Speaking Of Gender, Facebook Is Concerned About Mine

September 24, 2009, 8:56 pm

I read somewhere recently (and I thought it was the New York Times but now I can’t find the story) that a great many women are removing their date of birth from Facebook because they are sick of getting gross and insulting ads about their bodies. It is simply true that nothing is free, even on the internet: everything one signs up for has some kind of questionnaire aimed at creating a marketing profile for you — oh, excuse me, “opportunities” for you — that can be squeezed in everywhere. You can always check the box that prevents them from selling your identity to every spammer alive, but what you can’t prevent is advertising tailored crudely to those of your gender and age.

Yahoo! is terrible, although I realize that were I to agree to pay for email I could get rid of their ads in a heartbeat. Endless acai berry products are the best ones. I’m not sure whether my least favorite ads are the ones that promise weight loss, complete with pulsing, saggy body parts poking out of ill-fitting garments and dripping with puckered cellulite; the sponge that de-wrinkles a craggy woman as if by magic; or the mortgage ads with manic, dancing figures that command me to get a second mortgage now because President Obama wants me to.

To quote Britney Spears, “Lollypop, do you take me for a sucker?”

The Facebook ads are less gross, mostly because they are smaller, but it’s the same theme: you grow old, you grow old, you shall wear the bottoms of your trousers rolled. Hot flashes, wrinkles, flab. This is your future. get used to it.

No! No! No!

Now I happen to be in pretty good shape, am quite athletic, and would never color the gray hair that I have. But middle age causes anxiety all the same. Add to that the specifically female afflictions that I am being hammered with, and the female shame that I am supposed to feel about aging, and it has been a constant irritation to this butch lesbian feminist.

What to do? I didn’t want to remove my birthday, because I like the idea that people will wish me happy birthday (even though you will notice that I never look for or acknowledge yours; sorry, it isn’t one of my strengths.) But I thought: how about if I remove my gender? Is it required information?

Why no, it isn’t, and I did just that. Hooray! Suddenly the ads changed. Games! Continuing education! On-line accountants! Psychics! Horoscopes! Problem solved.

“Not so fast, Mister. Or Miss. Or whoever you are,” some Facebook administrator muttered. Now I get a little message every time I click on my profile page that says:

“Which example applies to you? Right now your profile may be confusing. Please choose how we should refer to you. Click one:

Tenured Radical edited her profile.
Tenured Radical edited his profile.”

Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?

What a hoot. And I have to hand it to them, the tone is perfect: friendly, non-antagonistic, encouraging. I imagine it’s how people might talk to me if I were on a four-day crying jag, or had had a terrible nervous breakdown, or were crashing after a methamphetamine binge. I imagine myself wrapped in lovely warm towels, on soothing drugs and in a pink room with soft music playing in the background. Nurse Ratched is smiling encouragingly with a big, whacking hypodermic in one hand, trying to encourage me in the least threatening possible way to remember what my gender is or to commit to a gender at least, even if it’s not one we can agree on. “Because you see, dear,” Nursie is saying in my imagination; “People may be confused…other people are, well, upset about this, and if you could just answer the question it would be so much better for them.”

I am going to see how long I can tolerate the pop-up instead.

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