Amanda Marcotte has noticed a discomfiting pattern in how Siri can and can’t help you…
Initially, it may seem like a happy coincidence that programmers chose a female voice for Siri, but once you actually begin to use the software, a discomforting possibility arises. After all, Siri is basically an electronic version of a secretary, who schedules appointments and looks things up for you. In fact, Siri behaves much like a retrograde male fantasy of the ever-compliant secretary: discreet, understanding, willing to roll with any demand a man might come up with, teasingly accepting of dirty jokes. Oh yeah, and mainly indifferent to the needs of women.
I’d been hearing some tales on twitter about the strange things that Siri can and can’t help you with, and some of those tongue-in-cheek responses are good for a laugh, but when a pattern starts to emerge where the phone can find you pharmacies to sell you viagra but not birth control, you have to start asking some more serious questions.
The problem isn’t that anyone involved with this hates women. The problem is that they just don’t think about women very much. Siri’s programmers clearly imagined a straight male user as their ideal and neglected to remember the nearly half of iPhone users who are female. That the tech company that’s the standard-bearer for progressive, innovative, user-friendly technology can’t bother to care about the concerns of half the human race speaks to a sexism that’s so interwoven into the fabric of our society that it’s nearly invisible. It’s a sexism that often only reveals itself in the absurd, such as when you’re asking a phone what it would take for you to get a little love around here.
But there’s a much more damning report on how Siri fails with respect to reproductive health and related queries here. (trigger warning: Siri is outright offensive when you try to get help in an abusive or rape situation)