It’s not uncommon for atheists to be asked questions like “Why do you spend so much time talking about religion if you don’t believe it?” or “If you think religion’s a fantasy, why do you care if other people are wasting their time with it?”
This is why.
The remarkable Greta Christina recently posted an article titled “Wealthy, Handsome, Strong, and with Endless Hard-Ons: Is Masculinity Impossible?.” It’s an interesting read which I recommend, and discusses how sexual stereotypes can be hurtful to men as well as women.
This was still fresh in my mind when I had the opportunity to join Google+ (expect a Social Networking Junkie post about that in the next week). Joining Google+ was very simple for me, I just had to add a few things to my Google Profile and click “Join”. One thing they wanted to know was my sex, and this was not optional.
I thought about it a bit, and realized that that’s one of the things that’s almost always required for just about any internet site you can sign up for. They not only always want to know your sex, but they usually just have a dropdown or radio buttons with the choices of “Male” or “Female”. I guess intersex people just have to knuckle down and choose which box to get squeezed into. (In fairness, Google does include an option for “Other”. Personally I’d prefer just a textbox to say whatever you damn well please in.)
But this isn’t just about recognizing the intersex or the transgender or any other person to whom the answer is not so simple as “M or F”, this irritates me on a deeper level. Why should it matter? What does Facebook care what my chromosomes are, why is it any of Google’s business what’s between my legs? Like so many other things that annoy the fuck out of me, the answer is marketing.
Advertisers want to know. Presumably they use different strategies to try to convince men to buy more shit than women, and they want data both to plan with and to target with. I’m quite sure my Google ads will be different if I edit my profile to give myself a sex change. And what interests me about this is that they aren’t merely working from sexual stereotypes, but actively contributing to them. It’s like a weird feedback loop.
It also feels very unnecessary to me, especially if the typical result is something like this Burger King sandwich in Japan that’s advertised as “suitable for women”. It seems stupid & derisive to treat people as cardboard cutouts like this, especially in a world that’s rapidly leaving gender roles behind. It may even be counterproductive, marketing to stereotypes is only going to appeal to those who feel they fit that stereotype. Anyone else is either buying it in spite of your ad campaign or shopping elsewhere.
More than anything I hate it because it tells people who they are “supposed” to be and how they should act. Men should be obsessed with sports, sex, and shiny toys. Women should be focused on clothes, cooking, and cleaning. Everybody should be as stupid as possible. Intersex people shouldn’t exist. It’s getting broader now, the repertoire of stupid stereotypes is growing, but it’s all still the same shit. And I hate it.
So, in defiance of stereotypes and in solidarity with those who don’t quite fit into the roles or the underwear society would force them into I told Google my sex was “Other”. I don’t want to be in your box, I’ll make my own.