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I know I have strong opinions on this subject, so I'll try (but probably fail) to keep this relatively brief. I promise to go back to frog photos after this.

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."

I don't think making this option mandatory is a significant cause of the major Google+ early-adopter gender split, but if you're worried about how few female users your project has, marginalizing their potential worries on your introductory screen doesn't seem very bright.

There are reasons Google+ might want your gender. For one thing, the interface may need to use pronouns, and in some languages there's no way to avoid this. We have a chat-bot in the #xkcd IRC channel which serves as a repository of user nonsense. At some point, we decided to program in the ability to use pronouns, and it was surprisingly complicated:

Now, I went out of my way to support the various options for referral that users asked for (although I drew the line at recently-invented pronouns like "xir"). But even covering the basics in English is tricky, and the situation gets more so in languages like Hebrew. (It looks like Google+ punts on that issue by making all "other" users male in all languages, which is a can of worms in itself.) Yet none of the linguistic issues mean you have to make gender a broadcasted part of the user's profile.

They also (obviously) want to know more about you so they can serve ads; advertisers care about gender. But again, that's no reason to make gender public.

The "other" option is nice, but I don't really feel comfortable setting my gender as "other". There are a huge number of people whose gender is actually best-described as "other", and they come in astonishing variety, even if you set aside the issue of social gender and just ask about biology. This article has a fascinating list of eleven particularly tricky situations that lead to someone having no easy-to-agree-on biological sex:

There are quite a few people who are accurately described by an "other" option, and when they're sometimes struggling for recognition, co-opting their label for anyone who doesn't want to broadcast their gender seems a little off-putting.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of reasons Google+ would want to ask about your gender. But there's no good reason to pointedly make it the only thing in your profile that can't be private—and many reasons not to, starting with basic courtesy. It may be a small issue in the grand scheme of things, but I think it's worth getting right.

(P.S. I know I post a lot about interface quibbles and feature suggestions—and I do use the feedback button heavily—but I don't want to give the impression I'm generally unhappy with Google+. Fundamentally, I really like this system, which makes me want to tweak things in this early-adopter period so it will be as well-designed as possible, so it will survive and be around for me to use for a long time.)
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Users who feel strongly about this should file feedback to make clear that there is demand for this feature. Please, please, file feedback.
Interesting post, thank you! I assumed you were a bloke, from the cartoon humour. This is something, as with the recent Dawkins controversy, which makes me much more aware of fears women had that I, and other men, surely had vry little idea about.
The more feedback the merrier. Thanks for taking the time to point this out.
100% agreed, I was disappointed to see that gender was a mandatory field (and a drop-down one at that). I don't see any need to for it to be necessary other than a desire for easily sortable data points.
I agree that telling your gender isn't necessary. Therefore, it should be optional.
Agreed. I don't code, but I can't imagine that it would be too difficult for the program to use gender-neutral pronouns (heck, even though it's not quite grammatically correct, I'd be fine with "they/their") when a gender isn't selected/is listed as "other". Didn't know Google+'s "other" default was male...hmph.
I'm inclined to agree with +Randall Munroe. I suggest we protest the required gender by getting as many people as possible to set their gender to "other". When lots of people do it, the threshold for people who feel insecure about their gender to do the same is a lot lower.
I'm not a fan of making gender mandatory on the profiles. I just set mine to other right off the bat. It just seemed right. :)
Toni: in English, the interface defaults to using 'their' for other. In languages other than English, the culturally correct way to internationalize 'person of unknown or other gender' is to refer to them as if they were male. Unfortunate, but something that can't be changed by fiat.
The mandate to fill out gender wouldn't be as much of an issue provided you had the ability to make it private.
Rigid categorisation (and disclosure) of gender doesn't affect just women, but the whole wonderful continuum of gender expression and identity.
Well. Yeah you might be partially right. About feelings of some women.
Though I am woman and can a will cause mental and physical injuries to anyone, who treats me with less respect than I deserve.
I actually think main reason why some women are shy about this is that they don't realize how much superior they are than men :)

And in my language it is even more complicated, because even verbs are based on gender of subject.
Thank you for publicizing this! I backed out of the sign-up at first, because of the gender field. I'm using other, despite feeling very uncomfortable co-opting that identity.

(Not to defend a policy that I don't agree with, but my understanding is that the pronoun concern is primarily in languages other than English.)
Yeah - That's certainly one thing I don't like about G+ - Though I do understand that the pronoun thing (and other issues) make it difficult.
+Richard Hodkinson Dawkins Controversy ?
Would you be in favor of software incorporated into G+ which analyzed profile pictures, public tags and video in hangouts so the system itself would decide the gender? I mean, if we're meant to have a relationship with G+, and don't think for a moment that you aren't building it right now, shouldn't the system be able to use that data we choose to give it to determine information about us?

Failing that, how about just making it optional to only reveal your gender along circle-based rules?
File feedback, and post to Google+ and Twitter. The more visible an issue is, the more likely people are to fix it.
Jordan G
Rhett: If the person commenting on the phenomenon has too much time on their hands, what does that say about the person commenting on their commentary?

I could go on to question what's up with me, since I commented on your commentary on the commentary, but I already know I'm an epic procrastinator, so the point stands.
Yes, +Ryan McReynolds . Exactly.

And, ooh, I hadn't thought of the translation aspect. That does make things difficult, doesn't it.
+Justin Bauer: so why define it at all? Let people choose if they want to fill it out, and let them choose if they want it public. Not difficult.
thank you Jessica. +bobb crosbie Generally good to put outselves in others' shoes as muh as we can.
That Dawkins article highlighted this issue. While many men, and almost if not all those I know, wouldn't dream of being threatening in a dodgy way, it seems, and if it seems then it is real, that from at least some women's standpoints, that many interactions with men can be perceived as fraught with risk. It's worth being aware of it, at least, even if it's not you they need actually be scared of.
Not all women are the same, of course, and not all like this binary. And things can get ridiculous sometimes. but it's always good to be aware...
+Rhett Buck AKA RILover Because you said that people who are "scared" to choose a publicly displayed gender need to "seek help" and stop complaining, which perfectly encapsulates the utter dumbfuckedness that those very people would be trying to avoid by not publicly displaying their gender.
Interesting and very well put. I would have not considered your thoughts until reading this. Your side of that discussion certainly seems valid to me, and I don't think any field that is on that profile page is "trivial" or should not be completely thought out and discussed for the greater good of the maximum amount of people. I wouldn't treat any profile any differently regardless of what is there or not there, but I can imagine how others might grapple with what to put there if it is mandatory to pick one of the three. And why not make it optional to just leave it a blank field?
A very interesting issue. Do you think that there are females who are listing themselves as male on G+ in order to avoid getting harassed? Do you think it is a significant enough amount to skew the demographic information on G+?
Fair point. As someone who identifies as genderqueer/gender-fluid, I was really excited by the availability of the Other option. In fact, I was so blown away by the non-binary inclusivity that I didn't even notice the basic privacy issue. Definitely a serious oversight there.
Peter G
Full real name, gender, and profile pictures should all be settable separately for public profile, and private profile. I want to have control of my online presence.
Let me TL;DR for you, "Gender shouldn't be mandatory and/or public".

Anything more descriptive beyond that is going to lose support, especially in the way you presented it. I'll take the hit here, but if you weren't XKCD (and I didn't pick up on who typed this until AFTER reading it) it would appear very femi-nazi and I doubt you'd be getting the 99% positive comments you have on this post.

The main issue I have with it is that for your first paragraph you basically call women helpless vulnerable humans who are defined by what other people think about them (and nothing can be done about that, like say taking a self-confidence class) and that men are imposing, dominating sociopaths who will stalk and rape you because you put "female" on your profile.

It's just stereotyping all around, and using some/most qualifiers to sort out people who can feel superior by not conforming to your statements would appear disingenuous at best.

I almost wonder if you posted this as a test just to see if people would agree with you just because you're XKCD :?
Toni / K / Randall: It's bad that setting "other" defaults to male pronouns. I set myself to "other" because well...that's how I feel. Somewhere in the rainbow of gender, even though, society wants me in the stupid "M" box on everything. I haven't payed attention to how Google+ addresses me on here, but I'm always uncomfortable seeing "Mr." on things. It just doesn't feel right.
If defaulting other (or none selected) to male when choosing pronouns is a problem, then what's a better solution?
+David Kitchen Er, LGB don't have anything to do with non-binary gender. If anything, those identities reinforce the idea of a gender binary.
+Mike McElroy The problem with having the system guess what gender you are is that it'd misgender people regularly, which can be triggering for a lot of non-binary gendered people. The only way to do gender fields right is to allow people to select them.
Vandré: Defaulting to gender neutral pronouns. "They...Their...etc."
Thanks +Richard Hodkinson, +Jessica Polito, I'll have a read of the article. Granted I can't know what it feels like, although it is certainly something I am aware of. However, that has, on occasion influenced my actions, perhaps detrimentally.
Didn't notice the male pronoun thing. IMO, "they" would be appropriate for those of us who identify as "Other".
Since you can put "other" I don't see the big deal. Google isn't forcing people to chose a gender. They can put "other".
+Adam Chernow I'm sorry, I was always taught that when the gender of a person was not known, in English, you default to male. To try and make this some kind of politically correct issue is really stretching things. Take it up with grammar, okay? "They" and "their" are plural pronouns. So you're find being referred to as multiple people, but if a computer program calls you a "he" because you chose "other", it's some kind of slap in the face?

While I can't imagine why I would want to hide my gender (it's obvious from pictures, afterall) I agree that every bit of data should be configurable. I'm sure Google will fix that much.
Jon: but what if I'm not "other"? It's part of that whole privacy thing Google+ is supposed to be so great at - we have control over so much, but we can't say who can see our gender? It doesn't make a lot of sense.
+Michael Leuchtenburg, wouldn't that be no more "triggering" (not entirely understanding of your word use there) than someone looking at online pictures or seeing someone in real life and not being confident about the other person's gender before actually interacting with them? Some of the time you'll get it right, sometimes you won't.

According to my last job (medical records-related), there were 7 gender possibilities, IIRC. I wouldn't have a problem with that, but it would be a cumbersome system for which 90%+ of the population would have one of two responses.
I think the appropriateness of "they" as a third gender pronoun varies between versions of English. US English doesn't generally teach it. British English seems comfortable with it (and there are archaic precedents for it). The (UK) publications I write for all have "they" in the style guide as the standard gender-neutral option.
Jordan G
+Joe Betsill - ""They" and "their" are plural pronouns." From a purely prescriptivist 4th grade grammar perspective, perhaps. By usage, they are also gender neutral singular pronouns.
+K and, in fact, they seemed (at least at first) to be doing that. Some grammarians will argue against it, but it's actually got a long pedigree of acceptability. Jon: "Other" is nto the same as "Prefer not to say".

And Randall: I spoke with someone on the G+ team about this on the day it was announced. They had considered a "Prefer not to say" option and might still add it. They had also considered a fill-in-the-blank if you pick "other" but that's slightly less likely.
+Justin Bauer There is a difference between "requires a time-delayed request from a government office to look up gender" and "listed on an online profile one click away". Stop being facetious.
Using "their " sounds like a reasonable solution in English, but what about languages without such artifacts? In many (maybe most) languages, every adjective needs to be either male or female. With no third option. In my language every object has a default gender, for example a ball is female while a bus is male. And people are always defaulted to male. If people are unhappy with that, is there an alternative?
I could not agree more. I think the system itself is great, but there are things they seem to not have thought about that would best be fixed early rather than after wide spread openness. Very good writeup of the situation.
About your point that women grow with a sense of vulnerability, wouldn't hiding make things worse? If a woman needs to hide her gender I think its because she is ashamed of it, or afraid. No one should be ashamed of their gender, be it woman, man or other.
+Adam Chernow (and others talking about they): "They" is gender neutral in English, but not in many other languages. French and Italian, for example, for everything to be either masculine or feminine, and use the masculine "they" for any group with at least one masculine thing. I assume that's why "other" defaults to male in other languages; there's no real alternative

I don't want gender to be mandatory, and public. Completely aside from the creep concerns, I dislike the implication that the two things you must know about someone to interact with them are their name and their gender. Nevertheless, the foreign language problem is a very real one
+Justin Bauer So what you're saying is that if we erase everyone's identities, we won't have any problems with discrimination? I think that's a terrible argument to make.

Seriously, your argument here is reeking of a lack of experience in the shoes of a marginalized group.
+Justin Bauer just because it's public record, and just because I have an obviously male name, doesn't mean I want to be defined by what's between my legs. I'd much rather be defined by my contributions. Besides, as stated above, I fall somewhere closer to what would be seen as "F" than "M" in the binary system. That's why I like option of not specifying.

+K Orphanides I hate that term. It's just so bleh and demeaning.
+Justin Bauer You have the privilege of getting to ignore gender because you aren't a member of one that can't.
Although it is usually obvious who is m or f in the physical sense unless you have an neutral name. Yet choice of publicity of the fact is another matter. And non-primary sexual physical attributes are a lot less binary. Continua of physical strength and appearance of strength in women and men overlap, for example.
Identity is a lot more fluid than physical attributes, especially to posthumans...
+Rhett Buck AKA RILover : "Other" != "Opt out".
You don't care ? Fine, run along back to your wonderful world
However there are people who would consider themselves non-gender, and don't want to be put in box. Regardless, Gender doesn't need to be public.
I find the discussion of "why should someone want to hide their gender" a little tiring. Why do we care whether someone wants to list their gender or not? What is the benefit of doing so, other than for the collection of demographic data? The "Prefer not to say" option is closer, but still isn't quite it.

+Justin Bauer Be careful - your white male privilege is showing.
I think that Google+ should read Bucket's docs relating to user genders, and follow a system similar to that, but also allow for keeping gender private.
I meant no disrespect, I'm just trying to understand. "It" is a gender neutral singular pronoun, yet all I have seen suggested are plural gender neutral pronouns. Would "It" be an acceptable pronoun when "other" is selected? Explain.
"It" is a very...dehumanising term. "They" is pretty commonly accepted and unlikely to offend.
+Justin Bauer When the default assumption is that you are something that you are not (see "there are no girls on the internet", et cetera), what you are essentially saying is "either let people define you incorrectly, or you're making it more of a problem by correcting people". Again, I feel that you aren't understanding the matter due to a lack of experience of what it's like to actually be in a marginalized group.
+Joe Betsill The problem with 'it' is that it also has other meanings in English - inhuman, inanimate, etc. Using it for people is usually considered rude and demeaning.
I have a few non-gender binary friends who would not be happy being referred to as "It"
Bucket uses "it" if you specify your gender as "inanimate," if you choose androgynous, you are "they."
"It" isn't generally regarded as an appropriate pronoun for non/fluid/bi/a/etc-gendered people. It implies an object rather than a person and is widely used as an insult when it comes to trans* and genderqueer people. I know a couple of people who are okay with it, but the vast majority would regard it as offensive.
+Ben Branch Coming out of your shell is one thing, but it is much harder to come out of your shell when you can't do it on your own terms and at your own pace.
+Mike McElroy I meant that misgendering could be triggering for the misgendered people, not for the person who isn't sure what gender to attribute to someone else.

+Joe Betsill They has been acceptable as a singular gender neutral pronoun for centuries.

+Justin Bauer It's not every woman's responsibility to combat that belief. If they want to, they can, but they should not be required to.
I don't get what the fuss is about??? If you feel strongly against it - that's what the feedback button is for!!!!!! If you flood their feedback with this, they will probably change it(you can also re share this post). If you DON'T think this is a problem then you probably don't care if it gets changed or not. Either way, commenting on this post won't help anyone. Thank you +Randall Munroe for raising the issue, it was an interesting read - although the frog pics were nice too.
Is there a way to tag someone that I don't have in a circle? When I do +First Last it doesn't work unless I have that person in a circle... and the people I try to tag on this post I don't necessarily want to add to a circle.
+Justin Bauer No, but I also don't think forcing us to be public about it in what is potentially a hostile environment due to that stereotype (and many others) is a good idea either.
The Dawkins thing is interesting. Both for being a very different (and actually physical) situation and for people there not thinking things to its logical conclusion. That being "At any time of day, and especially at night, a man should not enter an elevator with single woman he doesn't know". No, I'm not sarcastic (not about the situation, anyway, I know what feeling intimidated, no, actual intimidation, feels like).
Um, you forgot a part - "enter an elevator with a single woman he doesn't know and hit on her ".
I find it fascinating that a human would feel more comfortable being addressed as a crowd than a singular being. Maybe they can solve everyone's problem by changing it from "Gender" to "Genetic Gender" and keep "Male/Female/Other". (I kid, I kid)

I think I saw it mentioned above, but it's obvious the best possible solution is to have "Other" enable a text field and use absolutely no pronouns (I had no idea pronouns could be such an insult!) while allowing The gender field to be shared (or not) with circles/everyone/etc.

Or, hell, remove it all together. I don't really care the gender of who I talk to online and if I did I'd just ask. :P
+Justin Bauer You're just being pedantic now. The problem with your arguments is that you're putting the burden of fighting stereotypes/oppression on the marginalized populations themselves. It isn't their job; it's the job of those with privilege, like you, to combat them.
+Warren Hancock You have to type it slowly, especially after the first word, but you can still tag people you don't have in circles.
I think the main issue raised in this Dawkins incident is that the man was acting in a way entirely contrary to what was being discussed earlier. The issue wasn't that he was on an elevator with her, the issue was she has just been telling him and others that she wasn't very happy with common gender issues, and that she was going to bed. He asked her to go to his room with him for coffee, regardless of his true intentions, this is an extremely insensitive action, not just for what he did, but for what happened before he did it. Dawkins himself did not get involved until he commented on PZ Myer's blog defending the man saying all he did was talk to her, as if words themselves can not hurt.
+Amber Yust Thank you, I would never have discovered that... Perhaps they will improve this feature in the future? Either way, i know now and I greatly appreciate your help.
"They" works well enough in English, though not in other languages. The pronoun problem is actually serious. "Other" was there because getting the options right for some trangendered people is complex, and something needed to be there for launch. But I would expect that gets better over time. A "decline to state" option should probably be considered too.

Note that the current main use of "Other" is people creating improper profiles for organizations or businesses, which is not its intent.
+Randall Munroe I'll agree that women have a harder time getting equal treatment still, but I think it's vastly underestimating the population at large to say "women" (instead of my friends) feel "vulnerable". To counter, I experience the opposite of this, and I will qualify this statement that I work/worked in the military for 10 years.

What I'm trying to say is, what does the statement about women having vulnerabilities and men are physically domineering contribute to the discussion or at large?

If someone reads this and is expected to act on it, how exactly should they react? It seems that the logical manner would be to treat women like delicate flowers and men like lit explosives, if one were to act on this as a source of valid information. My guess is that isn't your goal though, you'd rather a more equal gender indifferent society if I had to guess.

Do you feel calling out stereotypes is the best call to action, especially when the opposition thrives on them?
+Amber Yust No, I consciously left that bit out. The argument goes "This situation feels threatening to a lot of women". So, we (men) shouldn't do it. As to the feels threatened: I'm not to say "Just stop feeling threatened, you sissies" (I heard similar myself often enough to hate it). But: how is that different from the terror scare (tactics)? Real statistics vs personal subjective feelings, anyone? (Ouch, let the flames begin).
There's also folks who don't feel that they have a gender, and folks who just are really goddamn sick of the entire world judging interactions with them based on a meaningless quality. I'd love to hide my gender and be referred to with androgynous pronouns if pronouned at all. Not because I don't want to fight back against "no girls on the internet", but because I'd really truly love to have it just not matter.

And yes I could pick "other", but that seems incredibly rude to people who actually have identifications as other.
+Justin Bauer There are a lot of implications in your post regarding things such as obesity that I'm not sure I'm okay with... you might want to consider your examples and what they are saying.
In the original Japanese version of Metroid, the manual referred to Samus with non-gendered pronouns. When this manual was translated to English they used male pronouns, potentially making it even more of a surprise if you found out that Samus was female the hard way.
+Justin Bauer You have a right to your opinion, and a right to your response, neither of these have been denied. However, you are not immune to public scrutiny for voicing your response. Remember, freedom of speech only protects you from censorship, not the consequences of voicing your opinion.

Edit: This means that you can't say we are not allowed to belittle you for what you have said.
+Justin Bauer I agree with you - it takes both sides to fight oppression, of course - but the wording of some of your original arguments had the subtext of "marginalized people have to pull themselves out of their situation" and "marginalized people shouldn't make a big deal out of their oppression", and that made me uncomfortable.

+Lee Delarm That's a hard question, isn't it? It's a delicate balance between identifying stereotypes and reinforcing them. I agree that +Randall Munroe's initial approach was a little ham-fisted.
+Jürgen Erhard You are more than welcome to go look up the statistics for rape and sexual assault and the details of where they often occur; you will find that they are far from "scare tactics".
+Ben Branch This is not actually a false identity. Everything that I have put on my profile is true about me, and until earlier today, I even had a picture of myself. I removed the picture because I want to find a better one at a later time. You, however, do not appear to be in a position to criticize me over what I have and have not made public, as you yourself happen to be using a fake picture.
+Ben Branch Not wanting to post one's gender on the internet does not make one antisocial.
What's with all the responses saying "this isn't a big deal, why are you wasting time on it?" I'm spending time on it because I think it is a big deal. Why are you spending time following it if you think it's not an issue?
When social media started, it came on the heels of the chartrooms and forums. People were allowed/encouraged to build online personas back then. It was common on Friendster and MySpace for people to have an alias like aZarkChyle14 or have pictures of a cartoon animal as a profile picture.

Facebook as it was aptly named was a push towards adding accountability to social media. The idea is that people are more likely to behave and act civil if their real reputation can be affected.

Though I'm not defending Google's version of this idea, it seemed like a step very much in character for the search giant. It's a very clinical, almost legal attempt at creating an online public persona.

Your profile is you. I think the age of vague fabricated avatars have gone. I feel for your issue and I wish Google finds a way to let you represent yourself better publicly but sadly this is where it social media has evolved to.
+Lee Delarm Randall's not asking you to treat women any differently. He's just asking that women be given the opportunity to present themselves to the world in the way they prefer, and asking that you understand why that may not include gender.

(FWIW, my objections have more to do with concerns about online harassment that fear for my physical safety.)
+Ben Branch I was not falling back on your profile picture to support my argument. My argument was that I am not using a fake identity, though you think that I am, and that you are not in a position to criticize me for this supposedly fake identity. The only reason I can think of that might lead you to believe that I am not the "Warren Hancock" as described in my profile is because I do not have a picture, though I did have an actual picture of me until recently, and if you're worried about me having a fake identity as a way to use a social network while being antisocial, I'd be more than happy to put the same picture back up.

Edit: Though, if my lack of a picture really is the reason you believe my identity is fake, I could technically use anything, right? Unless you really are a penguin with a red bow-tie :P
Accountability? Do we have to answer for our genders now?
+Ben Branch How, exactly, is not wanting to post one's gender "desiring no accountability"? Especially considering that one would still be posting one's name, and possibly many other personal details?
+Jessica Polito I understand where he's coming from, but the argument speaks to stereotypes instead of equality. There's an equally valid number of reasons men wouldn't want there gender being displayed. Or transgendered. And so on. Hence, my suggestion was to make it simple instead instead of pushing with an agenda for one specific group of people.

Aka, my first post stated it simply, beyond that you get into "why don't you support gays? transgendered? crime victims? etc...." and the issue (as it clearly HAS become) becomes more about politics than just making the change.
+Ben Branch There are many reasons not to disclose something, it by any means necessarily insecurity that is the cause.
+Tim Pierce Sorry- the comment I made a few posts back was supposed to insinuate that by forcing each member to choose Male/Female/Other, Google is making a "big deal" out of how people identified themselves, whereas I think it's up to an individual to decide whether or not they should share their gender. I'm in support of leaving the field entirely blank, if that's what makes a user most comfortable.
Maybe I'm not quite getting it, but while I would agree that a "decline" option would be good, it's not like this is really a major issue. I mean, most of the time you can tell someone's gender from their name...
+Randall Munroe Exactly! When I try to convince friends (military has a lot of conservatives) to try a Prius, I don't talk about the environmental impact, I talk about the overall immediate benefit, good gas mileage.

In a similar vein, feminism is too political to effectively gain proper traction. Addressing something that affects everyone is far more efficient (at least in my experience).
I'm not dedicated enough to this issue to read all these comments, so this may have been said. In addition to "other" is not just as easy to add "Not disclosed"? And then G+ could print it as blank instead of the words "not disclosed" because of the connotation those words would have for the end user--if the folks who choose not to disclose feel that way.

As a woman in "our culture" I don't actually understand not wanting to say what my gender is. But I do understand those with gender confusion, gender transitions, etc not wanting to be labeled at some point. And that "other" is unacceptable to some folks.
+Ben Branch "I mean if nothing else, assume a false identity (which it looks like you are already doing), since you are so insecure about your real one." This appeared to be not only an argument against being allowed to keep gender private, but also an attack on my "fake" Google+ identity. Calling someone insecure (especially calling me insecure) is likely to make your arguments appear less credible to them, not more. On top of this, wanting to keep your gender private does not mean that you are insecure, or antisocial. And if you'd prefer being required to have a real picture of yourself, then perhaps you should just put up a real picture of yourself and pretend you were required to. But others wish to keep certain aspects of their lives unknown, or at least private, on the internet, there are likely more who do than who would prefer that everyone be required to tell everything.

Edit: Also consider that one of the goals of Google+ is to compete with Facebook, and one of the reasons many of us have gotten G+ accounts, and may intend to fully switch from Facebook, is the many extra privacy and anonymity features. Yeah, I know, "If you don't want facebook to know then don't tell them" but whatever, remember, Google+ isn't Facebook, but it's like Facebook, and this is an alternative many of us were waiting for. And if Google intends to compete with Facebook, an easy way to make them more appealing to a larger audience is to allow a higher degree of privacy or anonymity.
+Amber Yust Anything can be a major issue to someone. If we let that stop everything, nothing will ever be accomplished.
+John Guggenheim So asking for an "unspecified" option is "stopping everything"?

Let me clarify: when I say "some people", I'm talking about a significant portion of the population. Maybe not a massive portion, but significant. Just read through the various comments on this thread and you'll see plenty of people who do care about it, for starters.
+Randall Munroe, when you said, "the situation gets more so in languages like Hebrew", did you ever come up with a solution? Bucket_Gender doesn't refer to one. I suspect Google chose male grammar because that's the common solution in those cultures, like 'they' is the common solution in (American?) English.

One alternative would be to let people choose from a language-specific list of grammatical-gender options, which would include less common solutions like (for Spanish) lo/a. But if I choose the 'they' option in English, Google's still left with the problem of translating Hebrew sentences about me.
+[Lee Delarm] Generally, metacommentary as to what's "too political to gain traction" in the vein of "I agree with you, but unless you stop talking about this no one else will" is known as "concern trolling".
+Amber Yust , you might have noticed from my post that I did say " I would agree that a "decline" option would be good." However this certainly is not insurmountable - just put "other."

If one is that panicked about specifying their gender, I imagine the use of their real name would be sheer terror as well. One can certainly protect oneself as much as desired - use a false name, be "Bob Smith," don't publish any pictures - whatever one feels the need to do to protect oneself.

In my opinion*, this is "much ado about nothing."

*Disclaimer: for anyone needing the clarification, the expression of my opinion is just that - an expression of my opinion. There is no deeper, hidden meaning or message behind it.
+John Guggenheim Who said anything about "panicked"? I think you may be misunderstanding the mentality of a lot of those who do not wish to disclose their gender, as there is rare that "panic" is involved at all.

I understand that it is your opinion that it is much ado about nothing. I'm just saying that your opinion is shortsighted and/or uninformed relative to a significant number of people's desires.
Jordan G
Also, if you really think it doesn't deserve attention, stop paying attention to it.

I know, I know, you're asking yourself "Jordan, how did you get so good at solving all my problems?". I don't know, man. I just am.
John Guggenhiem: "much ado about nothing" doesn't take into account self-identity, which is important to a lot of people. Adding a "Not Specified" option doesn't cost Google very much at all and garners some good will with no side effect. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Because everyone knows that if you mention one reason, you're implicitly denying every other reason?
I think putting the issue in the context of an example that's easy to understand helps to ground it and make it less theoretical. I don't personally feel a need to obscure my gender, and didn't notice that it was required to be public. Randall's essay helped put it in concrete terms that illustrated clearly why the issue is a problem. That's "not the way to go"? Pfeh.
+Amber Yust - You might have also noticed from my first comment that I did state quite clearly "Maybe I don't get it." This would indicate that I recognize my shortcomings - I don't understand everything about everything, I do not understand everyone's feelings on every topic, and I don't pretend to.

Now rather than arguing with me over my perspective when I have already admitted that this would be a good idea, and readily admitting my lack of understanding, you could express the reasons why this is so important, from your perspective, and perhaps clarify some of my lack of understanding.
+Jordan Gibson Those too aren't remotely similar, especially since the original topic was not related to politics.

Nor did I suggest people "stop talking about it". One of the rules of debates and convincing people to join your side is to address the goal in a manner that is broad enough to encompass as many groups as possible. When you address a goal with only one group in mind, that's known as "pandering".

Even if you're just using X as an example, it dilutes the topic into a discussion over X, instead of addressing the real issue at hand, which happens to be a drop down box and how it's displayed to users.

Just look through the posts above and tell me how many even MENTION the gender button option. (quickcount: not even half)
Lee: Again, though, you're not actually disagreeing with the post, or even disagreeing with the example, you're nitpicking how you think other people will respond to the example. Generating an argument based on your worry about the possibility of an argument. Concern Troll 101.
+John Guggenheim I don't mean the following to come off as condescending or mean tone-wise: In the situation you are talking about, where you're not sure if you get it, I (were I in your situation here) would choose to "lurk moar" and follow the discussion, trying to digest what's being talked about so that I had a better understanding, before then wading into the mix with my opinion. I might also ask questions about areas I'm unsure about, rather than making statements about what I think and then expecting people to ignore me if they disagree.
+Jordan Gibson Did you even read the last 156 comments? On "my worry about the POSSIBILITY of an argument"? I wasn't even the first one to address it. Did you read my posts in particular? How about the ones where I said I thought the idea was just fine?

Every single one of my posts had valid, factual arguments. You're the only one here who has resorted to 4chan level name calling.
This is beautiful, Randall. Thanks for writing it.
+Randall Munroe: I think you're right that the pronoun issue, primarily in non-English languages, really is a key issue here. But I disagree with you that Google ought to have let users keep the Gender field off their profiles and use it for pronouns anyway. This sort of "leaking information which we told you we would keep private" seems to me like the greater of two evils, forcing gender choice the lesser.
+Allyson Lieberman, using they for singular is perfectly grammatical. The only people who disagree are crazy old men who want to have sex with their imagined 'pure' form of Latin.
Lee: Did anyone really ask your advice on how that argument could've been avoided, though? If you actually disagree with the example, disagree with it. But taking the "people would like your argument more if you omitted anything that some third party disagrees with" route is just wankery.
+Ben Branch Okay, cool. So you're figuring everyone should be publicly accountable for everything about themselves? So you'd agree with stripping the privacy options off of all of the other profile fields? If not, why not, and why doesn't whatever reason you offer apply to gender?
Randall, I respect your opinion, here, but I think you're incorrect...

1) Women are far-and-away the largest subset of the population who would want to keep gender private, which means that it's a safe (but not certain) assumption that anyone you're talking to who has a private gender is female. The only real solution for women who want to hide their identity is a pseudonym, and it's trivial to create a pseudonymous profile already.

2) I very much doubt that intersex people without a gender association would be off-put by sharing the "other" tag with women or men who decided to list themselves that way, but even if they were, I'm not sure that I would have any sympathy for that position, any more than I'd have for a man who was bothered by a woman listing herself as "male".

3) It's very important to remember that Google+ is a social service, not a tax return. Google isn't asking for your gender identity, Google is asking you how you'd like to state your gender identity to other users. The options are "male". "female", and "other". This is just selecting a mode of interaction. I, for one, would expect someone who has a more complicated story to tell to use their description to do so.
PS: I'm a man, and as such, I'll stand up for anyone who wants to list themselves as a male in order to avoid harassment, feel less exposed; create a pseudonym or any other reason. Me gender es su gender. Don't muss the throw-pillows, please.
+Amber Yust - I feel perfectly within my rights to express my opinion, especially with the qualifier that I may not know everything or understand all perspectives. People are then free to do exactly that - not respond to what I have said, or engage in discussion to explain to me their perspective. In the "real world" that is known as discussion.

I would reverse what you said on you - if you disagree with something that someone has said, it is your prerogative to engage in a discussion of your perspective, or not engage at all.

Let's sum up what your entire argument has been so far:
You don't understand what others may feel - no kidding, I stated that quite clearly in my first comment.
Google should make this an option - no kidding, I also stated quite clearly in my first comment that this would be a good idea.

So in essence we are in agreement, and your entire dialogue feels from this side like it boils down to berating me because of what I clearly stated in my my initial comment. As you have chosen to respond, then you set the tone of the discussion - it can be informative or berating; it feels as though you have chosen the latter, whether that was your intent or not.

This entire issue (certainly not worthy of such a big long discussion, to be frank) doesn't need to be so political. It doesn't need to have reasons or justifications behind it, and it certainly doesn't require me to understand every nuance of it. It's a simple issue of good design practice, and I don't understand why it is being made into such a big deal, beyond a lot of people expressing a whole lot of agenda and politics.
Jordan G
+Aaron Sherman Anecdotal data in counter to point 1: I am a cisgendered male, and would absolutely set my gender to private or limited if allowed. Because it's none of your business.
Thanks for this post, Randall -- I think it's clear and insightful, and captures the key aspects of this problem. The people involved are very aware of this issue, and we're working to come up with the best way to handle it, for all of the reasons you mentioned.
+Ben Branch Do you remember when tried to do that? They forced everyone to use their real names on the forums in hopes of getting rid of the trolls. Nothing changed other than the loss of anonymity.

Edit: I may need to clarify here. I am not saying that these people act just as inappropriately when they don't have a level of obfuscation, though I'm sure some of them do. I'm just saying that these same ideas, when applied to a system already in place, typically fails. This is why Google+ is a good idea, it's something new and fresh, and it has the opportunity to do things right the first time.
+Ben Branch There are plenty of people who do just as offensive things on Facebook, under their real names, and aren't called on it.


+Aaron Sherman (1) [citation needed], plus not everyone wants to "hide their identity" - they just don't want to define themselves by one particular aspect. (3) Interaction should not be so heavily affected by gender, which is another of the large reasons why some people would rather not specify it.
+Jordan Gibson I definitely agree that there are exceptions (as I stated in my original post). My point was that for a woman looking to hide her gender, listing as private doesn't solve the problem. For someone who might list as "other" because it's the more accurate choice, that's fine, but not going to solve the core problem. Bottom line, there's two concerns here, and the one Randall brought up that I was responding to was that of women who want to hide their gender identity.

I have no problem with Google adding a private gender option, but I'm kind of concerned about the idea that it would be necessary. I don't actually see whose problem it solves. "Private" is going to be read by the vast majority of the Google+ community as "woman who doesn't want to be harassed" regardless of how we might feel about that trope.
Guys (such as +Aaron Sherman) who think that "private" will just mean "women who don't want to be harassed" -- well, you could show a little solidarity by not waving your gender about where it doesn't matter.
+Michael Kleber The alternatives could easily be "publicly female" or "we will use masculine pronouns for you, in languages that force the choice," without leaking any private info There could even be one of those odd little yellow alerts for people who select "female" but chose to keep it private, or those who choose not to say, letting them know about the language issue.
Vynce, Amber, I think this is degenerating into a discussion about the right to be who you want to be.... I hope it's obvious that I support that.

Vynce, I never said that private would mean anything. What I stated is how it will be read. That's important because Randall's original statement was that this was an important option for women who were concerned about revealing their gender. No matter how you or I feel about it, we're not the ones that these women are concerned about. We're not going to harass them because they are (assumed to be) women.

Now, back to the problem at hand: there are three options now: male, female and other. Since it's public, I think that's quite sufficient. There's already a public-or-private-per-your-choice description, and I think that's the right place to get into the specifics of "other" or even male or female. I know a few folks who list as female who certainly would have more to say on the matter...
+Aaron Sherman If that's the way it ends up getting read (IE, if no significant number of males use the option) then nothing is really lost. If you're wrong, though, it ends up being quite useful, and ultimately, there's no reason not to do it. Every other profile field has a privacy option, after all.
The english language requires a gender for pronouns when addressing people. "It" doesn't work, only "he" or "she".
Blame language evolution if you wish but that's the way our language works and our language isn't going to change. If you're androgynous, then just pick the one you most identify with.

I understand why someone might want to keep their gender private (although as Randall stated, it is a bit hard given the fact that most names are gender specific as well). However, if you're androgynous and don't want to be called a specific gender, forget about google+, how do you even have day-to-day conversation when people can't call you "he" or "she"?
+James Strong My current roommate has had two roommates who individually went by "they" in standard individual interactions, for different reasons. It...uhh...isn't really that big of a problem?
+James Strong "They" People who are against using they as a singular non-gendered pronoun are the same fools who insist on not splitting infinitives, not verbing nouns, pluralizing words that end in -us by ending them with -i, and saying whom where applicable. All of the things I listed in my previous sentence with the exception of verbing and whom, are because of how Latin works. However, English is a Germanic language, and it follows it's own rules, and it changes. We commonly refer to people who are against these changes as pedants, because that's what they are. If you would rather English not evolve in the way it is well too bad, because that's how more and more people are speaking it, and I believe people against these changes are in the minority by now.
Ti Leo
Thank you Randall. Exactly what I was thinking.
How would you say the following phrase "He/She went to the gym" with a gender-neutral pronoun without automatically implying plurality. When I hear "they went to the gym" I automatically assume you're talking about more than one person, not because I'm consciously against using 'they' as a singular non-gendered pronoun but because in the context of the phrase I gave it is - always - used to refer to more than one person . shrugs I'd rather invent a new singular non-gendered pronoun that isn't ambiguous.
Jordan, I agree that there'd be no harm in making gender something you could make private. In the long run, I think it's a useful feature. At this point in a mostly beta service like Google+ I just don't see it as a pressing issue when compared against the lack of + integration in other Google services; browser issues; scrolling behavior; and a number of other things that I'm sure are high on Google's list.

PS: I +1'd you because I do think your points are well reasoned. I hope that comes through in what I've said, even though I'm disagreeing on the applicability.
+Warren Hancock Descriptivism-five.

+James Strong The same way that northerners (and other folk who refuse to use "y'all") separate the singular and plural usages of "you". Via context and disambiguation.

The problem with adding new pronouns (and it has and is being tried) is that languages are ridiculously resistant to the addition of new structure class words. You can add nouns, verbs, and adjectives all day long, but if you try to add a new pronoun, article, or conjunction, 99.9999% of the time you're setting yourself up for failure. It's way easier to repurpose the ones you've got.

+Aaron Sherman I think, though, that while it's in Beta is exactly the time to bring these things up, as now is when the most changes will be made, and the team will be most receptive to suggestions and feedback. Those other things can be brought up too, but luckily we don't have a limited amount of feedback we can give, and we can point at big and small problems alike.
+Jordan Gibson Fair enough, but give me a good example using the phrase I gave. "They went to the gym" or "They wanted to eat food" that is unambiguously singular. What word would you add in the middle?
+James Strong Perhaps by not having unclear antecedents? "I met my friend yesterday. They had just come from the gym."
+James Strong Yeah, exactly as Amber said. You don't generally just launch a conversation using pronouns. If I walked up to you and just said "he is coming", I'd better be wearing crazy cult gear because that is some ominous insane bullshit right there. Also, you'd have no idea what the crap I was talking about.

But if I said "My friend ted is coming, we should get snacks. He's coming at five" then by the time I actually get to using pronouns, we're clear.
Thanks for the post, +Randall Munroe! Good stuff.

+Martijn Vos and others: Protesting by setting your gender to Other is great (that's what I've done too), but please also send feedback. If you only set your gender to Other, then the message is heard as "we love the Other option!" Which is true enough (at least for me), but if you want the message to also be "and we also want an Unspecified option!" then you'll have to send feedback to make that clear.

+Jordan Gibson: Agreed--I too am a cisgendered male who would use the "Decline to State" option if it were available. I already do that in many contexts; I don't see any reason that most people would need to know my gender. (Though in my case it's easy enough to guess from my name or my photo.)
+Ben Branch

Yes, there is a bigger problem.
No, I'm not okay with sacrificing the individual comfort of members of marginalized groups in order to fix that problem.
Jordan Gibson: My concern with redefining 'they' to be a gender-neutral pronoun has nothing to do with my political stance on transgenderism. It's just that I (and a lot of other people) use "he" and "she" in such a natural fashion that I don't want to have to worry about accidentally offending people because of my almost subconscious use of pronouns. I'm a distracted guy. I don't think it is reasonable for people to expect me to be thinking "well, he looks like a guy but I don't know if he actually is a guy, so instead of saying 'he went to the gym' I'm going to use two sentences using the pronoun 'they' that makes it very clear that I'm referring to one person and not a group of people." It's an entirely 150% practical objection.
Note: I'm not implying that you were suggesting that anything about my political stance, I'm just clarifying that it has nothing to do with bigotry in my specific case.
+James Strong You missed the point. You're not going to be saying "he went to the gym" in a vacuum; nor would you be saying "they went to the gym in a vacuum". (Unless you routinely talk about unspecified people using pronouns? I somehow find that unlikely.)
+James Strong Oh, I definitely didn't make any assumptions, but if you were hoping to head the singular-they train off, you're a bit late. It's been used as a singular third-person pronoun in situations where gender was uncertain (ie "Someone left their coat. I hope they didn't need it") for ages now, and it's really not much of a stretch to use it for known people whose gender is undefined.
While +Randall Munroe 's arguments sound reasonable, I wonder if this is how the practice of veiling women started in certain cultures. Did somebody think, "Women would be vulnerable if they were forced to show their pretty faces or hair out in the world of oppressive, dangerous men. It is better if women are given the choice of showing themselves or wearing the veil." Perhaps, some women chose the veil and some didn't. Perhaps, pretty women wearing the veil got lesser attention than those not wearing the veil. So, more and more women started to think that wearing the veil brings lesser attention and a greater sense of safety. Eventually, the veil became a mandatory thing for women who go out in public.
I think eventually corporations will want to have presence on G+ through actual accounts. (Not every company wants to bank all of their goodwill and identity through a single person like a Mark Zuckerberg or a Steve Jobs). So, for the sake of argument, let's say that Tesla Motors wants to have an account here, for people to follow their deals. Just like they do on FaceBook. In that case the gender makes no sense. It's not an issue of male v female v shemale v other; for Tesla it's "don't list gender here since if you are looking at this account through the lens of gender, you're looking at it wrong".

And I think that applies to people as well - it's not an issue of being hit on or not; it's an issue of "I do not wish other's opinion of me to be influenced via gender". If your identity says "Chris Vargeza" and you make awesome paintings, then maybe you don't the gender field there at all.

I'll leave with this quote from a famous author:

"Rowling said that the reason she went by JK was because her publisher suggested that it would be better if her public did not necessarily know it was a woman writing these books."
I really hope that the inability to hide from public your gender in profile, as it can be done all other profile items, is just a technical blunder and not a conscious decision.
+Ben Branch Just because they shouldn't doesn't mean they don't - theoretical vs. practical.
+Jorg Brown Please don't use the word "shemale", it's commonly considered a slur.
+Amber Yust I was under the impression that the argument was that we need a gender-neutral pronoun because some people who look like men or women might actually be transgendered. Then how do I know when to use "they" and when to use "he" or "she" if I'm never entirely sure that the person I'm talking about is a man/woman or transgendered? Can I talk about a transgendered person as "he" if they look like a man and I don't know that they are transgendered because they haven't revealed that bit information to me?

If it is okay to address a transgendered individual as "he" or "she" if I don't know that they are transgendered, then I'm happy.
+A S: So you're thinking that once upon a time conservative middle-eastern society was a gender-equal utopia, and someone fucked it up by asking for some anonymity which somehow became mandatory and male enforced?

Cool story?
+James Strong The general convention is to ask them what pronouns they prefer. Feels weird the first couple of times, but it's the right way to do things.
+Michael Leuchtenburg I know a lot of people that would be offended if I asked them that question. As in "wait, you're doubting that I'm a guy/girl?"
+Ben Branch To restate my question, are you in favor of stripping the privacy options off of every other profile field? Why or why not?
+James Strong That's a kind of silly thing to be offended about, don't you think? If you ask everyone what pronouns they prefer, it doesn't imply any sort of doubt. The only reason it's taken as "weird" is because making assumptions has become the common practice, even though it shouldn't be. <insert old saw about assumptions here>
+Ben Branch They're profile fields. They don't need to be any more similar than the fact that they're all profile fields. Why should some be treated differently from others?
I think it is equally silly to be offended if someone naively addresses you as "he" or "she" if you are transgendered and the person addressing you does not know that. If the person does know you are transgendered, okay, feel offended, otherwise cut them some slack for pete's sake.
+Ben Branch No. You tell me how they aren't. If limiting knowledge of my gender to anything less than "100 percent public" is an intolerable amount of privacy for me to be allowed, why is limiting my street address or my relationship status or my phone number? Why is gender special? Why do you need to know that about me, but not any of the other things?
+James Strong I am not familiar with any trans individuals who are offended by someone unknowingly referring to them with the incorrect pronoun. Saddened, perhaps, or uncomfortable, but not generally offended. They'll often correct that person, at which point they might expect the person to use the proper pronoun, but trans folk don't usually go off on someone who misgenders them by accident.

But if everyone actually asked, rather than assuming, the issue wouldn't come up in the first place.
+Ben Branch I'm going to go ahead and read that as "I have never examined my reasoning and have no answer for your question, how embarassing" or else "It just, like, is , man". Good show.
+Ben Branch Of course we can tell the difference between gender and a phone number. What we can't tell is why you think that one should be forced to be public, and the other not, because all of the differences we see between the two have no bearing that particular aspect.
Just wanted to toss this out there. If you make a comment, change your name, and make a comment - comments made prior to the change will not reflect the new name.
+Ben Branch Then please stop with the "if I have to tell you..." distraction and lay your wisdom on me. Why is it not okay for me to keep my gender secret, but it is okay for me to keep who I'm dating secret. Clearly I'm too stupid to have thought of your totally amazing reason, so give it to me like I was a 5 year old who sugar-coma'd through preschool.
+Jordan Gibson - Yes, I do think that places where women wear the veil now did not start out by them always wearing veils throughout history. Surely you don't think that people in the Middle East ALWAYS wore veils?
AS: not what I said. I asked if you thought they were gender-equality utopias. Because if they were horrifically gender-imbalanced societies like most at the time, where women were largely property, wouldn't you think it was probably some dude's idea?

Basically, I find your imagined chronology unconvincing in the extreme
Summary of Jordan Gibson's posts: (not specifically in this order)

"Why are you even posting here?"
"You're a troll"
"You're a troll"
"Oh good point, but who asked you?"
"I'm awesome (but it's sarcastic so it's ok)"
"Calling someone a 'they' is perfectly acceptable"
"Cool story bro"
"No, you're wrong (one sentence explanation as to why to complex issue)"
"No, you're wrong (one sentence explanation as to why to complex issue)"
"Sarcasm, good show"
"I'm going to pretend you said something you explicitly said you didn't believe"

Or just "I'm a conceited asshole, and I'm ok with the world knowing it". You got your wish, I'm sure many people are using your lovely example to help test the Block option. I'll be interested in seeing if you can even see this, seeing as I still see your vitriolic posts here.
Can we avoid the meta-meta-meta comments, especially the ones directed at specific people? I realize that this is one as well, but someone had to say it... if you want to point out to someone that they're being a poor member of the discussion, do it with a separate, shared-only-with-them post.
+Ben Branch "What you will find is that people generally do want to be recognized for their gender, among other taboo topics." Then why not let them have a choice? The people who want to be recognized for their gender can make the choice to display it, and those who do not want to be recognized for it can choose to not display it. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with allowing the recipient of the communication to decide how they are addressed?

What you're essentially saying is that a speaker is entitled to know the gender of the person to whom they are speaking, and I don't agree with that, nor do I see it as being a requirement to have a conversation. See the vast majority of conversations that go on in forums, games, twitter, et cetera - all of the places that don't require listing an explicit gender, yet still manage to be social communities.
+Ben Branch If people want to be recognized for their gender, or want to have their gender identity enabled, they'll set their gender to public. You're arguing for requiring them to do so.
+Ben Branch I disagree that "exactly mirroring face to face conversation" is "more human". I am a human regardless of the medium in which I express myself, whether that is visually, audibly, through text, or whatever.

I can't speak face-to-face with someone on another continent "in real life"; only on the internet. It's a good thing that I can use the internet to do that, because it's bad that I'm otherwise restricted.

In the same vein, yes, it's hard to keep people from letting their visual perceptions bias their assumptions of gender in a face-to-face conversation, but it's easy on the internet. It's a good thing that the internet can do that, because it's bad that people are otherwise restricted to putting themselves at the mercy of assumption.

At the end of the day, giving people choices is a good, and forcing decisions on them is not.
You also don't especially have the option to hide your physical location in public. Would you favor forcing that information too? Point is, you're not distinguishing between things that just happen to be forced by physical interaction, and things that contribute to the "human-ness" of the interaction. How does forcing someone to publicly answer questions about their gender identity contribute to the human-ness of the interaction, other than "it is sortof like this other type of interaction that I consider more human"

Edit: as to 4chan, it is a far cry from "withholding one's gender" to "not being able to tie any two posts together into a coherent identity". So far as to be a worthless comparison. In fact, we're not talking about anonymity at all, we're talking about privacy. If I withhold my gender, you don't have any questions about who I am. I'm the same person you've been talking to this whole time. The one Lee super doesn't like (hi, Lee). There's no anonymity there, you just don't know a fact about me. Why do you think you're entitled to that fact? Just because if we were standing next to each other you think you'd be able to guess it anyway? Unconvincing.

Edit2: Oh hi Amber I entirely missed your post.
I understand the concern about privacy and in that sense I agree. However, I don't support the idea that the service should cater to women who have some kind of phobia of men.
+Josh Saint Jacque One could turn that argument around and ask why it should cater to individuals who have a problem with not knowing others' genders.
You haven't explained why gender is important to identity, communication, and conversation, except to say that it is apparent in meatspace conversation. So I'm following that logic until you give me some that's better. Chasing that line, would you favor mandatory disclosure of ethnicity, too? Height, maybe? I mean, height cues have been shown in studies to influence all sorts of social stuff. How will I know to be properly (intimidated by/disdainful of) you if I don't know how tall you are?

Explain why mandatory disclosure of gender is a feature, rather than a bug, of face-to-face interaction and maybe we can go somewhere. Right now, you're just going with the axiom "more like face-to-face"=good, which I am attempting to demonstrate is pretty damn silly, in the absence of any other reason.
+Ben Branch There is a difference between providing the option of emulating face-to-face conversation, and forcing people to. Surely you can see it. I like hangouts just as much as the next person, but that doesn't mean I think everyone should be forced to use them (nor is that the case).
+Ben Branch You're absolutely right that I haven't told you why it's a bad thing. I have my reasons, but I'm not terribly interested in offering them. Because I think, if you're going to argue that I should be required to provide information about myself, it should be up to you to say why it's necessary, not up to me to justify why I'd rather not. Informational privacy should be the default. Thus why every other field has privacy settings. Anyway, ta.

+Amber Yust And, in fact, hangouts are entirely limitable by circle, they're not all open to the public...
+Ben Branch Oh, that one's easy. "Because the site is in beta and I, a user, want it. And so do all these other people."
It kills the time.
C Weeks
I like Google+. Google+ has a feedback button. I don't like broadcasting my gender on a social network. I still like Google+ enough to want to keep using it, but would also like to not broadcast my gender through it.

Does that sound rational?
C Weeks
Exactly. I mean, it looks like a pretty good reason to me.
My goodness! It's a bad enough thing to waste time, but to kill it?! Killing time should be a capital offense!
Cool. You disclose your gender all you want. Cool thing about new features is that you don't need to use them.
+Ben Branch You've yet to convince us that "enhancing the emulation of face to face interaction" is inherently good in all aspects.
Whether you use the emulated face to face interaction is your choice, some people see a use for it, I personally had a nice time with it for about 5 minutes with one of my fellow denizens. I think that it is more worth pointing out not that it is not neccessarily neccessary, but that it is extremely well done. I was having almost lagless chat with someone who I believe is on the west coast (and I am on the east coast) of the United States. Most other face-to-face programs I have used have had a noticeable degree of lag when chatting with someone who is just on the other side of my town.
+Chris Sauro Wikipedia has the strangest lists!

Edit: I do not wish to imply that transgendered people are strange, I was really just saying that that is another list I did not expect wikipedia to have.
The hangouts are pretty damn awesome, I agree.
+Ben Branch That has "grasping at straws" written all over it. Are you going to give up any time soon? Anyway, the point of hangouts isn't to expose private details to people you don't know, something that happens to your gender (if you wish to keep your gender private) unless you select Other, which itself has its own problems which have been dealt with several times over in these comments. It's not like someone will go to a hangout with you with the sole purpose of finding out details about you that you haven't included in your profile. Hangouts are for face-to-face discussions with people you already know well enough to feel comfortable having a face-to-face discussion with.
Though you can, if you insist on keeping everything transparent and insisting that the whole damn Internet should be able to know whatever they want to know about you if they want to know something about you.
When I was in my early 20s, back in the late 80s (which doesn't seem so long ago, but we didn't have "the Internet" then so it must be), I graduated college and got my first apartment. My mother reminded me to make sure I was listed in the phone book by my initials and last name, rather than first name/last name, to avoid advertising that a single female lived at my address. (Obviously, if a married couple lived there, the phone would be in the man's name!) This was not a weird or uncommon idea at the time. I suspect the only reason it sounds quaint now is that no one uses the phone book anymore!

It was also common for women who listed their full names in the phone book to get crank calls (heavy breathers, for example). I don't know whether this happened to men as much. I'd wager that if it did, they were less likely to feel threatened by it.

Yes, all of this is a symptom of a deeper and larger problem. That problem is not going to change overnight. Changing the "required" and/or "public" nature of the gender settings on profiles could happen overnight, I'm sure, and it would make things just a little bit better for a lot of people.
+Warren Hancock Right? It's just like in real life where I never close my front door and random strangers are constantly showing up in my living room.

(Okay, college was actually sortof like that. But by choice)
You realize that one of the big selling points of G+ is that it offers more privacy options than facebook, rather than less, yeah?
C Weeks
"any sane person would only track those close to them like Facebook"

I think this already happens
+Ben Branch I am more likely to share my profile with more people if it has better privacy options for who can see what. Your reasoning is flawed.
+Ben Branch I have spent about 5 minutes now trying to think of a polite way to continue this debate. I can't, and now that you have openly said that you know you are right, well, it sort of closed the entire thing. I don't see why anyone, under any circumstance, would enter a discussion/debate knowing that they are right. This, to me, now feels less like intelligent discourse and more like arguing with the JW at my doorstep. So now, I'm just going to shut my door and hope you stop ringing the doorbell and shouting verses at me.
One of my friends has not completed his profile, except for the mandatory gender, which is correctly displayed as Male. On the same page as the "Gender: Male", Google+ says: "Charles has not filled out their profile yet." So if the mandatory gender thing is for pronoun selection, they're doin' it rong.
I appreciate your correct use of the em dash
Feedback sent. Users should have control over what information they share. Forcing them to share information that they don't want shared is not OK.
Way back about a hundred million years ago, I used to hang out in virtual environments called MOOs (Multi User Object Oriented.) LambdaMOO was the mothership and we had very interesting genders to play with there. I spent some time otherly gendered, Spivak, IIRC. People had the hardest time talking to me when they didn't know if I was m or f. It was as if they didn't know if they could (virtually) hug me, or whether they might fall in love with me if they didn't have a box to put me into.
I wanted to do research on it when I was in grad school, but never did.
Online gender still fascinates me.
Whoah, I was on Lambda for years. (Still am, actually.) Messing with gender there was interesting precisely because of how it changed how people interacted with you. I got in a bit of trouble for writing something that logged the genders of people that looked at me as part of a project to correlate that with the gender I was presenting. The results were unsurprising, but it was fun to try.
+Randall Munroe Thanks for writing this post - its an important issue, and we really appreciate your honest feedback. I talked with some members of the Google+ team earlier today, and they're currently working on figuring out the best possible solution.

Personally, I feel that defaulting to male pronouns for those who declare their gender as 'other' (or don't publicly declare a gender) is an even bigger problem (although maybe I'm just biased, as a female who doesn't mind publicizing my gender). I recently had quite a long discussion with a friend about how the generic he carries strong subconscious influences, which is especially unfortunate in communities where women are already under-represented. </rant>

Anyways... the team is working on it, so hopefully they'll come up with a solution that pleases everyone.
I don't know, this feels kind of patronizing. On the other hand, I don't think I would even notice if the "Gender" field was removed.
Randall Munroe, you rock my world so hard. -Female Google+ user
Perhaps the option should change from:
Gender: Male/Female/Other

Pronouns to use: Male/Female/Random

Would be fun to see random in action.. "Alex added you to one of his circles, add her back!"
Thanks so much for saying this. When systems are designed by people with privilege they will always tend to overlook the needs of the less privileged. In this case the fix is simple: make gender into a text field so users can describe themselves. Isn't the point of a profile to allow people to present themselves as they wish to be known?
Thinking more about this, I'd say that "Gender: Male, Female, Other" feels like "Cultural Heritage: White, Black, Other" -- inadequate, lacking in complexity, and insensitive to people who aren't the most privileged.
Nick BP
take it easy, stop taking website profiles so seriously, there are better things to fight for
I understand all the translation issues, but they still didn't need to make the gender field public.

Side note: I never thought I'd "support" facebook over google, being a self-proclaimed google fangirl from the start, but after interning at both, I find that I have a lot more respect for the management of these issues at facebook.
I've never thought of it as much of an issue.
Privacy controls are decent enough to stop any unwanted attention a person's gender attracts. Gender is a very fundamental identity for a person in a public space, and hiding that is as good as wearing a mask in public at all times. :/
I think "Other" should be removed. All people in the world are either male or female. Yes, sometimes leftists will lie about their gender for political reasons, but it's not Google's job to assist bullshit like that.
Oh... there we go again... I´d like to be able to fully understand why is all the fuzz about this subject now and then, but... please, if you want to go social, go! If you like to keep "private" what in hell are they doing here after all?
I strongly agree with this and add, this is no fun for people with complicated genders who might not have made them public, either. The gender field should be a text box, perhaps with drop down hints but no forced choice.
Harry F
People that are ashamed or otherwise uncomfortable about their real life persona enough to want to dilute/modify/obscure aspects of it online should change their real life selves or situation, rather than wasting that same energy on campaigning for greater internet anonymity. Man up [lol].
Gender should also be a text field instead of a pull-down menu. Not everybody fits nicely into Male/female boxes. And Other leaves too many questions. I should be able to say I'm a Butch/Femme, or a Manly Man, or a Girly Boy, or Tomboy or TransFtoM or get really creative. At least, the "Other" option should turn on a text entry field.
I'm aware that this request may seem silly to many people, but it's really important. All the reasons Randall gives for gender privacy are very relevant. All the examles he gives for "Other" are also valid. I can think of dozens more examples.
Many people with alternate gender expressions are very proud of there gender. (And should be! They've often had to fight for it!) And others are justified in wanting to keep it very secret. They've not yet won their fights, or found safe spaces to live as themselves. "Man Up" is a stupid demand. "Manning up" would get a lot of them beaten up, severely injured, or killed.
I'd even argue that it would make sense for people to choose which gender they express to be different for each circle they create. They may not be able to be out to some people, and can be to others. But I can imagine that would be very complicated to program, and would make the data structures for the circles potentially unwieldy. And there is an easier way to have multiple genders shown for yourself; Use separate accounts. Still If I'm wrong about ease of implementation, I think it'd be kinda cool.
The pronoun question has an easy answer for programmers. People who pick "Other", or choose to keep gender secret, can use singular They/them/their pronouns. It's an easy solution, with centuries of precedence. Shakespeare used Singular "They" and "Their" and "Them" more than once, and in more than one of his plays.

Seriously though, we all know that when the product is free, we are the product. Being able to target ads to only men or only women will be worth bazillions to Google so it's extremely important for them to know. I still don't see the problem with "Other". Maybe if they offer an optional free text field for whoever wants to choose "Other"...?
To begin with, it would be no skin off my nose if there's a "middle" option, hidden option or even an elaborate gender system. I won't mind, most won't care - they'll just pick what they want and do what they want on Google+, leaving comments, uploading pictures, having debates, publicising or hiding their identity.

But this has brought up an issue around gender confidence and a hornets nest has stirred separate from this issue. What are you ultimately uncomfortable with. The summary is "Female vulnerability" ultimately leads one to not being confident about their gender? I don't know - that seems implausible. I have a feeling you're trying to get at something else without admitting it and it's not selling your highly important point correctly.

Without beating around the bush, are you unsure of your gender? I can only assume that gender options on social websites are a reminder of that issue for you and I can completely understand the need from that perspective for giving you a chance to keep it private. But at the same time from the point of your long post, you confused a lot of us without saying it straight and you slightly undermined women and their confidence.

They're ain't nothing wrong with whatever or whoever you are but being confident and honest about this point is the first step to destroying the vulnerabilities, don't hide - it just feeds the bastards.
If it's a matter of getting the pronoun right, why not just ask a question like this:

When referring to you in the third person, should we say "his," "hers," "its," or "theirs?"
Gender is seen - erroneously - as invoking certain stereotypes and inviting certain kinds of approaches.

In an environment that is stripped of most other signals that are used to prejudge people (ethnicity, physical attractiveness, accent, education, economic status portrayed through clothing etc etc), there seems no reason to project gender either. Online environments at their best are arenas of ideas.

I have a gender (that I am perfectly comfortable with), I just wouldnt choose to project it into this environment.

However, I'm equally unhappy with using 'other' as a way to acheive that. 'Other' is a disavowal of the gendered choices on offer, whereas what I want is somewhere between "no comment", "none of your business" and "stop staring at my crotch and listen to what I'm actually saying".
Kent Brewster has it right, the which pronoun thing is a separate question. Ask both.
fucking sensitive America...
It looks like Google+ punts on that issue by making all "other" users male in all languages

In this case I believe it actually makes sense, as other languages (at least French) default to male if there is no gender. Plus it has to default to something.

I do however agree that having your gender displayed should be an option, as a name + picture should be good enough to determine that.

Also this is most certainly a good time to send lots of feedback and make it the best it can be :)
"There are quite a few people who are accurately described by an "other" option, and when they're sometimes struggling for recognition, co-opting their label for anyone who doesn't want to broadcast their gender seems a little off-putting."

It may seem that way, but most of the actual-other people I know (admittedly, a small sample) have no problem with people assuming other-gendered-ness online.

With all the facets and aspects that gender has, all of us have the right to claim it.
It would be a really excellent step forward for Other to simply offer write-in boxes for gender and pronoun. Also to, you know, not require gender be public.
+Bruno Barbaroxa you are right, although the post you mention was the most heavily inflamatory (my response to him got downvoted at least 5 times and is currently at +9) I also got down/up voted several times on other posts, and I guess so did many other HNers according to how I saw comments go up and down almost randomly.
Chris Z
I think as long as we force gender to be mandatory and public, we should force body type (skinny, average, chubby) to be mandatory and public, for the same reasons.
yeah... what will happen when robots make their accounts? we don't want to isolate them :)
I hope the above comment is a joke.
Thanks Randall, your intelligence and clear lack of ignorance shine through in this post.
Props, #XKCD
This has to be some of the most absurd nitpicking I've ever seen.
Chris Z
It's fundamentally really not more absurd than saying "I should be able to mark my name as private" or "I should be able to mark my skype username as private" or "I should be able to mark my age as private". You should be able to mark everything on your profile private if you want to.
If you're having problems seeing the offense in the gender question, replace that question with this one:

How's your hair? (required, public)
- Not Bald
- Bald
- Other

Unless your hair is fantastic and you're utterly free of concern, a stream of thoughts and questions is going to go through your head while answering, such as:

1. My hair somewhere in between, or I wear a wig, or a toupee, or I've had transplant surgery in the past -- so what do I choose? Other?
2. What is Google going to do with this information?
3. Who are they going to sell it to?
4. Do I really want my hair associated with my online presence?
5. I'm already judged unfairly / discriminated against / treated differently because of my hair, why would Google require me to divulge it and make it public as a condition for joining their network?
6. Why was "bald" the second choice? Why was "not bald" first?
7. Seriously, why does Google want to know this?

Thankfully, Google doesn't ask us for our hair status. If they did, made it ternary, made it mandatory, and made it unchangeably public, you'd probably find a whole different group of people feel utterly discriminated against than the ones who feel uncomfortable here.

So why should it be any different for gender?
Although I'm pretty sure this comment is so far down it's probably going to go unread, it's sad to see Randall, who I consider a very forward thinking person, still holds true to these gender stereotypes. Although I totally agree with your conclusion that gender should be able to be private, your reasoning is borderline sexist, "Many women grow up with a sense of physical vulnerability that's hard for men to appreciate."

This reasoning not only reinforces gender stereotypes but is also exclusionary in placing females in the role of physical vulnerability and by omission males not being in this position and being the oppressors. Then stating that men find this hard to "appreciate" puts perceived ignorance over a whole male sex. To crudely paraphrase this argument, "Women feel weak (physical vulnerability), men are stupid (can't understand this), therefore women shouldn't have to reveal their sex on Google+."

A better argument would have been "Many people grow up with a sense of physical vulnerability because of their gender or perceived gender role that can be hard for others to appreciate."
Correlation definitely doesn't imply causation, but I do find it interesting that all of the people throwing in comments along the lines of "stop being so sensitive" or "who cares" appear to identify as male...
facebook or google+... it doesn't matter. In both we share personal details about our lives. We put pictures up, tell everyone where we live, what we do for a living, what our interests are, where we went to school, who are friends are, what we are currently doing, what we plan on doing tomorrow (this weekend, next week, etc.). The list of what we share online goes on and on and on.

Our gender is something that anyone who sees us can easily discern. Pretending that you want to protect your privacy by not sharing whether you are male or female while at the same time sharing all of the other tidbits is laughable. And google asking the question isn't offensive. And no matter how hard you try, the internet isn't anonymous.

If you're honestly worried that someone will make a derogatory comment about you based on your gender, I've got news for you... those same people are going to make derogatory comments about you, but they'll just find some other reason. They're TROLLS. They're so commonplace that we've even created a term to describe them. Keeping your gender private won't stop them from being trolls. If you choose "I'd rather not say" or "other" or whatever else for your gender, then they'll probably just say something like you're such an ugly chick that even you don't know your gender. You can't stop meanness on the internet.
+Scott Willsey Except that why Google cares about it isn't the topic here. The topic is why it's required to show it to everyone else who visits your profile.
First off. I love XKCD.
But you are absolutely right. Requiring gender does in fact infer a heavily male design team. Beyond the alphabet soup politics (LGBTQI), which are many, there are other significant issues in doing this. Especially considering the public nature of G+.
For one requiring a gender is unnecessary to begin with. Right now I have a startup I am involved with called MueVue. When it gets down to it, I am the one writing these requirements for the site. Want to know the one thing I am not requiring and I identified as something not to require from the start: GENDER. It is unnecessary to include it as a required field for users, and potentially damaging and alienating when you do require it. Taking MueVue will be a site focused on creative work and creative communities, people knowing the gender of a creator can actually create a bias for or against the creator. You know who the gender bias hurts the most? Women who are creative artists, authors, etc. Taking subjectivity is a thing I lose sleep over, the gender issue is a pretty big deal for me.

The are psychological studies on how gender effects the attitudes of people. It has an effect in how we treat other human beings, some of it is in a cultural context. It is not just the physical aspect, but it is also how women are treated online as well, how thier opinions are valued, etc. Gender creates a filter that effects how people approach each other. Requiring it in online communities does scare some women away (and that is just the start). Making it optional however encourages wider use.

Making gender as a requirement does in some ways reflect a certian level of privilege and lack of understanding. Privilege does that, its not a conscious act, but rather an unconscious one. They didn't think it was an issue, because they didn't think it was an issue, it never crossed thier mind. It does creates a bias in the system that is by in large unnecessary to create in the first place. To me in some ways this does reflect that maybe they did not have a social science/psychological User experience (UX) person involved who usually does consider these issues, in addition to having more women involved in the process. If anything it does kind of strike me there was something missing to make the decision to make the field both required and public.

Some of the guys who are dismissive of this view in some ways are prime examples of exhibiting this level of privilege. They are being dismissive of the women who are posting on this issue. It is a prime example of the influence of gender on how people treat each other. Sometimes this is for the better, other times for the worse.

I am just talking about the issues of bias and privilege. I am not getting into the creep/stalker factor which is a big issue onto itself.

This requirement is probably more loaded than a real-name requirement. The nature of how it is loaded is multifaceted. (The male pronouns for other is another issue, and yes, an even bigger mistake on googles part, since it is the only other option to listing male or female, and many women may choose it for privacy reasons which were brought up.) Thanks for raising this issue, you are more enlightened than most guys out there for the very fact you are conscious of this issue.
It's interesting how some people are interpreting this, and the foofarah about Dawkins' misinterpretation about why smart, worldly women don't like to be propositioned by ANY guy (even the little geeky ones) at 4 am on an elevator in a strange city, as a fearfulness on the part of women. As a woman who regularly and gamely travels alone, sleeps in her car or on campgrounds, socializes with random strangers, etc., I'm not particularly fearful. I am, however, not stupid.

Visit a few websites on surviving as a tough chick(tm) in the real world, and one of the things they tell you is: assert yourself. Practice saying "no", and never assume someone is harmless, because making you feel like your suspicions are stupid is one of the best tactics for getting you to let down your guard. In the real world, bad things happen more to women than to men, and often times the men don't even realize that what they're doing is a crime. So those of us who choose to navigate the real world on our own get wary about creating exploitable vulnerabilities. Not because we're timid or fearful, but because we're realistic, and hey, man, if it's a choice between your comfort or mine in a situation where I don't know with great certainty that you're well-intentioned and harmless, guess which I'm going with? You have a problem with it, start schooling your own gender; mine's learned its lessons when it comes to misplacing trust.

I listed my gender as 'other' automatically, not because I'm worried about a random stalker (although 3 of my friends and several of my acquaintances have been stalked, and I have had random strangers attempt to find my home address), but because it's no one's business, and I don't want the girlified adverts, thank you. My pic is the dog because most of my own pics are not ideal for both work and play, g+ doesn't seem to offer separate profile options for different circles, and come on, my pooky baby is adorable (and savage. But mostly adorable).

When you see a profile like mine, kindly don't picture a timid, terrified widdle baby girl. Trust me, I'm anything but. Just assume I'm someone who has been out in the world long enough to know that my personal info is nunya.
Google wants to know your gender, because it's selling all the data to advertisers.

[I'm still so surprised nerds are fine with this. Somehow Apple is evil because they have the power to do something with data, and could/might (even though there's been no evidence of them ever doing anything.) Google is wonderful and open, even though we know they are scraping all our data and selling it. Makes no sense to me.]

And this is terrible. Google's engineers should be smarter than this. Or Google should get some designers who are smarter than this. Just more evidence of the much of the tech industry's cluelessness when it comes to sexism.
I'm sincerely glad there is at least the "other" but there should really be either also a "rather not say" option or a "keep this field private" option. No-brainer, Google.
Eli R
@Jen Simmons The comparison between Google and Apple doesn't really work, because Apple charges you to use their products, whilst Google provides all their services for free. If Google charged me $5 a month to use their services (or some other amount) then I would expect that they would not sell my data. If I buy a Mac or something with a huge profit margin from apple, I would be angry they're making money money off of my information.
I can tell you that we have raised this as a serious privacy issue in the Red Phone private discussion group--it's people who have been serious contributors to other beta programs, etc. The consensus is that this must be changed.
The post below is purely my personal opinion and not that of my employer.
Google requires gender not for advertising, but due to the engineering problem of pronouns. In order to say "Jane Smith has added you to her circles", Google needs to know that Jane identifies as female. Nothing sinister about it. It has to be public because these (and similar messages) will otherwise leak this information.
This field could have been labeled as grammatical gender selection, though that label may be confusing to most people. You cannot have arbitrary selections for grammatical as Google+ is translated to many languages.
Asking about pronouns is very English-centric. In Hebrew, for example, any verb must match with the the subject's gender and there is no neutral form (such as singular they).
Regarding choosing your own gender expression, there are other fields in the profile where you can elaborate about your gender. The selection field is there out of engineering necessity. Not posting it on the profile is an option, but then it may convey the message that this information will not be deducible otherwise, which is incorrect.
That said, I do support making the engineering effort to restrict the gender field to a circles, or no one (or indeed, not filling it in at all). In which case inappropriate or neutral grammatical tense will be used.
This reminds me vividly of driving home from wingstop in Germantown -- when we were chatting about gender neutral pronouns. This was a really interesting issue, and something I never really thought about; I just put female. For all that I went to a woman's college, I sometimes feel epically unaware of gender issues. :/
+Alon Altman The difference is that most pronoun visibility will only be for those who are seeing posts from an individual, whereas the Gender field is required to be public, and thus visible to anyone visiting the Google profile (which as of recent decisions is now required to be visible to the entire internet). Thus, I can't really buy the argument that "since it will be revealed through pronoun usage, the current lack of privacy is required".

If there's a worry that people might be under the impression that no one could deduce it, then put a note with it stating otherwise. From one software engineer to another, putting a text note by a field seems like a completely reasonable engineering problem. ;)
Excellent post.
Excellent link about marriage.
See? G+ is for more than posting cute animals and talking about G+! :D
Chris, things like that are more a matter of paying attention to how you word various messages. For instance, it could instead say either "The following users are already in that circle: ____" or "The user you are trying to add is already in that circle" (depending on whether the message needs to accomodate multiple users or not). That way, even in gendered languages, the gender of the verb would take on whatever gender "user" typically has, as opposed to the gender of the actual individual in question.
+Karen Marie English already has 'they/them/their/theirs' as a perfectly suitable option.
Hey Randall, you should check out Diaspora, where gender is an optional field and that field is fill in the blank. Care for an invite?
Also, I'd really love to tag you when I'm responding to you Chris Greene, but apparently there are enough "Chris Green"s on Google+ that you don't show up in the top 5. goes off to submit feedback about how the searchbox for tagging should prioritize people in the current comment thread
That Tall Guy: Diaspora faces a number of other issues, including actually achieving the critical mass of people on it to make it useful as a social network.
I wish one could specify "immaterial" or "not anyone's business." I don't mind identifying as female, but I don't see why anyone should have to do so. I have had long-term interesting online discussions with people whose gender I never knew, and frankly it pleased me that I didn't know. They were a person with a voice. I didn't care about their genitals. (Although, yes, I can see that it may be helpful to know at time in order to understand someone's position on something -- the Elevator Man discussions come to mind - but on the whole it really doesn't matter to me.
As a woman, I deeply dig what you're expressing here. I would like to add that, while I have no qualms about identifying as a female in cyberspace, my fella prefers to be gender neutral.
Something great about G+ - they don't ask for 'relationship status.
That's the first thing that put me off. Also, the default setting for almost everything is "Anyone on the Web".
Months ago I applied for a Google Code project and the form had 4 options for "Gender": Male, Female, Other, I prefer not to answer. Given that this is "Plus", well, they should at least do the same :D
As someone whose phone listing has always been Inititials-Lastname, because if only women list by initials then it useless, I understand your point. And I was all ready to go switch to Other. Finishing your article showed that not to be a fair option.

Well put. Informative. Thank you.
I'm glad someone is noticing these things, because I, in my male cisgenderedness, didn't even give it a second thought. I do hope that Google is coming up with solutions that work best for all.

And while they're at it: Better comment threading. Trying to figure out which comments people are replying to is giving me a headache....
"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."

I'm sorry but all I get from this post is that you think I need to be coddled and that I'm scared to use a Social Network because I'm a girl. As a strong confident woman that has been on the interwebs since 1991, I think I can handle things on my own, or choose not to use a service if I don't like the UI.
This is an absurd argument. When you see someone walking down the street you unconsciously make the distinction between male and female. This is no different. Google is progressive enough to understand that some people don't wish to be categorized as either male or female so they provide an other. Including a hundred different designations would be a UI/UX nightmare. Allowing a text field would make the profile information useless and, for some, a joke. Google wants the information so they can build statistical analysis of what different types (including gender) of people are doing.
Yah what Eric Weiss said!! Besides, everyone knows google sucks at UI. Don't make this any harder for their little heads.
If you agree with the OP, go to your About page, click "Send feedback" at the bottom right, highlight Gender, and suggest that they make its display optional.
Annette B, the entire point of early adoption is to provide user feedback so the developers can create a better user experience once they go fully public. If you're just here to gripe, Facebook awaits you.
I think it's a huge step back to stress the potential victim/fear of men aspect of all female experience of everything. I am affraid this leads to redefining male/female relationships in a problematic and completely unresolvable way.
I disagree with the OP's rationale, but not its conclusion. It's sufficient to say that many people will have a variety of reasons for wanting to opt out of publicly displaying their gender. That its display should be optional seems like a no-brainer to me.
Gabe - sorry it's a public post. If I think he's slighting my gender instead of doing it a 'favor' then I have every right to say as much. But thanks for explaining Beta to me.
I was responding to the idea that Google is no good at UI so don't bother with feedback, not the idea that the OP's rationale is misdirected, which I agree with.
Please make gender a textfield. Let us define our own gender. Blank should also be an option.
This isn't just about privacy or about harassment, as important as those questions are, it's also about controlling the way you want to interact with consumer culture, and I don't think that is going to be addressed with the option of keeping the information from being published on your profile, because that won't keep Google from selling the info to advertisers. I used to have my gender listed as female on FB and all the ads I saw were geared towards making me hate myself for being in a female body: TONS of weight-loss ads, all the things that I can avoid pretty easily in real life by just not watching TV or picking up women's magazines were there in the sidebar of FB every time I logged in. Eventually, I installed Adblock in my default browser, but before I did, I switched my gender to nonspecified and instead of getting ads about hating my body I got ads about everything else in the world there is to advertise. Right now, in ad-free beta, I listed myself as female because it's more accurate and for the reasons Randall goes into, I don't want to co-opt "other", but when the ads show up, I'll consider the question not to be an impolite question about how I identify but to be a polite inquiry about what kind of ads I want sent my way--and then I'll switch to "other".
To everyone saying "This is unnecessary because I don't need it": great, congratulations. Now please understand that not everyone is exactly like you. Your experience is not universal.

To everyone saying "They need this data for statistics and advertisers and etc": the way it is now, a nontrivial subset of users are forced to either lie or be unnecessarily vague. How is incorrect/incomplete data going to be more helpful?

Personally I think a good solution would be to have a dropdown with four choices: "Male", "Female", "Prefer not to say" (or something similar), and "Other...", and if "Other..." is selected then a text field appears for the user to enter whatever they like. That way, the most common cases are accommodated (and the ability to do data mining on them preserved) while still allowing users to easily identify themselves in whichever way they are most comfortable with. Additionally, this sort of approach could help with the grammar aspect as well; if a user selected "Prefer not to say" or "Other..." there could be an input to select how they should be referred to grammatically, similar to the "Bucket Gender" Randall mentioned above.

I recognize that writing the code to handle all this could be arbitrarily difficult, especially in languages where there is no clear workaround for the non-male/female cases (English has it relatively easy in this respect). Still, I'm pretty confident that Google has smart enough people to come up with a good solution if they chose to.

The question of privacy settings for the gender field is completely orthogonal to its values, but I totally agree that it should be able to be private.
Didn't read the whole comment thread, but did search for "intersex" and only turned up one hit that isn't relevant to my concern, so I'm raising it here.

+Randall Munroe Using people with intersex conditions as the biological "other" gender is a bad idea. Most of them identify as male or female, so saying they're "other" is like kicking them in the balls-or-whatnot after society's spent their lifetimes making them feel inadequate and possibly doing other things to them. Likewise, by asserting the supremacy of biological sex you're giving a big eff you to the entire trans community. Yeah, the biological reality of diversity is perhaps a good way to convince people to accept diverse identities, but perhaps phrase it, "There are many people who identify as something other than male or female, and even if you don't recognize gender other than biological sex, there's plenty of people who can claim 'other' biology..."
These changes may come soon! I just noticed on a friend's profile "John has not filled out their profile yet." John's sex is listed publicly as male but G+ did not use the male pronoun with him.
I hate to sound offensive, so please don't take this the wrong way, but can anyone explain why this is a big deal to have a mandatory gender choice? I disagree with the fact that they force it to be public to the world, but why is it a problem to make you choose as long as they only make it viewable to people in your circles? Genetically there is a Male, Female, and other. I understand that some people struggle with their identity, but generally it's because they want to associate with the gender that they aren't, in which case I don't understand the problem in picking the other gender... Again, I'm not trying to start a flame war, I'm wanting to see what the issue is.
I think the issue is that it is public--you can't hide your gender. Having to choose isn't the main problem.
+Gertalot Arohanui I can see where you are coming from, but the matter of a fact is, I don't see how there's anything "special" about choosing other. Some people just find it easier to make the choice than others, it would be like finding it wrong to say you are an artist when you have only been drawing for a month and are 36 years old. It's just who you are. I dunno, I guess its just one of those things thats hard to understand unless you are in the situation. Thank you for sharing though!

edit:I'll take a look at the essays later, and see if they help to explain the issue :)
I whole-heartedly agree. I also really love what Google+ has to offer and thus would love to see things like this being fixed early on. I hope this does get changed! It may seem small but it's important on so many levels. I saw one comment above that mentions this I think, but making it optional or even have a box for us to type in what we label ourselves as would be great, rather than a binary drop-down menu.
re: public accountability for your comments - what does gender have to do with that?
Sorry if this is already addressed, haven't read the whole thread yet.
And a last note, the reason Google requires certain information is simple - demographic info combined with interests, tracking your online habits, location, etc., is how they make their money. It's who they are, it's what they do, it's why google+ exists.
I understand. Personally I block all ads, because I don't like anyone trying to sell me anything unless I approach them first.
Google is primarily a data-collection & advertising company, though. So, public or not, your data is being packaged & monetized.
I was about to enter this discussion when I realized that most of it has been said by now. Let Google read it (I'm sure googlers have read this by now) and let them take the decision accordingly. I'm sure there were no bad intentions (as mentioned already since the OP), now go be happy. Those that after so many posts still disagree won't change their opinions by now and viceversa.
Ka-Ping Yee ( ) created a web mediator called Regender ( ) that will gender-reverse the text of any particular URL you point it at; it can be eye-opening (particulary for men).
Rather simple and biological way to determine sex (also known as gender, and probably what Google meant by gender, as they probably didn't want to put in sex).
If you have a Y chromosome, you are male. If you don't you are female. Simple as that.
People that are XXY are still male, they just might not function as such.
Saying the opposite is like saying people with down syndrome (and other such things, such as XXY) aren't really people, because people only have 23 chromosome pairs (46 chromosomes), but they have an extra one.

The Y chromosome is what defines sex. It causes the female parts to be destroyed and the male parts to form. This is not up for debate, it is fact. Sometimes it will not work, but that changes nothing.

The only other there is, is when they have 2 sets of genomes, i.e. when some cells have a Y chromosome, and other cells have no Y chromosome. This is similar to them actually being 2 people, fused into 1.

Also, this obviously only applies to humans and other species that have the same sex determination.
This does not include the other system (I think WZ, where a chromosomes presence indicates female, things which change gender during life like clown fish, things that are both genders like slugs, and some things that have heaps of genders such as one type of fungus that has something like 1500 genders).
I'm sure that Google wanted you to designate the presence of a Y chromosome, rather than societal gender. This is, after all, a chromosome study, and not a social networking site.

When you say, "Saying the opposite is like saying people with down syndrome (and other such things, such as XXY) aren't really people, because people only have 23 chromosome pairs (46 chromosomes), but they have an extra one," it is only true if you define personhood by their (number of) chromosomes. The same is true of gender. In any setting but a very specific, biological sense, binary gender options are extremely limiting and only mask the incredible amount of both biology and societal diversity.
I have always struggled with this as well. I petitioned Facebook over and over until they finally changed their language. There remains a lot to be done online in order to create a supportive (or at least a less persecutory) environment for persons of any gender - and it makes me glad to see that others are fighting the good fight. 
i agree. chatrolette/omegle/etc is probably the most extreme. just dicks, (not private eyes, not people named richard, the other kind)
@Jeffrey Black: But looking for the Y chromosome isn't perfect, and the why-not is explained in the essay Munroe linked to in the very first post. Look at all of the examples that Moen gives. Someone with congenital adrenal hyperplasia: XX chromosomes but "a man with all of the apparent parts." Someone with Mullerian inhibiting factor: XY chromosomes but "All the gal parts. None of the others."

Does the Y chromosome define sex? Yes and no. Yes, because some people use that standard. No, because there is no one, accepted, works-100%-of-the-time way to define sex. Looking for Y chromosomes, or "all of the parts," or a particular brain structure, are all arbitrary choices we make. Sure, any one system will probably work for 99 out of 100 cases, but 1 in 100 is a lot more than most people realize. If Google wants to compete with Facebook, with its 750 million active users, they should watch out for the 1%. (For perspective, 1% of 750 million is a little less than the population of New York City.)

Also, sex isn't gender isn't sex. From the World Health Organization (although they, too, use fairly binary man/woman language with regard to sex):

* "Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
* "Gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

I was actually wary of identifying myself as male because on MySpace, spammers would spam males more, considering the bulk of their products are targeted at us. MySpace only had 2 gender options, unfortunately. Spammers, scammers & other scum are going to target Google+ soon if they aren't already(besides the fake invites that have already been going around).
+Brandon Whittington You're missing the point. Most pieces of information, one has a choice about whether to put it in plus at all, and if it's in plus, which of your circles to reveal it to. Lots of plus users have not put their "life histories" online, at least not exposed to the whole intarwebs, but all of us have perforce made a fully-public gender statement. That such statements are simple and fairly low-risk for you or me to make doesn't make them so for everyone.
For relationships, they have an "I prefer not to say" option. Also, the only choice for gender is "everyone on the web." As Rachel Kadel-Garcia suggests, give people the option. There are many valid reasons why "I prefer not to say" is the right choice. And there are many more why this information would be better restricted to groups selected by the person owning the profile.
I'm sorry, but programming social media to purposefully obfuscate the nature of reality isn't, and shouldn't be, Google's aim. For the most part, we have identifiable genders in all real life communications, usually of that male-female binary that helps us to organize the immensely complicated patterns we filter from our social environment. Trying to subvert that binary isn't a service to women, even trans-people, because G+ can't teach people to act as though most people don't either have a penis or a vagina. To remove the gendered-ness from G+ would be an artless lie.
You write too much. I don't want to read this.
While I sympathize, and agree (for several reasons) that it shouldn't be mandatory, I have a hard time viewing this as some sort of discrimination. There are those that are male or female but identify oppositely, and those who are, to some degree, ambiguous or otherwise uncategorized. This seems to me to fit the three categories provided. Then there are those that wish to be any of the above, but are not at the moment, and they are free to put their current or desired category, as the mood suits them. The logician in me argues that "male, female, or other" in fact covers all possible choices.

But that field is not there to address society's (real or perceived) flaws in relation to gender identity and biological sex, and the fluidity between them, but to provide information about the vast, vast majority of people who have profiles. And - let's be frank - there is no way to correctly solve this problem by making it a freeform text box, which essentially defeats the purpose of the field (searchability).

I am getting rather sick of female sexism against males. The Richard Dawkins thing discussed above is a perfect example. Had she asked a man up to her room for coffee in an elevator, this wouldn't be discussed at all. But as it was, "she felt threatened". Fine, situational awareness is a good thing, but the problem is invented out of thin air when nothing came of it. A black guy on the street may mug me, but I would be a certifiable racist if I got all bent out-of-shape because one came up to me at night and asked me for directions at night. Sure, but he could have shot me, right? It happens all the time, right?
+Robert Mead I'll buy the searchability argument if and when the actually add the ability to filter search results based on that box. As it stands, the only "searching" is that done for demographics for advertisers - in which case, you can still offer them the m/f/o data, but still allow people to have a box to fill in if they mark other for what is displayed.
If you didn't here Google's announcement, gender settings will be private now. Good job!
+Randall Munroe, I think you are responsible for making google change their policy on this matter. Unfortunately even hiding it still requires an answer.
+Gertalot Arohanui - Yes, it is unfair to discriminate against them, but let's be reasonable. The vast, vast majority of people fall into (and self identify) as one of the two binary genders. Allowances should be made for those that don't, but they are the exception, and a small one at that. I am first in line to join a society that isn't full of jackasses who will demean people unlike themselves, but you're setting the bar pretty high given that intersex as a biological phenomenon is a disorder, as is non gender-normative behavior or identity, and even homosexuality (which I have no objection to) is arguably irregular (given the clear evolutionary pressure against).

Am I discriminated against because I'm a nerd? I sure was in high school, and I'd argue, still am. Is it discrimination to charge a fat person for two seats on a plane, despite the fact that they deprive the airline of an otherwise-sellable seat? Is it discrimination to have peanuts around a kid who has peanut allergies? Is it discrimination against those who don't have peanut allergies to ban peanuts? Or blocking blind people from driving a bus? Is it fair to allow a woman to take months off for maternity leave without setting her back (in promotions etc) relative to men and women who haven't had children?

Political correctness can only go so far, and you're free to disagree (and call me a monster) but I think a lot of gender identity-based episodes of alleged discrimination (such as Google having an all-inclusive combobox) don't cross the line. As an adult, I developed a thick skin because the world is an unpleasant place. I recommend others do the same, even as I try and improve the world, because changing one's self is easier than changing everyone else. And that's what a lot of this comes down to, particularly with regards to a 3-choice combobox.

P.S. Did you know that women have a lower standard deviation than men in IQ? This is because (at least as measured by IQ) there are less hyper-smart women, but equally less hyper-stupid women. May not be politically correct, but it is a fact.
Hmm this fails so bad - there is nothing the world should have to do about people ( be it men or women ) who have issues with their self image or their gender - it's the people that have to do something about it themselves. So the concept of the world ( or Google+) modifying their product to better suit any given gender is wrong. What fails even more is that Google+ actually demonstrated that they have no spine by actually including this feature in their product.
+Abhinav Jha Why do you need to know what gender a person you are discussing something with is?
+Gertalot Arohanui 5. A person can be caught in a cleft stick between their public gender presentation, and the cognitive dissonance of asserting it, contra what they privately know.
This has probably already been mentioned, but Google are adding the option to make gender private: July 12, 2011 - Google+ Update It should be available by the end of the week.

EDIT: Not related, but just I saw that the URL of the YouTube video was automatically replaced with the title. That's neat.
This thread amused me. In my language we don't have gendered grammar of any kind. Silly English speakers...
Hmm I think a lot of people care too much about gender grammar. Guess there is no harm though.
As a non-binary genderqueer trans* person I really appreciate the "other" option (though more options like Fetlife or having a fill-in-the-blank field would be nice). I also like singular they as a pronoun along with ze/zir and she/her is fine too. That's my personal preference and there are many other trans* and genderqueer people out there like myself who have a diverse range of expression.

I don't see why there could not be a fill-in-the-blank and a sub option to CHOOSE your pronoun independent of your gender fill-in. That way people who liked singular they could define that for themselves and those who like ze/zir or other pronoun sets could choose those. You could still have drop downs but have a manual override. It's not that hard to be inclusive folks, just let people self identify.
As a 32 year old defiant loud mouth, I haven't been exposed to a lot of gender discrimination. In fact, for the most part I've had to steel myself against an overwhelming insistence that I carry my vagina around like some badge of honor, a shield engraved with the family crest of The Clan of Feminists. This is a movement I chose early on NOT to subscribe to because to consider myself superior because of my gender makes me worse than a 1940's misogynist. I should know better. I DO know better. The 1940's misogynist didn't have decades of anthropology making every society's dependence on men and women alike undeniable.
All of that being said, I'm actually offended that anyone, let alone a man, would suggest we as women need some stupid veil to hide our gender behind. You can make the argument all day long that a private setting should be available for "gender", but please, for the strength of all women, abused, neglected, taken advantage of, empowered, and loud-mouthed alike, don't make it on our behalf as though we only have the strength to muster up our voices as long as it's gender-anonymously to protect ourselves from the judgements and harsh, deflating critisms of big strong powerful men.
It's ultimately insulting to women and men alike.
call me lazy, but if I can sidestep the issue of "female -> technical idiot" by simply not specifying gender, I do. Because usually I am not interested in proselytizing every stupid intentional and unintentional misogynist, but in the actual discussion.
Whoa, Randall, you sure opened a can of worms!
I strongly disagree with this. I think people are just trying to find flaws with google+.

"introducing myself with "Hi, I'm Randall." sends a different message from "Hi, I'm Randall, and I'm a MAN." "

That's blowing it way out of proportion, it's not that intense.

I don't think the gender 'vulnerability'' issue translates into google+.
+Raven Ward , Finding flaws with Google+ is the entire point of being an early adopter. We're part of the field test trial.
OT, it seems like they fixed the +[Person] algorithm to prioritize people in the comment thread, too. Nice!
That link from Linuxmafia was definitely interesting. I'd never heard of most of those problems.
I thought Google said that they were going to phase out mandatory public genders? That said, I can't remember my source for that... So I might have dreamed it up.
And now my feed updates and tells me that +Randall Munroe already knows about the fix for this. God damn it.
hunh. This post just popped back up on my feed. No idea why. ...?
I sent feedback to Google last week after realising Gender was public and unchangeable. I noticed a few days later that it changed and, perhaps naively, though it may have been a result of my feedback! I think a post with 3315 +1's carries a bit more weight than my small feedback does.

However! One issue I done see anyone else raising is that making Gender mandatory and not allowing it to be hidden actually conflicted with the Google+ Privacy Policy. (More details here: Not only was it a complex ethical issue; it went against their declaration about how they would manage user information. I was sure to highlight the relevant section in my feedback =)
Very well written, I agree with co-opting "other" just to hide gender as being a bad idea. I doubt that was included as a way to avoid disclosing gender and I have a few friends who self describe as "other" and I doubt they'd appreciate having that not be clear on their profile. insert reminder to file feedback here
anna g
I guess i should change my gender from "other" to private, now that it's available.
I think at some points, the length of the comment list must make it somewhat useless, but since this seems like a central point for the discussion, I'll point to my thoughts on letting Google know my sex/gender and use it in conversation form, but not featuring it as an important part of who I want to be seen as on my public profile:
Randall, thank you for sharing this on Google+. I do agree that being female online leads me to be on the defensive...and not that I want to be but for example:

- On my live Ustream channel, one of the first requests was for me to pull up my shirt while simultaneously pulling down my pants as if the only reason I decided to stream a show was to do a live strip tease for strangers. Because of those first few comments, I got a moderator for my show.

- On YouTube I avoided doing "talking head" videos for fear of the horrible comments I'd seen on other channels of women, and Black women. Because of that and some initial comments I got, I began moderating all my videos meaning I have to manually approve each comment.

- On Flickr, Twitpic and Facebook, I think several times before uploading a photo as it will become indexed and public. Some photos of myself I mark as non creative commons because I don't want someone taking parts of my body or face and putting it on someone else.

I avoid places like Digg that have misogynistic undertones.

Regardless, I still participate in social networks and have learned that I can actually benefit from being social because more people are on the lookout for me. We're a community that looks out for one another. I used to keep my identity private online with vague, non gender specific handles but over time, I've come to trust the Internet community. With that, I continue to encourage other women to create a presence online and stand tall. I know it's hard but we're not alone!
Ok, just for a moment, let's disregard all of the intersexed, gender queer etc people who have social, political or other issues that make them want to select "other" and, while we're at it, let's forget the feminists and their alleged "anti-male" feelings and the women who are afraid of being victimized.
I am a woman, a geeky, internet friendly woman. I prefer to not make my gender public and it is a big issue for me. Here's why - Some troll can search for people on Google + and just look at all the females within a certain area. The troll could then go through each profile page and then post whatever crap they wanted or send requests etc. Sure, that might not sound like much more than a little bit of a hassle, when it happens several times a day, every single day, it gets almost as annoying as spam bots. It really creeps me out that so many people are trolling through the people searches looking for the ones they find attractive.
In fact, on other sites, I used to get posts from men that I didn't know informing me of the great time they had pleasuring themselves while looking at my photos. (they photos were fully clothed and in no way provocative - not that it matters).
My concern isn't that men are rapist looking to victimize me, it's just that dealing with all of the bullshit is really a pain. It would make my user experience more enjoyable if I could just leave my gender out of it. It doesn't matter what gender I am and for those whom it would make any sort of difference to, already know.
What, you mean nobody uses "hir"?
Hm, I wonder why

g+ made me male,im not.wouldat least like correct sex,prefer not identafy.
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