Many Facebook groups are formed by students seeking to advocate for or against a cause. But one group started by University students is targeting an issue concerning the social network itself.
The group, which was created by three University students as a project for a Women’s Studies class last semester, advocates for gender neutrality on Facebook and suggests that users have a gender-neutral option for those who don’t identify as either male or female.
LSA senior Cecilia Innes, co-founder of the group, said the initiative called “I Choose Neutral” is a product of an assignment given to students in Women’s Studies 240 last semester. The project, called the Praxis Project, is based on the idea that Women’s Studies should combine theory and activism, Innes wrote in an e-mail interview.
“The idea behind ‘I Choose Neutral’ is one of equality and respect to the individuals using Facebook,” Innes wrote.
The ultimate goal is to get enough members to attract the attention of Facebook administrators, Innes wrote. She added that Facebook has become a huge part of people’s lives, so the way gender is represented on the site can have major social ramifications.
“If enough people ask for their product to change, as a company producing this product, they should change it,” Innes wrote. “But, really, the idea goes beyond Facebook itself — if we can change the way our generation views gender, through Facebook as a vehicle, we can start the discussion of inclusion in a wider format. Right now this seems to be an invisible issue.”
Facebook does give users the option to not display their gender, but according to Innes and the group’s other co-founders, LSA sophomores Lindsey Olson and Nicole Tillem, this doesn’t address the issue of gender neutrality.
“The idea here is two-fold,” Innes wrote. “The first is to respect that gender is not binary, and even if you don’t show gender, you are forced to be complicit with the idea that you are either-or. You have to deal with pronouns that you may not believe respond to you as an individual. Secondly, not displaying your sex is just making the issue more invisible — literally. You are erasing your gender, rather than embracing it.”
The “I Choose Neutral” Facebook group has gotten more than 150 “likes” on the site since its founding in the beginning of November.
One of the group’s supporters, LSA junior Leyla Bozer, wrote in an e-mail interview that she recently realized that choosing a gender on Facebook would be difficult for many people. She said that Facebook, being one of the largest social networking websites, should take all its members into account.
“Facebook is supposed to be a place where you can express your identity as you see it, and you should be able to display whatever aspects of your personal identity you choose to reveal,” Bozer wrote.
Bozer and Innes both wrote that while there may be certain conflicts with the site’s prevalence of pronoun usage and gender-targeted advertising, there’s no reason why this should limit users’ identities on their profiles.
“There is really no excuse for the exclusion of non-gendered persons,” Innes wrote. “Facebook should be held accountable to all of its users, including those who don’t fit easily into the identification of male or female.”