Blog Post

say no to gender drop-down boxes!

cross-posted from


I’ve written and presented on this topic before, and I’m sure other people have written about it as well, but I’m so tired of the ‘drop-down’ choice for gender.  I bring it up today mainly because I have been playing around on Google+ and was disappointed by its gender options: namely, a drop-down consisting of male, female and other.

really google?

I chose this option, while recognizing their clumsy marginalizing attempt at inclusion. There were so many other possibilities, limited by their narrow view of the world and the best-practices that for no reason at all has developers building gender fields as drop-downs, while other items, such as religion, education, political affiliations are all write-ins.

Facebook has the drop-down options for male and female. I didn’t choose one. They refer to me as ‘their’ in posts. Online surveys (including many academic ones), contact forms, etc, require gender as well. Also usually male and female only.

But, why have a drop-down? why not, as the fledgling (if even still existing) social networking site Diaspora did, create an empty text box for users to fill in? It looked something like this:

But, there was a lot of disagreement, argument over whether this could work commercially or not. And while there are so many reasons to argue against the commercial viability aspect, which I won’t get into here, I will engage with some of the reasons, and help us all to move on from the oppressive gender drop-down.

The reasons given were related to ideas around clean information, ways of garnering information that would be helpful / useful to site maintainers and developers as well as marketing folks. And, of course, another question was about pronouns- after all, if you don’t choose male or female, how would the site know what pronoun to call you? (this was snark, btw). (read about it here). As I said before, Facebook solves my lack of gender choice by calling me ‘their’ – not grammatically pretty, but it does the job.

Here’s a rough way to collect more granular information:

Then, if the ‘write-in’ option is chosen, another choice is made available:

I realize that this is a VERY ROUGH SKETCH of what is possible, but it solves all the major issues that site developers were claiming, at least in the case of Diaspora.

The site can now use your write-in options, by connecting them to each other in much the same way as male-he,him and female-she,her connections have to be written into the code.

It takes a little thinking on the part of the site developers, at least for now, but like everything else, best practices have to start somewhere, get refined by the masses, and become commonplace over time.

So, let’s do it! Help to refine this, make it better- what works / doesn’t work?

//update: google+ will soon allow you to HIDE your gender choice on your profile.  


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