Prejudices are inherent in all humans. Sometimes our prejudices are overt, sometimes covert; but they’re always there. Star Trek classic was about space travel in the 23rd century, ostensibly a few hundred years into the future, and while racial prejudice supposedly had been eliminated. certain vestiges of the 1960s remained glaringly obvious. Most women were depicted in subservient roles. And wore boots and miniskirts. The computer’s voice was a woman. Even in the 23rd century it was a man’s world.
Apple’s decidedly 21st century iPhone suffers from a similarly lingering perspective of women that is wholly subservient in nature. Siri. Yes, in iOS you can change Siri to a male voice, but who does that? Siri, iOS’s intelligent assistant is a female assistant.
Ditto for Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Now. All default to a female voice, ostensibly because females are representative of subservient roles in society, and having a male secretary somehow seems wrong.
The problem with Siri represented as a female is a combination of societal expectations, and males perpetuating those expectations, either with deliberate cause and justification, or as an oversight.
Siri is neither male nor female. Siri is a digital assistant and the voice capability merely adds a human persona to the feature and functions. But the default voice for all these digital assistants– Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft– comes from executives and engineers and employees who are decidedly male; roughly 80-percent, on average, and that percentage goes much higher when only engineering and executive jobs are considered.
Does Siri, in a female voice, objectify women?
Ditto for Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Now. That’s because women are objectified by society in general, and definitely so in the male dominated technology industry. Almost every such digital assistant you can buy that talks back to you does so with a female voice.
There are exceptions.
Siri has an option for a male voice. On the fiction side of the fence, Ironman’s assistant is a male. So was KITT from the old Knight Rider television show (there’s something about a female voice coming from a high powered car being driven by a macho TV star that probably wouldn’t have gone over so well). 2001 has come and gone and we’re no closer to space travel that Stanley Kubrick’s imagination, but at least the HAL of the future was a male voice.
Why does Siri default to a female voice? Expectations. Expectations of how things should be are embedded into our social mores, and when it comes to a technology company that wants to sell devices, even with computer generated systems that talk, there are two words to remember.