THE BLOG

50 Shades of Control: Facebook Knows Best?

02/18/2014 01:49 pm 13:49:21 | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Immediately after Facebook's announced they were adding 50 new gender options I got a bunch of emails from fellow veterans. As the unofficial gay best friend for the Southeast Michigan veteran community, I get asked a lot of whacky questions, but this one seemed pretty reasonable:

"Why 50?"

Come to think of it, 50 is a pretty arbitrary number. Another friend chimed in (on Facebook) and said, "I honestly don't know why Facebook won't just let people write whatever the heck they want."

Facebook wants to look cool with their 50 new gender options, but they're still choosing the words that other people use to define themselves. For instance, if I wanted to put in my own gender option, Facebook attempts to autocorrect me. If I don't use one of the autocorrect options it tells me:

You must select one or more custom genders in order to save.

(For the record: I'm a somewhat sarcastically "Gold-Star Gay," which isn't a gender but Facebook should still add it.)

I think some people with PhDs in gender studies might be challenged to name all the choices, but it doesn't change the fact that Facebook is still holding all the cards. So I bet you're wondering: Why is Facebook in the business of defining people's gender?

The real reason Facebook chose to limit the ways people can define themselves is so Facebook can sell more niche marketing to our community. Think about it: Micro-targeting is the latest thing and companies can now selectively target gender groups for their products via Facebook. General Motors might never have two gay men holding hands in a Super Bowl commercial for their latest pickup truck, but I bet you'll be seeing Facebook ads for their cars tailored to "Genderqueer" and "Non-Binary" folks.

Don't forget: This is not about us. Facebook is desperate to add value to its stock and giving marketers a range of niche marketing tools. It isn't about letting people define themselves or bringing about gender acceptance. It's about sorting us into clean groups and monetizing the LGBT community's desire to be treated with respect.

Just imagine someone who has been rejected their whole life who receives an ad: "Our latest kitchen-ware is Gender Non-Comforming, too." Imagine their surprise and how that little message of acceptance could build a so-called "brand relationship." The company might never say "gay" on the public airwaves, but they'll be as gay as you want on your Facebook wall.

All throughout history other people have held "definitional power" -- the ability to define reality, the economy, political situations, morality, race -- even gender. Whether it was "homosexual," "Man who lays with a man as he lays with a woman" or "faggot," the difference between minority groups and majorities is that majorities get to decide what words best describe "them."

As Karl Marx famously wrote: "The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships."

Who are you to tell Procter & Gamble no?

While Facebook is enjoying their good (and bad) PR from this bit, I wouldn't start building them a float for the pride parade. Fill out your gender however you like, but don't forget that this is just another marketing ploy. You will be put in a file, they will monetize your human value and they're going to be knocking on your wall soon enough.

It's only a matter of time: "Dear Brian, here at Windex we want every Gold-Star Gay to have a gold-star shine on their windows and surfaces. Come visit windex.com for 50 percent off select Windex products."

Time to buy that cabin up North.