February 13, 2014

Cornellians Praise Facebook Gender Option Expansion

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Some students say they are embracing Facebook’s decision to expand the list of terms users can choose to identify their gender, a decision which the social media company announced Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

The changes — which several students say was necessary — comes as part of the nation’s growing LGBT right’s movement, according to the AP. The expansion will include around 50 gender identification terms and the three preferred pronoun choices — him, her and them.

Jadey Huray ’14, president of Haven, Cornell’s LGBTQ student union, said she was “excited” to see the recent surge in support and awareness regarding LGBT issues from companies such as Facebook and Google, adding that she feels this change has been due for some time.

“I am sure that I can speak on behalf of many of the members of my community to say that this has been a change that has been needed for quite some time,” Huray said. “This makes the oftentimes very taxing process [of changing your gender on Facebook] much easier for people while additionally showing the fluidity of gender for some and the importance of owning your preferred gender pronouns and gender identity.”

Terence Looi ’15, Haven’s social media chair, echoed Huray’s sentiments, adding that he believes Facebook’s decision is just a part of a growing change in how people perceive gender.

“I think Facebook’s expanded options for gender identity underscores the changing definition of how people think about gender identity and gender expression. The gender binary — the notion that only two genders exist, male and female — has accumulated masculine and female connotations which can be problematic because they have ulterior meanings that are politically constructed and contextualized,” Looi said.

Melis Schildkraut ’17 said she believes this change is essential, due to Facebook’s important role in the social lives of many.

“I believe that Facebook’s movement is both forward-thinking and necessary,” Schildkraut said. “Facebook has become such an integral part of individuals’ online presence and it is important that the site is giving all of its users a way to accurately represent their gender identity.”

However, Schildkraut said she was concerned that users may change their genders just to “poke fun” at the LGBT community.

“I feel that users may change their genders as a joke, and this may bother members of the LGBTQ community. But overall, it is a monumental gain,” she said.

According to the AP, Facebook currently targets advertisements to either male or female genders. However, utilizing the new gender options will not show up on user profiles and will therefore ensure that advertisers cannot target ads to those who consider themselves transgender or who have recently changed their gender on Facebook. Instead, advertisers will continue to only be able to target advertisements based on a user’s selected gender or — if the user is gender neutral — based on their preferred gender.