As awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community continues to spread, Marianna Kreidler's Google Chrome extension, "Jailbreak the Binary," gives users a glimpse of what a gender-neutral society could look like on the internet.
Jailbreak the Binary, when activated, automatically replaces all gender-specifying pronouns (he, she, him, hers) with non-specific ones (ze, hir). An updated version of the extension also includes gender-neutral replacements for “they” and “theirs.”
Her creation takes Danielle Sucher's Jailbreak the Patriarchy extension one step further. Sucher’s extension reverses them gender-specific pronouns, so that “she” became “he” and vice versa. Jailbreak the Binary' uses neutral pronouns for a consideration of what the world looks like without binary, male/female categorization.
“One might argue that Jailbreak the Binary takes things further by erasing gender completely,” says creator Marianna Kreidler.
The following screenshot is of a Google search while the app is activated. This search is just one example of how the app functions: by eliminating gender from the context. Here, “women's advocacy group” becomes “people's advocacy of group.”
Kreidler says it is up for debate whether or not men and women can become completely equal while gendered language is still widely-used in society. Some individuals believe society should dispose of all forms of gender categorization, thereby freeing all people from expectations about how they should dress and act.
On the blog Gender Fork, user Freiya discussed her distaste with others’ consideration of her as “just” feminine.
She writes, “I don’t have a problem being seen as feminine; I have a problem being seen as JUST feminine [...] I just wish there was somewhere where I could be seen as androgynous without the projected femininity.”
Language plays an important role in expectations of people according to gender.
“It's really eye-opening to see just how prevalent gendered pronouns and other gendered words are in the English language,” Kreidler says.
The complexity of the English language creates a couple of difficulties for the they/their extension of the app, which Kreidler created after users expressed an interest in seeing the app extended to encompass plural pronouns as well as singular ones.
Kreidler explains that the they/their extension has a lot of bugs because of the complexity of the English language. “There's unfortunately almost no way for me to fix every awkward turn of phrase,” she says.
Kreidler says many users of her app have become aware of just how ingrained sorting by gender is, as well as the assumption that men and women should be sorted by gender.
'Jailbreak the Binary' changes the words “actor” and “actress” to “talent,” thereby raising the question of whether two sections of Best Leading Talent at the Academy Awards seems logical or necessary.
“I'd like to challenge people to think about what the world would be like without gender completely,” Kreidler says.
As far as criticism of her app, Kreidler says the primary complaints have come from LGBT individuals who wish to specify their own gender-neutral terminology, rather than use the app's “zir” and “zhe” replacements.
“All sorts of gender neutral persons are coming up with their own set of terms that feel right to them,” she says. “I did not anticipate that gender-neutral persons would use my extension full-time to make the internet feel more welcoming to them, but I am honored that it has served that purpose for some.”
The following info-graph, published on Gender Neutral Pronoun blog, explains how a variety of gender-neutral pronouns may substitute for ze and zir.
Kreidler says frequent use of her extension has facilitated her natural usage of gender-neutral pronouns in everyday speech and writing.
In addition to switching out these gender related terms, the app also replaces some select religious terminology (ex., higher-power for god). Kreidler explains that many religious words indicate either maleness or femaleness, although their associations are not as immediately obvious.
Kreidler says that since the word, "god," has the feminine counterpart, "goddess," it implies an unnecessary gendering. The word 'god' not only refers to the Judeo/Christian "God"; as a stand-alone word, it is actually tied closer to the Greek gods and goddesses.
“God in the Judeo/Christian sense is also definitely thought of as male, so I'm happy that swapping out that word can also draw attention to how gender influences religion,” Kreidler says.
Worldwide, gendering's necessity and purpose is up for debate.
Sweden recently adopted the gender-neutral term “hen” into its National Encyclopedia, officially introducing an alternative to the Swedish pronouns “hon” (she) and “han” (he). There is no technical reason why a similar addition could not be made to the English language — and some U.S. citizens are pushing for it.
LGBT individuals still face discrimination in the workplace and in school. Yet rising societal acceptance of LGBT culture means that widespread usage of gender-neutral terminology could be on the rise.