Google+ Learns a Gender Lesson

The social network added new privacy setting so users no longer have to declare their gender

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Like any social network on the rise, Google+ is experiencing some growing pains. As users signed up for accounts, some didn't find the mandatory gender options so welcoming: "male," "female," and the nebulous "other." Google hasn't expanded its options, but it does have a fix: you still have to put yourself in one of those three boxes (even if none fit), but a new privacy option lets you hide any ill-fitting label from the outside world.

In this video announcing the new feature, they explain the need for gender categories as a way to personalize your experience. But, as they note, it doesn't mean you have to broadcast your choice.

They recognize that gender is a sensitive topic, "especially on the Internet." Though everyone technically belongs in one of those categories, 'other' isn't very sensitive to those who don't fit neatly into the gender binary, as Feministings JOS notes: "Male, Female, Other feels like people who don’t fit into Male/Female and him/her are being told their gender issues are frivolous and unimportant, not a part of their identities and humanity deserving of as much respect as the genders of people who do fit." Never call someone's identity "frivolous."

As a response to the backlash, Google's Bradley Horowitz responded to Feministing in the comments, explaining the changes, and voiced sympathy with the argument:

While “other” may not yet be the perfect alternative, I insisted that we have an option that gave voice to those that didn’t self-identify as strictly “male” or “female”. Again, we’re still learning and I’m sure there is ample opportunity to improve there too…

Google is wise to act swiftly. Facebook got the same berating because of their lack of gender options. They eventually told users they could opt out of putting the choice on their profile. "We've received pushback in the past from groups that find the male/female distinction too limiting. We have a lot of respect for these communities, which is why it will still be possible to remove gender entirely from your account." Before Google+ tweaked their policies, gendering yourself was a requirement. Now, Google is in a similar boat to Facebook: The options aren't great for everyone, but they at least look like they're being sensitive.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.