Time To Liberate The Gender Column, Or Atleast Update It?
Gender has long divided us into two well-defined groups — men and women, and as we are moving into the era of fluidity, that feels outdated. The columns which demand that we identify as a ‘He’ or a ‘She’, ‘Mr’ or ‘Missus’ (even ‘Miss’ is given a miss sometimes) feel unnecessary. Why should it matter if you are a man or a woman, if you are booking a flight, or making a reservation to go out for dinner? Such a constraint, to select one of the two options, either excludes gender non conformists, or tries to put them in the very box they have shunned. How is that acceptable in 2019?
- The website of a popular airline refused to let a customer use the title of professor.
- The reasoning that appeared on screen was that the “Title Professor was not valid” for her gender.
- While a male user said he faced similar problem, one can’t ignore how rigid the column of gender is.
- Is it time to liberate virtual and print forms from the column of gender, or at least update them?
Such a constraint, to select one of the two options, either excludes gender non conformists, or tries to put them in the very box they have shunned. How is that acceptable in 2019?
Professor Shyama Rath recently tweeted a picture of her experience with a reputed Indian airlines, where the system told her to select a different title as the “Title Professor was not valid” for her gender. At first glance, this seemed to be an alarmingly sexist response. But a man replied with yet another screenshot, saying that the system wasn’t accepting the title of Professor even for a man. While we can’t accuse the airline of gender bias now, (It has also apologised for Rath’s inconvenience) one can’t ignore the rigidity associated with addresses such as Mister and Missus. Another social media user mentioned in the same thread, of how a popular international airline that didn’t have any choices in the title column for unmarried women, which is indeed very sexist.
— shyama (@rath_shyama) July 25, 2019
Doesn't work for male as well 😂 pic.twitter.com/ZiFQP0Gq3Q
— Neel (@anonymousCircum) July 25, 2019
Lufthansa does not have an option for unmarried women. pic.twitter.com/DyopEoqdAM
— Rajenki (@RajenkiD) July 25, 2019
As it is with most customer based services these days, modifications follow social media outrage. Those designing software used by airlines etc. still go by gender binaries, and this shows how inclusion remains elusive. We automatically go back to basics. Is this so because of the gender gap in streams like software designing, testing, etc.? Or is it because unlike Rath, most of us go along with the choices put in front of us, rather than challenge them? We rarely bother ourselves with activism, unless we associate with a cause one way or the other. In this case, the majority, which still identifies with gender binaries, has been playing along.
We do not mind filling forms of any and every kind, duly ticking the gender column. As if gender identity is etched in our DNA and most of us can’t even think of a world where a male or female tag would lose its relevance. This is how the world that we understand functions, its hierarchies and roles are all governed by gender. Are we prepared to challenge all that we know and live by, and put our gender identity on the back seat? So while gender fluidity is indeed catching up, the question is, are we ready for its invasion in our gendered cocoons?
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.