Facebook is now giving users an option to choose genders other than male and female. Is this a good idea, or should the social network do away with gender identification in the first place?
Facebook is a place for friends to connect. It’s also a place where individuals expect to be able to express themselves or at least identify themselves freely as they wish. Until recently, the social network has only allowed two options for gender choice: male or female. But with a new update, at least for those using the US English version, users can choose from among 50 plus choices.
These include transgender and different variations thereof. In fact, choices also include different kinds of identification, such as genderfluid, non-binary, pangender and agender, as well as inter-sex, which pertain to individuals whose sexual characteristics are not associated with stereotypical male or female.
This update can be mainly seen as a means to determine whether a user is determined as a “he” or a “she” in a friend search or notification, and therefore Facebook now lets a user select which pronoun to use for their account. For example, if it is someone’s birthday, friends can choose to write a greeting on “his”, “her” or “their” wall.
“We want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self,” the company said in a statement, adding that the developers have collaborated with leading LGBT advocacy organizations in determining the choices. Additionally, users can set the privacy options for their choice of gender.
The update has been met with some criticism, however. Some have complained about not having enough options, or their own gender-identity not being included among the choices. Meanwhile, religious organizations and religious advocacy groups have held firm on the male-vs.-female dichotomy. “It’s impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves – male and female,” said Jeff Johnston of religious organization Focus on the Family to AP, although the group maintains it has “a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex.”
Still the move was seen as a welcome one by the LGBT community. “This encourages people to think outside the binary spectrum,” said a transgender user in an interview with the AP. As for Facebook, the change was seen as nothing of a big deal, with developers. “It was simple: Not allowing people to express something so fundamental is not really cool, so we did something,” said director of growth Alex Schultz.
Going beyond gender identification, however, the move may also be seen as a means for Facebook to have deeper insights into users’ preferences and personalities — in short, a marketing move that will enable the social network to serve targeted ads better. Female users have been known to identify themselves as male, only to reduce the incidence of ads for beauty products. With more than 50 options now available, there is question whether the added gender identification is simply intended for marketing and advertising purposes.