Recently, I got fed up with being a lady on Facebook.
There they were: advertisements for empowered baby clothes (“she’s a rocket scientist!”) and faintly healthy food (“try three papaya-sweet corn bars for only $12.99!”).
I was tired of the marketing. I tried adjusting ad settings, denying my prior interests in travel, science, and art.
But FB was still advertising to me on the broadest of parameters: a female aged 18-55 in America must be interested in… baby clothes.
For me, it was bemusing.
For my infertile friends, it was heartbreaking: every scroll a reminder of the child they would cherish but could not have.
The only way around this, I realized, was to change myself.
So I tweaked my profile and became a 55-year-old man living in the middle of England.
The ads changed. More business products, less travel. More protein potions, less fresh arugula and black bean brownies.
And then… I started getting advertisements for gay men.
I was surprised. I’d carefully selected an interest in women when I became a man.
But by changing my gender, I was coded as transgender.
And by remaining married to a lovely guy, I was possibly gay as well.
Gay bed and breakfast ads. Surveys on sexual health.
Advice books on how to talk with your strong-but-silent partner.
Handbooks on what to do when your handsome male body ages.
This was helpful. I appreciated a new view of the online space I thought we all shared.
But I was still frustrated by my Facebook experience.
Sleepy-eyed, I would scroll and scroll, glad to see my friends’ small canine and human creatures, new country houses and chickens, their sudden elopements and veiled but painful divorces.
But I was also overwhelmed with the emotive political news, the high-minded declarations, the ‘highlight reels’ of everyone else’s life.
And in particular, the dissonance between friends’ posts on how employers and schools and families try to push women in a box. Followed by those ads implying that women want most of all to be stylish mamas, eat green things, and have children.
Well… *sips iced caramel macchiato, wearing jeans and a happily quiescent reproductive system* …
This isn’t true for everyone.
But the pressure to be simultaneously feminist and feminine remained.
So what would happen, I wondered, if I couldn’t see what any women were posting on Facebook?