Gendered language in Open edX

Is there any initiative to remove gender designations and gendered language from Open edX? It’s not necessary, and in some cases, could offend. I know there is an “Other/Prefer not to say” option for gender in Account settings - but why does Open edX even need to capture that?

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Hi, @Tanya. Where is this? It’s just in an otherwise private field that people have the option to fill out about themselves?

There are many fields that are available but are not necessary, no?

I generally ignore those fields about gender, but at the same time, I can see how they might be useful. For example, what if through them, we were able to discover that there were 80% users who identify as male, 15% who identify as female, and 5% who didn’t fill it out? Would that be helpful to give us insight that there might be a problem with the platform or the culture and to clue us in to be motivated about thinking about how we go about being more inclusive?

What if it were to reveal that 40% of users identified as female, 55% identified as male, and we thought there might be some aspect that contributed to the improvement beyond what would be expected, and that we might have attained some knowledge about what we adopted that works to improve the common situation? What if there were 60% identifying as female, and 35% identifying as female? Might we then want to query users and ask why it appeals to them and if they feel that Open edX culture is generally very safe for them and supportive?

Anyway, I think a basic first step would be to reword the single option of “Other/Prefer not to say,” and break those up into two different options. After all, “None of the above” is not the same as “None of your business,” and to lump them together is to a degree, callous. Might also be a good idea to leave an open textfield option for people to fill out their identified gender, if they so prefer. There are, after all, many people in education and tech who do not subscribe to a gender binary, as you point out, but who are proud and open about their identities, who would be less invited to to express their gender identity in these profiles, were the developers to remove it.

The demographic fields that are captured were the result of a lot of discussion between educational researchers at edX’s early partner institutions that happened years ago, and were meant for what edx.org itself requests from students. I was not in those conversations, so I won’t speculate on the specific research goals. The reason Open edX has the same set of fields is probably just because we never spent the time to make it configurable. (I honestly thought someone had at one point, but I don’t see any docs around it.)

I believe that Open edX itself should allow all requested demographic information to be configurable on a per-site basis, and to default to capturing nothing at all. In addition to making the form itself configurable, we’d want to make sure to figure out where this demographics data flows through the system to make sure there are no assumptions about certain fields being present (even if they’re blank) in reports. We’d also need to check Insights (edx-analytics-dashboard) code to see what assumptions it has. We’d also need to check to see what happens when demographics being captured changes on a live system and we have different sets of data for different students.

A relevant data point is that we are in the process of slowly rewriting the frontends of a number of high value pages to conform to our React/MFE world, and the login/registration page is on the short list of candidates. We should definitely look into making this pluggable as part of that process. I’m not sure if we’d want to try to retrofit it into the existing form or try to only do it with the next major revision.

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It’s in the Account settings, usually optional, and I would not call it private. It’s available to people with admin rights, and in reports.

Anyway, I think a basic first step would be to reword the single option of “Other/Prefer not to say,” and break those up into two different options. After all, “None of the above” is not the same as “None of your business,” and to lump them together is to a degree, callous. Might also be a good idea to leave an open textfield option for people to fill out their identified gender, if they so prefer. There are, after all, many people in education and tech who do not subscribe to a gender binary, as you point out, but who are proud and open about their identities, who would be less invited to to express their gender identity in these profiles, were the developers to remove it.

I think these are good suggestions!

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Good ideas. Good conversation!

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I like the options, and appreciate feeling supported! All that said, I am a cis-gender who fully identifies female. I’d love to have the opinion of a trans, non-binary or gender-fluid person here. What treatment of gender would feel the most inclusive, and the least offensive? Giving more options? Or not inquiring into it at all? Or something we have not thought of? Not sure how to get this answered, but if anyone has ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Did a bit of recon with a friend much more qualified to answer these questions than me. Here are their suggestions:

The question needs to be optional and include the following items (which need to be checkboxes that allow more than one choice, as we should not assume an either/or scenario, but rather either/and):

  • Female
  • Male
  • Nonbinary
  • Trans
  • Fill-in: ______

“Also, it is CRITICAL that the fill-in option not say “Other.” Saying ‘other’ is inherently non-inclusive. People who exist outside the gender binary already feel like an ‘other.’ So saying other is wounding, not honoring.”

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