On Google+ forcing users to publicly display a gender

Food for thought for the male-dominated culture at Google:

Google+ forces you to have a public gender in your profile (although it can be ‘Other’). I know they have reasons for this, but I don’t think they’re good enough.

Many women grow up with a sense of physical vulnerability that’s hard for men to appreciate. Our culture’s relentless treatment of women as objects teaches them that they are defined by the one thing that men around them want from them—men who are usually bigger, stronger, and (like any human) occasionally crazy. This feeling—often confirmed by actual experiences of harassment and assault—can lead, understandably, to a lifetime of low-level wariness and sense of vulnerability that men have trouble appreciating. A male designer building an interface should try to keep in mind that there are reasons a female user might feel uncomfortable being told she has to broadcast her gender. Sure, someone’s gender is usually obvious from their name, but there’s no need to force people to draw extra attention to it—introducing myself with “Hi, I’m Randall.” sends a different message from “Hi, I’m Randall, and I’m a MAN.”

This of course says nothing of the many people who don’t define themselves as male or female and don’t really like to be called “other.”

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