Not bending gender norms, just making them more rigid

Updated: May 19, 2019, 07:57 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan | Mumbai

Zainab Patel, a post operative transgender woman who impleaded in the NALSA judgment, talks of why Snapchat's new gender swap filter, does more harm than good

There are a few things to be said about Snapchat's gender swap filter. The first, of course, is that Snaptchat was popular until a couple of years ago as a social media enterprise. Now, they are just innovating on filters to remain relevant. When I saw this, the first thing I thought was, couldn't they think of something better? I love TikTok and there's a meme that comes on it, which has a woman sing 'jaa apna gender jaake change karale'. This filter just reminds me of that.

The second problem with the filter, from a purely heteronormative perspective, is that it extremely masculinises or feminses your features in a way, which would be like going under extreme cosmetic surgery with pre-determined values on how feminine or masculine you should be, in order to qualify being a man or a woman.

mid-day writer Gitanjali Chandrasekharan tried the gender swap filter on Snapchat. While her new male version had a square cut jaw and beard, the filter accentuated her features in her new female version
mid-day writer Gitanjali Chandrasekharan tried the gender swap filter on Snapchat. While her new male version had a square cut jaw and beard, the filter accentuated her features in her new female version

There are filters that you can use on Instagram that tend to slightly masculinise you, but they are funny. They are not as face-altering as this filter. What this does is, say, that you have to have a square cut jaw and a beard to be a man or a well-defined jaw line with aquiline nose and well-shaped eyebrows to be a woman. It's re-stereotyping what a man and a woman ought to be like.

Someone tweeted his Snapchat filter and said that with his current looks, he hasn't been able to get any kind of hits, but the moment he put up the filtered face, he got three followers in a minute. Is this the ultimate aim?

I am sure when the developers made it, they thought it would be funny and didn't think about gender implications or how they were enforcing gender norms by saying what a typical woman/man would look like.

I would never advocate for filters like this. Imagine someone who has a body complex - this entrenches those stereotypes. Then, there's the trans issue. This filter, by making it about the looks, trivialises the entire experience of transitioning. For someone desperate to try and fit into the gender roles that she/he wants to, this feature makes it only about the looks.

I have transitioned as a woman. People tell me I pass off as a woman, but for millions of others who do not, because of genetic issues or they can't afford cosmetic surgery, or don't have access to doctors even if they can pay, it's an extremely horrifying experience to even be the person in the body.

And people are getting killed for gender expression. Last week, a young transperson with gender dysphoria tried to commit suicide. In January, another transwoman was trying to hitch a ride in Delhi when a cabbie who gave her a ride, asked her for sex. When she refused, he shot her. She survived the gunshot, but had to be hospitalised. In Raipur, a trans sex-worker was picked up by male clients and when they realised that she was not a woman, they killed her and mutilated her genitals.

When the expression of gender is trivialised in a matter of a few seconds, it negates all societal pressure and homophobia and transphobia. The government is insisting on medical certificate under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016. The Bill requires transgender persons to go through a district magistrate and "District Screening Committee" to get certified as a transperson. This, despite the 2014 Nalsa judgment, which said that a transperson is already in the gender role they want; self identification was the principle. But, the new Bill makes a mockery of everything.

Looking like a man or a woman is not the purpose of transitioning. The purpose is to live the gender role of man or woman, not the cosmetic role of looking like one. Snapchat needs to think of these things. What's the societal, and psychological impact on those using this filter?

Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and also a complete guide on Mumbai from food to things to do and events across the city here. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates

Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from

loading image
This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK