Thursday, September 24, 2009

Speaking Of Gender, Facebook Is Concerned About Mine

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.


James said...

ad block plus.

susan said...

I was just going to say, use Ad Block with Firefox and the ads just vanish--but James beat me to it.

CelloShots said...

They do eventually stop demanding a gender. And I perversely enjoy the way they refer to me--in a manner that is grammatically questionable at best--as "they," since I deleted my Facebook gender.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that a Britney Spears reference? "Lollipop, you mistake me for a sucker?"

Obviously, I listen to too much bad pop music.

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous: you are so right. I am rolling my trousers even as I type.

Ad Block, eh?

Anne said...

You can use AdBlock Plus (I do) and it wipes out ads in a lot of places, including the NYT and yes, FB.

If you like getting all of the congratulatory natal messages, couldn't you just remove the year of your birth and leave the month/date visible on your profile?

Noel said...

Yes, seriously, it can't be said enough. Use AdBlock Plus. It makes the web far more tolerable.

Monster Scholar said...

That is complete BS. E-mail them and tell them you're transgender and you don't appreciate being made to choose your gender by something as banal as a social networking site. Booyah!

Anonymous said...

I have considered doing away with Facebook in general. However, I cannot since it keeps me from stalking you TR (jk).

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this post.


Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D., Instructor said...

MSN is far worse. I get a whole home page of crap about who's banging who in Hollywood, diet "articles", makeup instructions (!) and worse. And unlike Facebook, I can't find a way on MSN to uncheck my gender! And that's not the ads, either, it's the frickin' content.

Jay said...

One more plug for Firefox and AdBlock Plus. No ads on the NYT; no ads on Facebook; occasional ads on Blogs but not the ones that wink or talk or change, just the ones the blog owners put on as permanent content. Do it. Do it now.

My verification word is flessing, which seems like it should mean something medieval.

Diana Wright said...

Under your inspiration, Facebook is now worried about my gender, too.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

FB could easily solve this by saying "The profile of Tenured Radical has been changed" instead of "TR changed her profile." It would be an easy change to make if one's profile does not include gender announcements. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I deleted my gender (male) from Facebook because I was tired of seeing objectified half-naked and near-naked women in my ads.

Anonymous said...

Not to join the conversation so late ... however, my feathers have been raised this evening and I feel the need to return to this post. Underlying this issue of identifying within a so narrowly constructed binary is a broader concern that I have. While the issues of identities that are artificially placed on a binary are clearly brought up here -- I am more concerned about the ways in which these identities coalesce around on-line forums that are woefully under addressed in identity and new media literature . While it is problematic that say males are pressured into describing their gender in 1 word and are then targeted by ads of half-naked women and the like... there is perhaps a larger problem at hand. There is an insidious replication and creation of in this case predatory gendered behaviors on-line. Where is the conversation about this?

See how this plays out? Men are constructed with "the gaze." They look. Women pose. The latter part of this equation is clearly facilitated by the ads to make women thin, young, beautiful, tan, etc. With the message being that you need to be ready to be looked at -- it is through this process of attracting the gaze that you gain worth and currency in this society -- and in the culture of FB,etc. I wonder if we did a quantitative study of the poses in profile pictures if we would find support for this? I look at the images some of my students put up as their profile pic and find it nearly pornographic.

While you could shrug and say, well, what's your point this is merely a replication of what we see going on nearly everywhere else is Western capitalist nations? -- I would say that a) this is different in both kind and magnitude and b) that the implications of this are much different -- especially with the risk that it will fall below the radar as unworthy of professional study. Where is the conversation on the complex convergence of different rhetorical modes that shape our online navigations and identities -- identities that are enacted beyond facebook? Not to mention, with this becoming such a large part of the social exchange among younger children what are the new risks -- especially since there is even more of a sense of privacy/behind closed doors that happens.

Unfortunately, FB and these types of sites misrepresent and perhaps curtail the conversation around the potential for the growth of new social dynamics in cyberspace. For example, here is a piece written by a colleague of mine on the blurring of gender binaries in Second Life:

Anonymous said...

this is great! we just covered Facebook privacy and Facebook image creation and/or management in my Writing & Research for New Media class in the Emerging Media program at University of Texas at Dallas. Our professor just Tweeted a link to your blog article.

Great view of the whole Facebook market research and target marketing scheme.

I'd link to my blog on the subject, but I haven't quite finished it yet (to my professors chagrin).


kudos 2 u

BFIrrera said... - If you use Greasemonkey, this script "Hide Facebook Ads" works even better than Adblock Plus. I practically forget that there are supposed to BE ads on FB until I see it on a friend's laptop!c

Erin said...

musingsonspaceandplace, I really have to agree with you. The issue is not really just about the ads, it's how the society stereotype people according to their age and gender. We're bombarded with ads suggesting to be a woman one has to be slimmer, taller with perfect hourglass body and flawless skin. Freckles, wrinkles, fats are something to be ashamed of. Yes looks is part of our identity, but that shouldn't be our SOLE identity. And yet the media portrays that, so that it's easier to target and market their products.

I'm so sick of how ads tries to manipulate how society thinks. And it's really saddening that even among many women they also hold the view that beauty projected by the media is everything. They go plastic surgery, get their nose job, boob job, go for extreme diet habits etc etc.

And yes men's perception of women changes at the same time, and the image of their ideal woman changes to fit that 'ideal women' portrayed by the media. Then it becomes the societal cycle. Though first started by the 'external' party, it is injected to both men and women and they behave as promoted by the media without really questioning.

Urgh. Why won't people just believe in themselves, and be proud of who they are? Celebrating our own uniqueness instead of tyring to follow one image???

Veracity said...

Stylish, and then activate one of the no-facebook-ads styles. Or Ad Block Plus. Both work really well for facebook.