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When I reply to someone, please indicate the person's gender
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Description

MediaWiki software allows editors to set their gender (preferred pronouns), and in some non-English languages, you need to know the gender to reply properly and respectfully. One way to do this might be to change the "Reply to X" message to "Reply to user X" (if 'user' indicates the gender in that language, and the {{GENDER:}} tool can be made to work there).

See @ValeJappo and @matmarex's discussion at https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Topic:W5a5hnwqa7iqj6fb

Event Timeline

matmarex edited subscribers, added: ValeJappo; removed: Valereee.

To do this, we'd need to fetch the information about genders before showing the reply widget, making this task a bit more involved than just correcting the localisation message.

In languages which don't vary the user namespace title by gender (e.g. English) this will result in user genders becoming a lot more visible to other users. While user gender is not considered private data, making it more visible may have unintended consequences.

If you use the wording proposed in the description, Reply to {{GENDER:X|user}} X, the gender won’t become more visible in English (and in other languages that decide not to actually use the gender), it’s just a hint for people translating into languages that do use it. By the way, I often need this information in English, when I want to mention someone in third person (she/he/they), although the “Reply to…” message is probably not the best place to get it from.

If you use the wording proposed in the description, Reply to {{GENDER:X|user}} X, the gender won’t become more visible in English (and in other languages that decide not to actually use the gender), it’s just a hint for people translating into languages that do use it. By the way, I often need this information in English, when I want to mention someone in third person (she/he/they), although the “Reply to…” message is probably not the best place to get it from.

I totally agree! In fact, my initial proposal was to add Reply to {{GENDER:X|user}} X {{GENDER:X|(he)|(she)|(they)}} in languages which has neutral pronouns, otherwise {{GENDER:X|(he)|(she)|}}

@ValeJappo + @Tacsipacsi: we appreciate you adding nuance here.

Below is how the team is currently thinking about the prospect of surfacing the grammatical gender a person has explicitly set in Special:Preferences in the Reply Tool's helper text [i]

Note: before any next steps are decided upon, the Editing Team is going to consult offline with people with expertise in issues at the intersection of gender and language.


Objective

  1. People who have explicitly set a preference for the Gender used in messages setting in Special:Preferences find the Reply Tool refers to them in the way they expect it to.
  2. People who are composing a comment using the Reply Tool know what grammatical gender to use when referring to the person they are responding to.

Open questions

  • To what extent would exposing the grammatical gender a person explicitly set in Special: Preferences within the Reply Tool's text hint be a deviation from, or extension of, peoples' understanding of the setting's impact?
    • Asked another way: in setting this preference do people expect to be affecting how the software talks to them? How other people on the site will _likely_ address them? Both?

Current behavior
Languages that vary user namespace title by gender

  • This Gender used in messages setting currently gets expressed in the following ways (not an exhaustive list):
    • The namespace their user page appears within
    • The namespace their user talk page appears within

Languages that do NOT vary user namespace title by gender

  • More info. needed.

Considerations

  • MediaWiki's documentation suggests that gender-neutral language be used when possible: This does not mean you are encouraged to "sexualise" messages' language: please use gender-neutral language whenever this can be done with clarity and precision. | source
  • Anyone who has a grammatical gender associated with their account has explicitly opted-in to said association
  • When setting a grammatical gender, the interface informs people that the grammatical gender they are setting will be, publicly visible to others.
  • When setting a grammatical gender, the interface informs people that the grammatical gender they are setting will be used by the software to refer to "you" and by the software to mention "you" to other people: The software uses this value to address you and to mention you to others ...
  • In explicitly communicating a person's gender within the Reply Tool's text hint, people may wonder whether this behavior should be extended to the username suggestion list
    • E.g. @Jacob (him/his) or @Violet (she/her/their)
  • Flow's helper text makes no mention of the person "you" are responding to. Instead, they construct the helper text using this formula: Reply to + "TOPIC NAME".
    • E.g. Reply to "Pronouns".
  • Any approach needs to, at a minimum, NOT increase the likelihood that someone on the site is misgendered

EDIT: added - Any approach needs to, at a minimum, NOT increase the likelihood that someone on the site is misgendered the "Considerations" section above.

@ValeJappo + @Tacsipacsi: we appreciate you adding nuance here.

Below is how the team is currently thinking about the prospect of surfacing the grammatical gender a person has explicitly set in Special:Preferences in the Reply Tool's helper text [I]
...

This is great, let me just point out, in response to the first consideration, that in many languages there are no ways to use gender-neutral language; an example could be Italian.

Current behavior
Languages that do NOT vary user namespace title by gender

The information is available through the API. I don’t think MediaWiki itself displays it anywhere, but e.g. Navigation-Popups-Gadget shows a ♂ or ♀ icon when one hovers over a user page/user talk/user subpage/whatever link of someone who has set their gender (i.e. it’s not neutral/unknown).

This is a fascinating discussion and I actually am not entirely sure I have a good answer to this. As a woman who speaks gendered language, this touches all my pet peeves at once, which would have been helpful to formulate an opinion, except some of those pet peeves are from one side and the others on the other.

There's a lot to unpack here.

I will note this point, though:

In languages which don't vary the user namespace title by gender (e.g. English) this will result in user genders becoming a lot more visible to other users. While user gender is not considered private data, making it more visible may have unintended consequences.

Funnily enough, this is a reason why many women do not identify as women on the projects -- especially true for projects that do have a distinction in the user namespace (like Hebrew)

While it's true people can find that information out through the API and such, but the question about whether to emphasize it to "general users" (who don't use the API that readily) is a good one. Hebrew wikipedia has a different namespace for female/male users (I... dislike that, especially since it suggests you shouldn't change your settings at will or too often) but that detail is visible, so the impact of the language is probably not as important there -- but on wikis that don't have that distinction, that's another issue.

I'm trying to think what I'd want to happen in something like English. I know English isn't gendered so it wouldn't have appeared there, but if it were, I am wondering what I'd feel about it -- and to be perfectly honest, I am not entirely sure that wouldn't have driven me to change the gender-language configuration in the settings to avoid that, especially if I was discussion topics that are technical or tend to bring more arguments that devolve into potential rhetoric that can be problematic.

That said, I usually err on the side of preferring the users' preferred language when speaking about themselves. This, though, is usually not a problem within the user's own interface because that's invisible to everyone else.

I, however, am not as highly active on wiki discussions to properly make this judgment.

I'd recommend having some consultation with a couple of women/non-binary groups in gendered language Wikis. These will be the users who are involved deeply in such discussions, who will be most affected, and who would be able to judge properly whether this is something that will make them feel more included (because it respects their language choice) or more targeted.

P.S:

Current behavior
Languages that do NOT vary user namespace title by gender

The information is available through the API. I don’t think MediaWiki itself displays it anywhere, but e.g. Navigation-Popups-Gadget shows a ♂ or ♀ icon when one hovers over a user page/user talk/user subpage/whatever link of someone who has set their gender (i.e. it’s not neutral/unknown).

Unfortunately, that image connection assumes (a) a binary gender, and (b) a person's binary gender out of their language preferences.

One of the reasons the 'gender' data (still 'gender' in DB and api) was changed to "how do you want to be referred" (language-oriented) rather than "what is your gender" is because someone's gender does not equal how they want to be referred to, and we should not make that automatic assumption in graphic or linguistic terms. I am not sure what that product is, but I'd love to see those icons removed, but since it's a gadget, at the very least, I'd like to make sure we don't follow that example, for better inclusion.

If we're looking for a case which very directly mismatches pronouns and gender-identity, he/him lesbians are a thing.

I don't think we should make any changes to the English message, just allow translations to respect grammatical gender rules of each language.

And in languages where that is necessary, I don't think this change will make the genders more visible than before. For example, the grammatical gender is prominently exposed on notifications (in languages where grammar forms are gendered). In Polish, whenever you get a notification that someone mentioned you, or left a message on your talk page, or thanked you, etc., the verb in the notification has a different form depending on the grammatical gender of the subject.

(Although your experience will differ depending on the languages you speak – not all languages with gendered word forms use them for verbs like that, for example Spanish does not.)

EnglishPolish
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But if we learn that using appropriate grammatical gender in the placeholder message makes people uncomfortable, then I think we should remove it rather than leave it broken. Currently it just looks unprofessionally localized, comparably to mistaking “their” and “they’re” in English. I'm annoyed that I didn't notice the problem when we originally created the feature.

I'm adding a note about French language, that might also be a shared topic with other languages. They are possibly a larger topic than the one covered in this one task, but as (very wise) @Mooeypoo said:

There's a lot to unpack here.

At the moment in French preferences, you have the following options:

  1. Personne modifiant des pages du wiki (Le logiciel utilisera quand c’est possible des mots de genre neutre pour vous mentionner) // Person editing wiki pages (The software will use gender-neutral words to mention you when possible)
  2. Elle modifie des pages du wiki // She edits wiki pages
  3. Il modifie des pages du wiki // He edits wiki pages

On the first option, when said that "the software will use gender-neutral words to mention you when possible", it is not always the case. It depends on

  • how translators work (I know they do their best to use non-gendered terms) and
  • how the community accepts these neutral terms.

On these two points, first, there is no option in preferences regarding people who define themselves in a neutral way and who want to use neutral pronouns.
About the second point, a poll at French Wikipedia late 2019 showed that a majority of the community is not accepting non-binary pronouns (among other inclusive forms). At the moment, and like at some other wikis, the neutral form is masculine by default.

About "masculine = neutral", the Universal Code of Conduct has a line in section 2.1 that says:

Respect the way that contributors name and describe themselves. [...] People who identify with a certain sexual orientation or gender identity using distinct names or pronouns

Should software provide a place to indicate the pronouns one wants others to use, like the UCoC asks for?
Since the default preferences aren't covering this case, should they be added preferences, with a way to configure preferences language per language?

To be honest, my main pet peeve is that mediawiki is taking a choice that the user usually thinks is private (preferences), that is then used to show things differently only for them in their context - and then turning around and using it publicly.

I think that's a pretty big problem, and if nothing else, that preference should be made clear that its consequences of that choice ARE public.

That said, this problem is way bigger than the scope of this ticket or this product, so I'm not really expecting you all to go around fixing it - but I do think that this enhances the underlying issue here.

If it was truly a private preference, a lot of the considerations that we see now about "how this represents me as a user to other people" wouldn't have been an issue.

This is an aside, but maybe it can help guide the scoping of the question here in the ticket itself.

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