Dealing with gender on websites

The best solution is actually the simplest: just avoid requiring your users to pick a gender, either by omitting gender as a field or making it optional rather than required. But if you want to include a user’s gender as an option, the most inclusive way of handling it would be to allow genders other than the binary ‘male’ and ‘female’ options, even if it’s just ‘other’. Sarah Dopp has written a very helpful guide for developers that can help them create more inclusive gender selectors. You can also use the SGOSelect menu as a model for creating gender-inclusive dropdown menus.

Some popular websites like Tumblr don’t even ask for a gender, which hasn’t had a negative impact on the popularity of the site. Older websites, however, like Yahoo and AIM, still demand that you should choose from two binary options, with no ‘decline to state’, ‘other’ or write-in options to choose from. Forcing people to choose a binary gender can be alienating or offensive, especially to people who don’t identify with the gender binary or see themselves as being gender-fluid. It can also be a violation of privacy; many women prefer not to identify themselves as women online because of the potential for sexist bullying and sexual harassment. (And if you’re forcing people to choose a gender because of advertising, you may just be displaying things based on gender stereotypes, a problem Sarah Dopp has also mentioned in her article – ‘not every woman likes baking, and not every man likes cars’. There are men who collect dolls and women who restore classic cars. Single fathers who wouldn’t mind having diapers/nappies advertised to them, but childfree butch women who would. People are complicated.)

If you do include a gender selector, there is no need to restrict it to ‘male’ and ‘female’. It’s becoming increasingly common for web services – even advertising- and data-driven ones like Google – that require a gender to be selected to choose a neutral option. Google services offer the ‘other’ gender option, which isn’t perfect, but it’s still better than having to choose from the binary options. Facebook introduced a variety of non-binary gender options in 2014 on their English-language sites (both US and UK). Livejournal and Dreamwidth offer ‘other’ or ‘unspecified’ options. Flickr has offered ‘decline to say’ and ‘other’ options for years, though their parent company, Yahoo, has never included an ‘other’ gender option.

And whatever you do, don’t call your gender selector a ‘sex’ selector.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.