7.31.2014

StumbleUpon is sexist

I was signing up for StumbleUpon for a thing at work the other day. I've belonged to that website for a long time personally, and honestly don't remember the signup process at all, but I was paying a little more attention this time and noticed something that really annoyed me. 

In case you don't know, StumbleUpon is a website to use when you're bored and want to explore the internet. You tell it what you like, click stumble, and it takes you to a site it thinks you'll like. You can click thumbs up or thumbs down and the site learns what you like based on how you rate sites.

During signup, they have you select at least five interests so the site knows what to show you. The site has more than 500 interests you can select to follow, but during signup, they only show you 60. And that's fine, just show the top 60 or whatever, but I do think it's a little weird that they don't let you type in interests or even scroll through all of them if you want to. You can, of course, add interests later, but if someone wants to follow more interests during the signup process, why wouldn't you let them?

Okay. So during signup, they also make you choose a gender. The only options are the binary ones -- male and female. I chose female and continued. This is when I came to the interests page. It looked like this:
So I'm looking for a few specific categories, because it's work-related. Technology, internet ... no? I'm wondering why in the world technology isn't an option, at least. I mean, maybe "internet" is a little too specific to be in the top 60 interests. Maybe. 

Then I start looking into it a little further, and it strikes me that a lot of these interests are things that might be considered more stereotypically girly. Women's issues, jewelry, dancing, crafts, etc. I think about it a little more and realize there are some things I would certainly expect to be in the top 60 that aren't shown here, like sports and science.

So of course, I signed up for a fake account as a guy to see what happened, and here is that list:


The lists are as pictured, but just for funsies, let's see what doesn't overlap. (Note: I made these lists very unscientifically and only checked them once, so feel free to let me know if I missed something.)

Interests on the female list but not on the male list:
  • Alternative news
  • Bargains/Coupons
  • Beauty
  • Celebrities
  • Coffee
  • Culture/Ethnicity
  • Dancing
  • Dogs
  • Facebook
  • Family
  • Fashion
  • Fine arts
  • Health
  • Interior design
  • Jewelry
  • Literature
  • Nutrition
  • Painting
  • Pets
  • Photoshop
  • Puzzles
  • Quizzes
  • Relationships
  • Restaurants
  • Shopping
  • Weddings
  • Weight loss
  • Wine
  • Women's issues


Interests on the male list but not on the female list:
  • Action movies
  • American football
  • Ancient history
  • Astronomy
  • Babes
  • Beer
  • Cars
  • Cartoons
  • Cell phones
  • Chaos/complexity
  • Conspiracies
  • Electronic devices
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Extreme sports
  • Futurism
  • HipHop/rap
  • Internet
  • Ipod
  • Logic
  • Men's issues
  • Online games
  • Philosophy
  • Rock music
  • Science
  • Science fiction
  • Space exploration
  • Sports (general)
  • Survivalist
  • Technology
  • Video games
So once you get past your absolute indignation at the fact that these lists are the epitome of sexism (it took me about six minutes), let's talk about this rationally. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here in that they are probably just trying to give the people what they want. I'm sure these interests are based on what people of each gender have selected for themselves, on a large scale. But I still have a few problems with it.

First of all, even if these divisions were created based on what people were choosing at the time you made these lists, it has probably devolved by now into people just picking what's in front of them. So now you're looking at your numbers and women overwhelmingly aren't interested in the internet, but how do you know if that's necessarily the case? I'd be willing to bet that a lot of people, after signing up, never go back in to add other interests, mostly because a lot of people probably don't even know they can. So the people that sign up are stuck with what they're being shown, even though I'm sure tons of women are interested in the internet and rock music, and tons of men are probably interested in family and restaurants.

My further problem -- and this is the main one -- is that they don't give you the option to refresh the interests you're seeing, or dismiss options you aren't interested in, or search for the options you want to see. A simple, "Don't see what you're looking for?" option that did any of those three things would be great. What if I'm absolutely not interested in any of the 60 options you're showing me?

I'm also very bothered by the binary options on the signup process. There's not even a "decline to state" option or anything. Like you absolutely have to pick either male or female, even if you don't identify as either of those option or if you just don't feel like a website needs to know. I'll give them this: I also signed up without specifying a gender (I just left it blank) and it did work. Though that's good, it wasn't obvious that this was an option, which I think is problematic. (By the way, it gave me a mashup of both of the original lists when I didn't specify. For instance, the list included Babes, Beer and Women's issues.)

Thank goodness I'm not the first person to notice this. I googled a bit and found that a couple of people have written about it before. The author of that second link, Jo Birdie, mentions that the categories aren't exactly the same each time. So someone could sign up twice as a male and still get slightly different categories. But I bet they never include shopping.

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