Support for gender pronouns - Meta Stack Exchange

Page not found | This question was removed from Meta Stack Exchange for reasons of moderation

It's now not a secret anymore that the official CoC is going to support or require the use of gender pronouns for moderators and the community at large.

There has been a considerable controversy about this, however at the end of the day there are a couple of easy wins I want to propose, that I believe will help the adoption of gender pronouns, give positive support to trans people and help everyone understand the issue at large, especially moderators that will get the double whammy of needing to adapt their language and help others do the same.

Here are my proposals:

Add a specific dropdown on the user profile where everyone can select their pronouns. This change is a prerequisite for making them visible in the user cards around the site and chat rooms, so people know which to use. I'm getting ...not young... and I will be very grateful if I don't have to keep track of everyone's preferences when a computer can do it for me. It would also give a positive signal that the site is supporting gender pronouns.

Add help pages explaining why this is important; what are these pronouns; what do they mean; how to moderate them etc. You can't just ask people to conform to something and not educate first and explain. Moral suasion beats heavyhandedness when you deal with whole communities. Also, as mods, we need pages to point to people. Please write them understanding that you need to cover the role of cultural mediator and not simply telling people what to do.

We need positive change and your encouragement, can we have these two small improvements done straight away? They can be done ahead of the CoC change as they don't depend on it.

discussion feature-request profile-page moderation help-center
shareimprove this question
edited 5 hours ago

Kate Gregory

24.1k77 gold badges7575 silver badges137137 bronze badges

Can we all, please — please — stop posting new topics on this until SE makes an announcement and we have the actual CoC language to use for the basis of any further discussion? – Dan Bron 6 hours ago

The gist is known, us mods also know a bit more from private chats. I'm proposing this in addition to the change, not because of the change. – Sklivvz 6 hours ago

I think that--CoC aside--this would be a cool feature. However, until the CoC is actually released by staff, no one knows what it's actually going to say! It could be edited or even not posted at all! We have no way of knowing. I think that until we get any kind of announcement from SE, your mentions of the CoC in this post are doing more to distract from your feature request than help. I'd advise editing them out. – scohe001 6 hours ago

"Add help pages" -> do most users displaying problematic behavior even read help pages? Although reams have been written and posted, we still get about 20 "I'm having this problem too!" NAA "answers" on SO every hour. Are we going to end up with a "flag for incorrect pronouns" process now? – Robert Columbia 6 hours ago

I'm not convinced that this is a problem that needs to be solved. As it is, anyone can create and edit their profile to present themselves as however they want — male, female, animate, inaminate, user12345, … – 200_success 6 hours ago

@200_success, of course, they can, yet the point of this proposal is showing people we support gender pronouns, not merely telling them they can specify them in the description. – Sklivvz 6 hours ago

No dropdown selection can be as versatile as the current system, where users can present themselves as any gender or decline to state their gender (to avoid prejudice or harassment, for example). I've created my online persona to be ungendered for a reason. Other users can choose differently. – 200_success 6 hours ago

that's true, but the dropdown makes it simple to show people something like he/she/they/checkbio rather than insisting on "check bio" (or guess) for everyone. I've posted before about not minding when people use he/him for me, but I don't insist we all show the same sangfroid. – Kate Gregory 5 hours ago
@KateGregory people who automatically use male pronouns for unknown users probably aren't going to check to see if that user has set a preferred set of pronouns. If they didn't even think to use "they," why would they think that "he" might not be correct? – TheWanderer 5 hours ago

I think this feature request is sound (but was made with somewhat inopportune timing). Pronouns could even optionally show up on the on-hover user card, which would make it easy to check. – Aza 5 hours ago

@FrédéricHamidi When words get borrowed into English from other languages, they take in a life of their own. It’s spelled sangfroid in English these days. – Dan Bron 5 hours ago

@FrédéricHamidi note the presence of a final choice which is "I don't fit into categories: check my bio." That way you have the opportunity for popups or colour coding or other things that help, but you're not forcing anyone into a category. Best of both worlds. – Kate Gregory 5 hours ago

@Sklivvz I sincerely think it helps. Focusing on "how do we pull this off?" is good. :) The timing bit is just... hey, lots of people around right now who are angry about trans people. So it might not get the support it rightfully deserves as a good idea. – Aza 5 hours ago

@Mast I wish I could believe that reflected as much of the anger we've seen as I hope. But many, many posts have been quite explicit about their focus on trans people -- even a deleted answer on this post by a high-profile user is virulently anti-queer. We'll have to see how it shapes up in the coming days. – Aza 3 hours ago

How am I supposed to know if user123 or if CodeMaster is male or female or whatever? Why should I care to know? – Victor Stafusa 2 hours ago

Stack Exchange is a series of Q&A sites, not a social network. Questions, not users, are the primary focus of the site.

The vast majority of the time, your age, race, nationality, sex, gender, marital status, etc. do not matter. A JavaScript array does not care who you are. The same applies to nearly every question on nearly every site in this network. Moreover, we are encouraged to ask questions that help as many others as possible. How does a Chinese-American transpile Java to JavaScript does not help as many people as if the irrelevant demographic qualifier were removed.

On rare occasion your demographic does matter. For example, on Parenting you could ask how a man in his 60s copes with the mental challenge of raising a toddler. In these cases the relevant demographic should be part of the question so that the question stands on its own. One should not have to dig through the asker's profile to understand the question; if the asker's account is deleted, the question should not change meaning.

Therefore who you are plays a very small role in this network. Nonetheless it's nice to personalize your account and fortunately the network lets you do so. You can show off to others your favorite food, your most proud achievements, your favorite travel destinations, or your preferred gender pronouns.

None of the above personal details - food, achievements, destinations, or pronouns - plays a special role in the network. Specifically, the boilerplate doesn't change depending on your pronouns; nor does the amount of reputation you earn. Therefore there is no functional reason to store them in a separate field.

The only reason for this request is signaling - showing that the company believes that one's gender pronouns play a special role in one's life. I will not support or refute this reason, except to say that I think it's silly. I highly doubt that the site's financial success depends on a large number of potential users who would feel welcome if only they could only specify their pronouns in a dropdown instead of a text field. I am skeptical of this possibility but I welcome the results of a study that demonstrate that I'm wrong.

shareimprove this answer
answered 3 hours ago

Solomonoff's Secret
22611 silver badge66 bronze badges

A persistent network focus on humans as fungible resources was one of the factors that got Stack Exchange into the mess of the past two years. Some focus on users as people and complex individuals in a complex community is warranted. The fiscal value of pronouns is not measurable; the value as a declaration of values is quite high. – Aza 3 hours ago

Another possible reason would be that advertisers love to get more demographic data to target their audience. No thanks to that! – 200_success 3 hours ago
add a comment

The beauty of Stack Exchange profiles is that you can be as creative, expressive, or anonymous as you wish. You can pick a username that is obviously masculine, obviously feminine, ambiguous, or just leave it as user148099. You can change your username, and your username doesn't even have to be distinct. For your profile, you can post a selfie, an edited image, a cartoon, or nothing. You can even have multiple accounts, as long as they don't collude.

All of those are forms of gender expression or non-expression. If you want to make an obviously masculine or feminine profile, people will accept your gender, because on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.. On the other hand, plenty of users prefer not to disclose their gender in their online persona, perhaps to avoid prejudice or harassment, or because they are non-binary, or because they are working things out in their own mind, or because they think that declaring gender is an in-real-life complication that doesn't need to taint online interactions. All of those viewpoints are OK! Stack Exchange doesn't care about your private life like Facebook.

When someone misgenders to a non-obviously-gendered user, I'd assume that it's due to mild traditional sexism, especially for "he". Oops, correct the wrong assumption (if that's even necessary), and move on — it's no big deal. If someone refers to an obviously male/female user with the wrong pronoun, then that's a faux pas — but adding a profile field isn't going to help anyone who is that clueless from avoiding such a mistake. If someone continues to misgender a user even after being corrected, then that's malicious. A profile field for pronouns would also make no difference in such cases.

But, when it becomes the norm for users to declare themselves as male or female, then users who choose not to pick either of the two common genders start to look weird, when it wasn't even an issue before. Worse, even innocent mistakes can turn into accusations of "This user misgendered me! My pronouns are clearly stated in my profile! Moderators, I demand justice!"

What might we stand to gain by adding a pronoun-declaration feature, then?

It helps disambiguate Chinese names, which often aren't obviously gendered. (But the Chinese language barely makes a pronoun distinction anyway — the third-person pronouns 他 and 她 are homophones, and the masculine 他 is often used by default, as in English.)

Asking everyone to declare their pronouns is a trendy thing to do, but does it actually help make life easier for transgender people? Not really. Forcing transgender people to pick a side can put them in an uncomfortable position. Also, it's socially unnatural to ask or declare, because transgender people don't want to be catered to, and some conservative cisgender people will get triggered.

The rumored changes to the Code of Conduct have already ignited a dumpster fire, and I fear that this proposal will just pour gasoline on it.