Consider this:

enter image description here

To me, this is gender neutral. It's just an abstraction and there's no way to tell if it represents a man, a woman, a trans person, or whatever. However, many people interpret this as representing a man, as if women cannot have short hair or men cannot have long hair.

So, am I wrong or right? Is there any research that supports or denies my assumption?

  • 9
    Context will matter, too. In the corner of an app, the image is reasonably gender-neutral. On a bathroom door, it's very likely a man. If there are other choices of user icon, this may or may not be one that represents a man. Jan 17 at 15:24
  • @NuclearHoagie yes, of course. However, I've never seen this in a bathroom. In fact, I've probably only seen it in the digital realm.
    – Devin
    Jan 17 at 19:10

1 Answer 1


There are a number of articles on Google Scholar that discuss gender and iconography. Skimming the abstracts, it would appear that scientists have tested icons for gender, and each gender has more success with icons that reflect their identity.

Even though the icon you show is an abstraction, it could also be read as "default male" in societies where baldness is in the domain of men, but not women. (Not all societies have this rule.)

Thus, it's a practice to not use a "user" icon at all when gender is unknown, and use initials as an avatar. Everyone has a name.

  • 3
    Everyone has a name? Even restricting yourself to people with names, the concept of "initials" really only applies to a subset of names written in alphabetic scripts.
    – Mark
    Jan 17 at 23:52

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