Thinking about this more: the issue with this section is not just the classification but also that it’s eliding the fact that these are fundamentally different models and conceptions of gender - not just in terms of “how many genders there are” but also in terms of the fluidity of gender, the components that go into making gender. What if it was restructured to talk more about models than categories themselves?
I would probably be more specific than attributing gender to Jefferson?
Laqueur’s work is “Making Sex” for a reason - this again reduced gender to embodiment.
This isn’t it; there’s no additional strength in numbers because violence against us is acceptable. It’s not about how many of us there are.
I might reframe this to not make us sound, er, teeny. There are a lot of us.
this phrasing implies that intersex, trans, and enby are distinct categories, which they are not.
gender identity or expression? important to be specific here.
the “or” here is problematic. I’d love to see a rephrase that reminds the user that one can be gay, trans* and disabled.
here again - is there an implied white? Gender is racialized and white women find themselves near the top of many hierarchies when we also include BIWOC
what counts as rancid is not universal but culturally constructed.
This phrasing reproduces the 1,2,3 above that was the object of critique.
I’m thinking here of Cheney- Lippold’s use of “male” (and measurable types) when describing the way that we are known by the data. it sounds like you could be making a case that male Facebook users are actually “male” because we don’t know their actual gender.
some folks do want this because they can’t afford otherwise.
There are a lot of assumptions here - on class, on preference. It feels out of keeping for a book positioned as power and class aware.
Yeah, who is “we” here? I think about classification systems all the time - because I *have* to. Because my existence is strongly coerced by gender classification. Am I not ‘we’?
“the other” phrasing implies that there are only 2 genders.
The groups themselves are not gender non-conforming. Do you mean “groups who are activists for rights/representation of gnc folks”
The treatment of sex as biological/”natural” is one of the big sources of legitimisation for the oppression of intersex people. It is just as much a construct as gender. The treatment of gender and sex as distinct further reinforces and confuses this debate, and does not match sociological models of gender.
You’re right. We need more nuance here.
This feels like an oversimplification; yes, visualisation needs to include gender in a more nuanced way, but that has to include operationalising gender in a nuanced way. I do not so much care if you have a spectrum-based graph for assessing gender identity if the thing you’re measuring is actually about how gender is managed or perceived, for example. In terms of identity, the problem is not any classification system - the problem is classification.
This seems extremely gross. The chapter suddenly transitions from “we should do this because we’re feminists!” to “we should do this because capitalism demands it!” - from principle to self-interest - and in doing so reinforces the legitimacy of self-interest and elides the fact that I have never been in a company where management gave a fig for, for example, non-binary folk. I would really recommend pointing back to principle. Why not point to user harm rather than company harm? A good example could be Bivens’ Bumble paper.
Thanks for this important feedback.
By “we most commonly” this presumably means white, western people? The sentence structure implies that the previous groups have been extinguished, or exist neatly under “transgender”: I know some Hijra people who would disagree.
You wouldn’t describe someone as coming out as “gender man” or “gender woman”. To couch non-binary people like this implies some distinction - some invalidity or less-than status of non-binary existences. I would strongly suggest doing something else here.
Thank you for this comment. It was certainly not our intention to imply any invalidity, and I have corrected this phrasing here and throughout the manuscript.
I’m leaving your comment here as it was instructive to me, and it may be to others.
Do you want to talk about differences between big data and ethnography? When it comes to cell phone adoption in Africa, the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion has interesting feminist research.
The work of Seda Gürses on tracking female scientists is also interesting, which is described at https://clalliance.org/blog/advocating-online-privacy/
There seem to be a lot of ejaculatory exclamations in this chapter, and I am not sure how effective the second-person address is at persuading its imagined audience.
Noted. Thanks for the feedback.
Acknowledging the potential counterargument here of abandoning classification seems very important in light of the book’s project in defending feminist quantitative as well as qualitative research. In transitioning to the next paragraph, perhaps more could be said about the relationship between platforms (that may require sorting systems in basic design) and infrastructures. Obviously a figure like Leigh Star is important in making this connection, but perhaps more could be said to unpack the legacies of the Star and Bowker work.
Bowker & Star have a fantastic chapter about people who didn’t fit neatly into apartheid categories.
Bowker & Star!!!!!
Also, see Arthur Stinchcombe, When Formality Works. The first two chapters are quite useful, although not philosophically precise.
+100; Star and Bowker seem key here since their focus is on the guaranteed imperfection of classification systems.
See Deborah Hellman, When is Discrimination Wrong?. I saw her present around fairness in ML and was incredible impressed. She’s co-authoring a paper with Hannah Wallach that I’m excited to see.
This could be a place to cite Bowker & Star, Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences.
We cite Bowker and Star later in this chapter, but it sounds like folks want to see them referenced earlier. It’s something we can do, for sure, although it’s important to me to emphasize that feminist theorists were rethinking classification systems for decades before STO.
Can’t this be an endnote?
Yes. Initially, we were operating under the assumption that the book would not have endnotes, and that all references needed to be inline.
a quick recap of the examples might be helpful. Or maybe including a paragraph to summarize this chapter.
I’m not entirely clear on who “we” is in this sentence. Is it Lauren and Miriam? Or Lauren and Catherine?
Perhaps this happens somewhere earlier on in this book, but it could be worthwhile to explain exactly what this means and give links or other ways for people to learn more. I also thought about this at the beginning of this chapter when the word ‘wince’ was used. This experience would be recognizable to many but for those who are unlearning the gender binary for the first time, they may need qualifiers or examples to get what underlies the wince. Of course this is a question of audience(s), which others have pointed to in various ways and I’m sure you both are thinking about a lot.
Thanks, Rena. We appreciate this comment.
here it is :)
Facebook relies only on the (always public) pronoun selection, not on the gender selection, to determine how gender is stored in the database (which is what is accessed by advertisers and other third party clients).
Good to know. Thanks for the clarification.
You could consider noting somewhere in this paragraph that ideas beyond the gender binary pre-existed this time. For example, two-spirit identities amongst Indigenous peoples (which are varied).
Good point. We can bring up this discussion from later on in the chapter, where it currently sits.
Running away from a bear is often the worst thing you can do if you want to survive
Is this true globally or only in the US or Western world? I work with a lot of international data that is not gender binary.
I know some of the countries that allow people to indicate non-binary gender on passports (Australia and India come to mind), but would love more specific references if you could provide them.
I was under the impression that FB’s third category was other/unknown not just unknown. Not that this improves the situation - but it might need a fact check.
Totally agree with the valid point. However, are you certain that this is how FB maps gender for advertisers? I didn’t see this in Biven’s work - or other pieces on gender and FB - but I might have missed it.
Just a mention that this continues to be restricted based on language choice of the user and for some languages only binary gender is an option.
Oh, interesting! Noted!
I mean, you could look at race, or disability, or..
Given that the chapter has dealt with problems associated with binary gender categories so far, this example feels a bit out of place given that it only deals with gender in a binary way.
spell out for non-US readers
until here one might get the impression that categories and classifications are inherently bad. you do allude to the necessity of categories at the start of the chapter, but i think it would be helpful to elaborate again the potential and utility of classification systems. maybe a plea for action would be to work towards inclusive or emancipatory classifications that work for all and also allow us to address the injustices and exclusions that are still present.
maybe you also find this research on database criticism useful in this regard:
Feinberg, M., Carter, D., and Bullard, J. (2014). Always somewhere, never there: Using critical design to understand database interactions. In CHI ’14: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pages 1941–1950.
this is a strong plea, but i am unsure whether that we can really _ensure_ the power of such categories to spread.
isn’t this the crux here?: how can we fight categorical oppression without reproducing the categories?
the facebook signup screenshot shows only male and female - maybe acknowledge in caption that the freeform text field appears in the settings once signed up…
Agreed. It continues to be a problem that the sign-up form remains binary, but is also demonstrative of the importance of gender (understood as binary) for Facebook.
broken for whom and what purpose? maybe too obvious to state, but it requires considerable awareness, empathy, and practical solidarity by gender-binary folks to consider these categories to be broken.
I don’t think this is exactly synonymous, right?
We’re trying to use the best possible definitions we can find, so please correct us if we’ve gotten this wrong.
A few people have mentioned this above, but the persistent “you” assumptions here don’t sit well with me as a reader.
Check out Stacey Waite’s poem on this exact topic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAIfgbMmBIA
Thank you - this is a great poem/performance!
This reads oddly, like the reader should start asking Black women around them about their embarrassing hair/security state experiences, or as if hair can be isolated from racial imaginaries in general (it’s not actually just about hair). Maybe rephrase as “He is white, so he does not run the risk of racial profiling, unlike, for example, the many Black women each day who are patted down ostensibly because of the perceived threat of their natural hair.”
Great suggestion. A much better way to convey the point.
Leaving your comment so others can advise as to whether this rewrite make the point more clearly.
Overall I think this chapter is great. One thing you might consider is writing a bit more not just about people who don’t fit within categories, but about people who shift from one category to another or who are fluid between categories. For example, in the gender context, most of the examples you discuss are about non-binary experiences of not fitting within existing gender categories of male or female. These are important. But other transgender experiences are about shifting from one binary category to another, which can be similarly contentious when it comes to data, analysis, visualization, etc. Gender fluidity is another example of shifting between and among categories. All of these are important to consider. Thanks for writing this and doing this important work!
We really appreciate this comment, and will try to account more for gender fluidity in our revision.
I agree with this argument. In some cases, it may make sense to collect data (if safe) and report percentages of marginalized groups in aggregate but not identify particular people. I think you get to this in the next example, but might be good to put in a sentence here as well.
It might be good to state that this is not a definitive way to visualize gender, but just an example of potentials (for example, the positions of non-binary, GNC, and genderqueer on the spectrum seem arbitrary).
This diagram is a bit hard to read, at least for me - maybe describe what particular identities the figure on the left and the right may represent?
powerful sentence! :)
I don’t particularly follow the argument that assigning the male category a 1 value means that men are ranked first, because I don’t think there is a list that gets sorted in this way.
Agreed. Perhaps we are missing something about where this argument is coming from?
Great example. Note that trans people (as well as non-binary or gender non-conforming people) also face substantial harassment and discrimination - what Dean Spade would call “administrative violence” - at the hands of TSA.
I like the Golden Gate Bridge metaphor. You could take it further - the bridge requires constant maintenance, otherwise it starts to break down. The gender binary, since it applies to people, has started to break down under the constant maintenance that we impose on each person - or something more well-thought-out along these lines.
I like this idea!
You might consider citing Bivens and Haimson’s study about gender options in social media sign-up pages - we found that most sites that required gender on sign-up only allowed binary options. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2056305116672486
Potentially you’ll want to use her full name as she does when she publishes: “Safiya Umoja Noble.”
For flow/clarity I suggest a rewording similar tot he following: “ These were systems that were designed to exclude, and in instances as far-ranging as the maternal health outcomes we’ve already discussed, to the troublingly divergent Google search results for “black girls” vs. “white girls” shown by information studies scholar Safiya Noble, we can detect the effects of those racist systems every day. “
For clarity and emphasis I recommend a rewrite similar to the following: “And this discrepancy leads right back to the body issues we discussed in Chapter One: power lies with corporations like Facebook who control the terms of data collection, but individuals like Maria Munir, who have personally (and often painfully) run up against the limits of our current classification systems, are often those best informed on their shortcomings and how to improve them.”
Will there be a section with specific info on references?
We came to an agreement with the publisher to use endnotes /works cited only after this draft was started. We’ll have a lot more in the final version.
There’s more at stake here than the names by which we refer to these categories. Sometimes, yes, they are best understood as genders - but also, sometimes it’s more an issue of sexuality, or spiritual role, or something else. Which, of course, points to the fact that “gender” itself is a category that doesn’t always separate easily from other sorts of designations.
Thanks for this comment. We’ll be sure to treat these terms with more nuance in the final draft.
A simple definition would probably work better, the tone is a little strange.
Point taken, and good idea!
A really powerful paragraph
It’s not just about group size, of course. Some small groups are less vulnerable than the majority — the 1%, e.g.
Had not thought about this. Good point!
Good point. We are very invested in providing some of these steps in each chapter, so we’ll think about how we can make some possible steps more clear and concrete.
There’s a call to action, but then no recommendations for concrete steps. I’d follow this up by saying *how* — or by telling us that you’ll recommend some concrete actions later in the chapter, or in the last chapter (or wherever).
Assumes too much about the reader.
Struck by the absence of intersex in this chapter.
I was thinking that to in relation to the earlier TSA discussion.
Ah, this addresses my earlier question about in what sense advertisers see users’ genders. What is the basis for assuming that this is the way it happens? I’m very skeptical that actual lists would be provided from Facebook to an advertiser. I would assume that Facebook would keep the list for itself, and use its list to distribute the advertiser’s ad.
I agree, this criticism of categorisation doesn’t quite hold up. I think there’s a slight conflation of categorical and ordinal here - categorisation can inflict harm by either forcing a binary choice when the truth is non-binary or by splitting a fluid spectrum into categories (such as the diagnostic category debates around mental health). I don’t think that the ordering section contributes to your argument—it would be sort of like implying that people whose last names start with a Z are worse off than those with an A.
Weird choice of example. Many people wouldn’t want this — people without much money, people concerned about privacy… Maybe pick something more widely desired?
I take your point, but do you have any thoughts as to a good example? I was trying to think of an example I’d seen, which also might lead to additional positive developments down the road. (So, not just a free pizza, for instance).
Again, no need to assume an ignorant reader. A relatively small but certainly nonzero number of cisgender people know this, because they have read or heard about it before.
True. I’ll work on a rephrasing.
This kind of use of the second person comes across as condescending. It’s just as easy to say something like “Middle school students routinely learn about…” The text shouldn’t assume that readers know anything about the history of science, but it shouldn’t assume that they are completely ignorant of it, either.
Thanks for pointing this out. We’ll need to think through our use of the second person throughout, as I think I mention to you in a comment in an earlier chapter.
I’d recommend changing “see” to “target.”
In what sense do the advertisers see users’ genders? Aren’t the ads just shown selectively to the gender-marked audiences?
Seems like an undercount — where does this number come from?
I agree that this non-binary statistic needs a citation - since (as you note) counting non-binary people is a contentious practice itself and varies widely depending on the measure.
The point is good but obviously not all user accounts require selecting gender (or any other characteristic). The overstatement is distracting.
Oh come now - so much harassment and abuse on the internet, there are other words more unwelcome.
Rhetorically effective, but do you want your readers to actually do this? It might be fine, but worth consideration.
I share Jaron Heard’s concern about this phrasing, but for a different reason: it operates on the assumption that the reader is neither a Black woman nor a person named Muhammad.
I think it is important to mention one more type: Boolean.
Which is not just technically the base of the others but especially in the context of this book the manifestation of the whole binary thinking. (Which then leads to interesting general questions about the totality of the discriminating nature of the digital)
I agree - Boolean is a much more appropriate example of a computational category. You could also consider mentioning statistical binary data types such as “dummy” variables.
One similar example from Germany would be the discussion around #brauneKarte (brown map). Some people created a map on Google maps called »No refugee centers in my neighborhood« with the locations of all centers in Germany. After many protests from people who feared attacks Google took down the map. Unfortunately, I can’t find any English articles about it.
Perhaps you could also briefly mention the debate over including a citizenship question on the US Census ?
I’m not familiar with neurology literature, but as an undergrad, I vaguely remembering a professor mentioning that human brains are wired (for lack of a better term) to process information via categorization. As such, we simply cannot avoid classifications/categorizations of different types! As you say, the way the systems of classifications are constructed—and the potential for a vertical or hierarchical distribution of categories—is/should be our concern (i.e. being attentive to racial/gender/sexuality/etc based difference isn’t a problem problem (in and of itself) but racism/sexism/and queer antagonism are problems).
This section makes me think of these two excellent pieces: “Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Transgender Bodies at the Airport” by Currah & Mulqueen; “"What did TSA find in Solange's fro"? : security theater at the airport” in Simone Browne’s Dark Matters
Yes to those from Nick Lally. Also Shoshana Magnet and Tara Rodgers’ “Stripping for the state.”