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11 Nov 2011
Jailbreak the Patriarchy: my first Chrome extension

I just released my first Chrome extension! It's called Jailbreak the Patriarchy, and if you're running Chrome, you can head over here to install it.

What does it do?

Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it's installed, everything you read in Chrome (except for gmail, so far) loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped. For example: "he loved his mother very much" would read as "she loved her father very much", "the patriarchy also hurts men" would read as "the matriarchy also hurts women", that sort of thing.

This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!

What if you need to read something on the web exactly as it was written?

Running this extension will not trap you outside the asylum. When you install Jailbreak the Patriarchy, you'll see that there's a new button in the top right corner of your browser. It looks like this:

When you click that button, it basically toggles the patriarchy. If Jailbreak the Patriarchy is active when you click, it pauses the extension and reloads your current tab back into reality. If the extension is already paused when you click the button, it unpauses the extension and reloads your current tab back into genderswapped-land.

Just to be clear, only your current tab will reload automatically, but the pause/unpause is browser-wide and persists until you toggle the button again. It's easy to tell when the extension is paused, because the button in the browser will get a big red OFF tag, like so:

I found it helpful to pause the extension while writing this post, for instance, and intend to unpause it as soon as I'm done. No big deal, with that toggle button right in the browser at all times.

Why create such a thing?

I was having dinner with the incomparable Jess Hammer a couple weeks ago, when the topic of ebooks came around. I made an offhand comment about how someone really ought to make an app that toggles male/female characters' genders in ebooks, and promptly started thinking about what I was really looking for along those lines.

I'm not much an ebook reader myself, so a Chrome extension feels much more useful to me. But it absolutely genderswaps html-formatted Project Gutenberg books, if that's what tickles your fancy.

Running Jailbreak the Patriarchy for the past few days has already changed my perspective on the world in a way that I find interesting, enjoyable, and valuable. I'm very curious to hear how other folks feel about the experience! So please give it a try, and let me know whether and how it affects your perspective!

Are there any bugs?

There is a known bug with the English language itself that I'm dealing with imperfectly at the moment. See, sometimes "her" should translate to "him", and sometimes it should translate to "his". There are a lot of tricky edge cases here.

I have a set of rules that recognize the most common cases where "her" always or usually should translate to "him", and then a rule that translates all remaining instances of "her" to "his" instead. It's a decent system, but not yet thorough enough. (Better than it was when I started, though. Extra thanks to Molly Tomlinson and Xtina Schelin for helping me get this as close to accurate as it is already!) This is very much a work-in-progress.

What this ultimately means is that sometimes you're going to see "his" where you really ought to see "him" instead, or vice-versa. You can help fix that! You don't need to know Javascript to help - just knowing English is more than good enough! If you come up with any simple rules on when "her" ought to go to "him" but currently doesn't, let me know, and I'll update the extension to take care of those cases as well.

Beyond that, so far I know that Jailbreak the Patriarchy doesn't affect gmail (which is very important to me), but I haven't tested it on any other email sites. It works on twitter, greader, and facebook, but I haven't tested it on dynamic content sites beyond that. Please let me know if you find any problems, and I'll figure out how to deal with them and push an update through.

Other Notes

Although Jailbreak the Patriarchy does swap gendered terms beyond pronouns, I've undoubtedly missed some that I'd be happy to add in as we notice them.

That said, I've decided so far not to genderswap some categories of gendered terms, like certain popular slurs. I reserve the right to change my mind and am open to hearing feedback on this decision.

I've also decided not to genderswap people's names, despite having some great theories on how to make that work if I wanted to. I have three reasons for this decision: I wanted to release this so we could play with it ASAP and figured I could always add that feature in later if I so choose; I think that although name-swapping would be great for an app that only affected works of fiction, changing people's names all over the web would blur reality to the point of inconvenience; and last, I'm really just charmed by the way it makes the entire world feel a bit more genderqueer to me.

Ports and spin-offs created by other coders:

• Nicholas FitzRoy-Dale ported Jailbreak to work for Safari
sinxpi ported Jailbreak to a Greasemonkey script for Firefox
Marianna Kreidler released a gender-neutral version of Jailbreak </i>