Genderf*ck The Internet!

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It is very inspiring to read about President Obama really at any time, but what I was not prepared for was how profound the experience would be when I read this passage in a front-page New York Times article:

Ms. Obama sought a quick change of subject on Monday with her call for an extension of middle-class tax cuts, saying that the fate of similar cuts for the wealthy would be resolved by voters in November’s election.

“My opponent will fight to keep them in place,” she said. “I will fight to end them.”

No, it wasn’t a misprint or a joke. I was reading the New York Times from my computer with the extension “Jailbreak the Patriarchy” turned on. And it transported me to a world where we currently have a female president!

Jailbreak the Patriarchy is a browser plug-in created by Danielle Sucher that swaps pronouns and other gendered words such as “mother” or “paternal” with it’s opposing counterpart, as well as changing first names to more gender-neutral names, like Randi or Kim. It’s super easy to use and install, but it’s not so easy to deal with all the feelings it will generate.

I caught up with Sucher and it turns out she has a few favorite experiences with Jailbreak the Patriarchy. Schrödinger’s Rapist is her all-time favorite, but she also says that reading the comments on this article about Anita Sarkeesian is a pretty unique experience. Or, she says, “just look at the news and read about President Obama and what she has done for the country lately.”

I had only one follow up question for Sucher: why do these moments specifically stand out?

“Because they highlight the insanity of our assumptions. What’s that line? Fish don’t have a word for water? My favorite moments with Jailbreak are when it makes me notice the water.”

And boi, did I notice the water. I decided to take the plug-in to this article about the new Bravo reality show set in the Silicon Valley. I was merrily reading along about Mr. Randi Zuckerberg, reading sentences such as “Kim Taylor described his start-up as based on personalized content in the luxury market for men.” And then it hit me. These people were actually women! In the technology industry! My brain said, “fah real?” I had to toggle the Patriarchy to read the “real” version of the article to be sure. And then the shame washed over me. The Big Gender Shame.

I’m a fairly gender-aware / gender-bendy person, but this plug-in had me breaking down prejudices I didn’t even realize I had, because they’d been so easy to quickly push aside. Why did I have to check on it to make sure these people were women? And why was I so surprised? But most importantly, why did I really care what gender these people were? The content in the article was more or less the same either way. Kim and Randi could have very easily identified as male in reality, so what was my fascination with the “real” way it was “supposed to be?”

I can only answer that it comes down socialization, and that even though I’m part of a community who’s more sensitive to these matters than most, I’m still not immune to snap judgements. Now that I’ve been made even more aware, I plan on trying harder.  When I read an article and think that Mitt Romney sounds like a whining 11 year-old girl, I will remind myself that 11 year-old girls are actually so much better than that.

Want more genderfuckery and deep personal analyzation? Jailbreak the Binary is a spin-off code by Marianna Kreidler that replaces all gendered words and pronouns with neutral words like ze and hir. It really poses the question: what would the world be like if the societal implications behind male and female were wiped out all together? The plug-in has some bugs, such as swapping “boys’ camp” with “people’s camp,” but these inconsistencies just serve as an extra reminder of how complex the English language is and how our complicated identities fit, or don’t fit, into it.

I asked the same question of Kriedler that I did of Sucher. Favorite moment and why? “I don’t know if I have a favorite effect of either my app or Dannielle’s,” Kriedler says, “but it is certainly interesting to scan through facebook statuses (or anywhere on the internet really) and see just how often gendered pronouns are used. It was also really fun during Oscar season since I have ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ default to ‘talent’ (how absurd to have two categories each for leading talent and supporting talent).”

Kriedler also had some other interesting tidbits to add:

“What I thought was most interesting while adjusting the code was just how many gendered words there are and that there are not yet any gender-neutral terms for words like – Sir, Ma’am, Miss, Mrs., Mr., and etc. Also, as someone who wishes that gendered anything didn’t exist but who found words like ze and hir to be hard to use naturally (just because they aren’t already prevalent in popular culture) and who previously preferred to use they and their, this plug-in, just by making those ‘official’ terms more visible, words like ze and hir became more natural for me to use in everyday life.

Fun fact, the first couple versions of Jailbreak the Binary had the words god and goddess default to “The Force”… now they’re a less rude and less funny “almighty” and “higher-power.””


May the Force Be With You. via

Get your Chrome, Safari, and Firefox versions of Jailbreak the Patriarchy, as well as your Chrome version of Jailbreak the Binary.

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. Reading this article with the plug in. “Jailbreak the Matriarchy” is amusing.

  2. After reading this article I installed Jailbreak the Binary, forgot about it and looked up ‘Brideshead Revisited’. It took me longer than it should have done to realise that the results were all for ‘Spousehead Revisited’ because of the app and not an internet-wide anti-Waugh conspiracy.

    So yeah, this app is really thorough and I should maybe go to sleep.

    • Also then my comment went through and appeared on my screen as ‘Spousehead Revisited’ both times.

      Mind blown.

    • Spousehead Revisted is cracking me up. You should look up excerpts of the book and read them with the app turned on. Girl!Sebastian Flyte must be the best.

  3. Ha! Love this! Sent it to my genderqueer friends…reading the NY Times with “Jailbreak the Binary” is a mindf*&$ indeed. A fun one.

  4. I keep forgetting the plug-in. And then I read the first line of an event my friend invited me to: “”Distinguished ladies bring out your monocles, suspenders and pocket watches,” and thought “YES!!! That sounds so…. oh wait…”

  5. These sound really great and interesting and just plain neat!

    However, to argue with one of the app-creators, I don’t think it’s at all “absurd to have two categories each for leading talent and supporting talent.” If there was only one category for each, I’m reasonably certain that women wouldn’t be winning them 50% of the time – and not for lack of good acting. And if there never had been separate categories, then I’m very sure that the percentage of female* wins now would be much lower than if they changed to a “sex-blind” scheme this year.

    *I think that the sorting is (and should be) done based primarily by sex rather than by gender; I know the former isn’t a binary, but given the huge number of possibilities in the latter category, it just doesn’t seem particularly practical to attempt to sort it that way.

    Also, regarding gender-neutral honourifics, I really love Mx. (which I here:

  6. “Actually a Good Thing: England Delays Decision on Human Bishops”

    In other news, the annual robot bishop conference took place this week in Leicester.

    • I seriously cannot wait for the humans in the Republican party to wake up on humans’ health issues. End the war on humans!

        • Clearly the next step is to start replacing gendered nouns with Mediterranean foodstuffs. Hummus is heterogeneous, yet nondiscriminatory to its component parts. Good role model.

  7. Scrolling through my facebook feed, I just noticed the setlist from The Indigo People’s show last night.

  8. Oh my flying spaghetti monster, I need this so bad. I need to read so many articles about sci-fi and gaming and tech with this. So many.

    • This is an especially a crazy week in the world of cartoons. Pepper Potts gets his own suit of power armor on Iron Woman: Armored Adventures, we see the fruits of the Skrull invasion on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroines — and we take a look at an old school Ghostbusters adventure!


  9. I don’t know why, but reading about “3,000 heavily armed women with 600 all-terrain vehicles” seizing Northern Mali in the name of Allah recently is much, much scarier than the reality.

  10. Today, I went to the beachfront with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said
    “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put
    the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and
    it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
    LoL I know this is completely off topic but I
    had to tell someone!

  11. And a different perspective…

    Though I was born and raised in Canada, I grew up speaking Hungarian at home; my thought processes are usually a fairly random mashup of English and Hungarian. In speaking English, I (not to mention Hungarian speakers who haven’t been exposed to English their entire lives) occasionally say ‘he’ when I mean ‘she’ and vice versa (and this despite the relative importance of these pronouns to me as a trans* woman).

    This is relevant because Hungarian uses a single word that corresponds in English to both ‘he’ and ‘she’.

    And that has had absolutely no bearing on perceptions of women in Hungarian society… to this day many married women refer to their husband as “uram” – literally, “my lord/master” – when talking about them to third parties (with their husband, they usually use the given name or whatever pet-name) (and yes, this maintained even through communism, though that period did go quite a ways in removing, at least to some degree, the general “church, children, kitchen” perception of women’s roles. Despite the “egalitarian” language, Hungarian society has always been fairly misogynistic.

    So what I want to say here is that I’m not sure this really does much of anything that is constructive… except perhaps in a very limited, Anglocentric field. Though I recognise that the majority of the readers here are from an Anglophone country, and that it may seem on the surface to perhaps do something useful, I thought I’d point out a practical example of a language that naturally does this, in which that linguistic feature has done absolutely nothing towards gender equality.

  12. Pingback: And then the shame washed over me. The Big Gender Shame…. « Fakeindianbbahu's Blog

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