fear.

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