Basically, instead of a simple dropdown gender selection I wanted to go with something a bit more unique.

I am using a layout over my entire site, although I feel as if my gender selection may be a little sexist in the way that it stereotypes females having long hair and males with short (or bald) hair.

State before selected: Pale bald faceless head (for neutral or male) on left and similar head with dark shoulder-long hairdo (for female) on right, both dimmed and round

State after selected: Same icons as before, but left (male) one fully saturated and enclosed by a blue circle to mark selection


After some looking around, I found that when creating an account on Facebook, they only offer two options - Male or Female. They also don't make it very easy to change your gender once you have an account. Instead of changing it within your account settings, you have to actually visit your own profile, click on "About" then go to the "Contact and Basic Info" tab. Once there, you can edit your gender, and Facebook provide the options of - Male, Female or Custom.

enter image description here

  • 4
    I say give the male icon a beard and use the one with short hair as your "other" option. (yes, it's really important to have an "other" option even though people will complain about any name you come up with for it.)
    – octern
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 1:52
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    "I wanted to go with something a bit more unique." = I'd start with that. What value does making this 'unique' add? Unique for the sake of being unique isn't always a good thing...in fact, it often is a bad thing.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 5:12
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    @Fizzix Why are you asking for gender or sex in the first place? The answer may very well inform the icon design – or result in the recommendation to remove gender selection altogether.
    – Crissov
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 13:29
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    Why do you need to know the gender of your user?
    – Bobwise
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:54
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    It's still a great question. We shouldn't be afraid to ask for people to specify a gender, but we need to be considerate about what and how we ask. It's a question that arises whether the respondent likes it or not. They specify a gender when they enter a public bathroom, they should be able to do it for an application too.
    – Baronz
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 17:08

7 Answers 7


Thank you for asking this question. Short answer: yes.

Not all women have a hairstyle like that, and neither do all men. And not everyone is white, either, so it is racist (or at the very least ethnocentric) too.

Also, do you mean biological sex, in which case male and female are appropriate, or do you mean gender identity, in which case you need more options.

Compare the gender options offered by Facebook, which were based on actual research with the LGBTQIA community.

See also the other related questions about gender options How can I deal with diverse gender identities in user profiles? and Alternative gender selection radio buttons and the tag in general.

  • 1
    I was going to chip in on this question, but between your answer and Overmorrow's, everything I was going to add is covered already :) Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 12:02
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    On its own, not all X have Y is not a sufficient reason to exclude Y from an icon design for X. It’s also not necessarily z-ist, but may well be. The plain-text based localized Facebook solution is not viable for every site or app, but it sure helps to understand that there’s a lot of shades in gender identity.
    – Crissov
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 11:36
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    In general, I would agree that not all X have Y is not a sufficient reason to exclude Y from an icon design for X. But in this case, where the issue is fairly emotive, and the icon design doesn't really add anything, I'd stick with something less graphical and potentially divisive. Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 16:57
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    oh I see. But if you have them tick a box called other, and then they can specify their own gender, your underlying data for reporting purposes says M, F, other, but the field with the free-text option keeps everyone happy :) Or you can put M, F, genderqueer, transgender, other, and then your underlying data has 5 categories, but again, the free-text box allows people to specify their own (but you need not analyse that for reporting purposes if it is not statistically significant or if the data is confusing). Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 13:21
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    @Fizzix Just because they specify their own gender doesn't mean you have to use what they specify in your analysis. Just put everyone who selects "Other" into a 3rd category called, well, "Other". You don't have to create a new category based off every user input. Just Male, Female, Other.
    – Insane
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 17:00

While this isn't necessarily suitable for a friendly social network styled website, NHS Digital, the organisation responsible for providing IT services, software, etc. for healthcare in the UK, have some guidelines for gender values.

As far as UK healthcare systems are concerned, there must be 5 options, no more and no less, to cover everyone's different situations:

Male, Female, Other Specific, Not Known, Not Specified

  • I was going to chip in on this, but between your answer and Yvonne Aburrow's, everything I was going to add is covered already :) Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 12:02
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    I think those five options almost cover everything, which is a great solution. Do you have any insights to my most recent edit about Facebook's gender options upon signup?
    – Fizzix
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 1:35

When you collect any information during signup, it's really important that the user understands why. I don't know why you need to collect gender information, but if you are limiting yourself to this binary, it's not so much about being sexist but about how someone who does not fit in to that binary would react.

If I identify as non-binary, at this stage of onboarding I would be thinking twice about continuing. You may see this as a simple UI pattern, but in reality it is likely that this is representative of the structure of your app - which at this point does not seem to provide options for non-binary identifying users.

Whether it's sexist is not really the issue. Whether you are comfortable about excluding an entire demographic of people from using your site is more important. I know I certainly would not be.

  • 2
    This. Before adding something, ask yourself why you're adding something. That way you'll have good guidance when thinking about the eventual implementation. Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 14:13

I'm unsure if an illustration like that is the best method of portraying a gender. I know plenty of women who look more like the first icon than the second, and vice-versa. It took me a moment to catch which was which myself. If the question was "are you bald?" my reaction would be fairly different.

Maybe the "men’s" and "women’s" icons 🚻 found on restroom doors would work, or the traditional scientific symbols ♂ (also Mars) and ♀ (also Venus).

Also, depending on your demographic, I would suggest adding a third option. A label like "other" isn't always a great way to take care of this because "other" can serve as a dismissal. I would suggest two buttons (male, female) and then a drop-down for "more options". People who identify as another gender are a small demographic, but they still own and operate computers, so just from a marketing perspective (obviously there are moral reasons as well) it makes no sense to exclude them.

Ultimately, I would take a look at using gender symbols and drop the illustrations you have currently.

  • Honestly, I don't think using the scientific symbols is the best choice here. My website is targeting users from the age of 13, all the way up to around 75. Tons of young people have no idea which symbol means what. Should I maybe go with them along with a small caption? Or roll with the bathroom indicators instead?
    – Fizzix
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 20:05
  • I think the bathroom indicators would work. I do agree younger audiences might have a hard time with the Mars and Venus symbols. Though your illustrations are lovely, they are too ambiguous. So either replace them and/or include a text label.
    – invot
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 16:11
  • Bathroom icons are pretty good, and there are several gender-neutral ones available Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 11:11
  • @YvonneAburrow Standard bathroom icons are among the most sexist ones out there. The stick figure that is used in a gender-neutral way elsewhere and has no visual features specific to a gender (like the arguable skirt) is taken to mean ‘men’ here.
    – Crissov
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 10:56
  • Yes they are a bit sexist, however they are so ubiquitous as to be neutral. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 10:32

Actually, the thing that is sexist is “gender selection.” It is sexist to ask for the person’s gender at all. Why do you even need to do that? The answer to that question will be sexist by definition. You are trying to separate men from women and the result of that will almost certainly be to treat the women as second-class citizens. Even the most benign version of your sexism is going to be assuming the women want fashion tips while the men want sports scores. What you should actually do is just have one kind of person called “person” and then ask the user if they are more interested in fashion tips or sports scores or both? Ask them to choose from 10 colors for their profile page rather than assigning women pink and men blue or similar. Let people sort themselves into groupings by their own interests, rather than you making sexist assumptions. You can’t make those assumptions because we don’t have strict gender roles. Men bake and women watch football and non- gender-binary people work on cars. And you can rotate the previous sentence around like a carousel and it will always still be true. So the gender information is essentially useless.

So the fact that you started out with a sexist design decision to collect the person’s gender is what leads then to sexist stereotypical icons of a bald/bearded guy and long-haired girl, and then leads to dealing with other gender identities, and you are down a rabbit hole. What Facebook did with 52 (or whatever) gender identities was well-meaning, but what they really should have done was stop asking about gender in the initial profile step at all. Let that be something that people declare about themselves optionally as they customize their profiles. Instead of “male/female” in the initial profile creation, show a list of 10 personal preference questions that sort people into marketing group A/B/C/D/E/F based on their own preferences. That not only removes the sexism, it gives you more accuracy, and it gives you more granularity because you have 6 marketing groups instead of two. Or use any number you like.

In short, if you want to stop being sexist, don’t separate people by gender, rather let them sort themselves into non-sexist groups based on their own self-declared interests and characteristics.

I’m pretty sure that Twitter is an example of doing this right. They don’t ask your gender and they have one gender-neutral “egg” icon that represents every user until they customize it with a photo of their own choosing. Then they market to you based on your tweets. If you tweet about hockey they will market sports to you, no matter what your gender. If you tweet about lipstick they will market makeup to you, no matter what your gender. That is non-sexist.

  • I like this answer. And if you do need to refer to someone by their pronoun, you could ask for their preferred pronoun as well. Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 11:14
  • Advertising and marketing does not work like that though. What if I were to tweet "far out, I hate hockey". I'd then receive a ton of adds about a sport that I essentially hate and do not want to see. My network requires me to know what demographics are using my site. If I have 80% male and 20% female for example, I need to know the answer to "why do I predominantly have males on my site, and what do I need to do to attract more females". You do raise very valid points, although for a reporting side of things, I need to capture a gender regardless.
    – Fizzix
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 12:47
  • 3
    Although the OP’s comment “It's a social network, and I require it for reporting and searching.” is mostly a non-sequitur for me, too, I don’t agree with the strong assertions made in this answer. The OP doesn’t mention user profiling and customized advertising, but it’s not evil per se anyhow. Employing gender information for that isn’t necessarily sexist either. Sexism is to applying gender cliches without verifiable justification, targetted ads should be based on empirical evidence. That may result in gender-specific ads, but that’s just because gender is a very important variable.
    – Crissov
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 10:43
  • @Fizzix Why would you want to attract more females? It depends on the nature of your social network, but regardless it’s always a bad idea to require a gender decision if you only offer two choices. (Also see @AmeliaSchmidt’s answer.)
    – Crissov
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 10:48
  • @Crissov, well, I gave an example of why? If my site happens to have more males than females, I need to know "why" my site isn't attracting enough female. It's a given to do reporting such as this with major projects that target large demographics. You are spot on with your previous comment though - gender plays a very important part with ad targeting. It's does not cater for every aspect, but it does help a lot.
    – Fizzix
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 11:22

This question would have offended me (a cis male) starting at four years old, because it is HAIR-IST, and of course, yes, sexist.

It's offensive to people who don't have an over-identify short hair with male and long hair with female.

And yes, I'm quite serious. As a cis male who has often let his hair grow out a bit, being treated badly by people who over-associate hair length with gender is a real thing. This UI makes me angry and think whoever presents it is insensitive and as a user I would tend to at least become annoyed, and possibly quit or click the long hair icon just to mess with the site, and/or rant to your QA department or make fun of your company on public web forums.


Of course its not. It's a stereotype at most, and stereotypes exist mostly because they are common traits.

Yes, not all women have long hair, but your (may I add, quite nice looking) design isn't saying "do you have long hair?", it's not saying "are you a stereotypical white woman?", and of course not all men have short hair or are bald (although it's unlikely to see men kicking up a fuss about this - just saying). All it's saying is "this is an image that shows the common representation of a man/woman, please choose which one you are"

  • 5
    Cisgender men don't "kick up a fuss about this" because they know they are seen as the default option for everything. I am genderqueer and I am in my late 40s, so it is not just younger people who would appreciate the option to select something other than male or female. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 10:56
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    Downvoting this for the closing sentence of "If someone wants to attempt to start something like "oh I'm non-binary" then they're probably too young to be on your site". That's a terrible attitude to take to UX. That's just saying: "If people don't see the world the same way as me then I'm not interested in them".
    – JonW
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 11:06
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    You should have removed it because it's not a correct attitude, not 'to make people happy'. I also feel this answer has only been accepted because it matches what @Fizzix already implemented, and not because it's a correct answer. Two pictures of a White Male and a White Female do not equate to appropriate gender selection in 2016. It's better to ask a question primarily because you want to know the answer, not because you just want someone to validate your decision.
    – JonW
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 11:35
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    @MyNameWouldGoHere "why do we have to cater for so many people" that's our job
    – Dave Haigh
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 12:56
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    Although I think answer is a bit brash (better since that last sentence was removed) I agree with the general idea of it. I do not see this question as asking if he should include other gender roles in the app, so I assume that has already been considered. This question is simply asking if using a generic image of a stereotypical woman and man is sexist and I do not think so. It is simply appealing to the most widely recognized depiction of each gender. You still see dresses on the womans bathroom icon but not all women wear dresses.
    – DasBeasto
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 13:38

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