News & Politics

Guardian Op-Ed: Ordering Siri Around All Day Makes You a Tool of the Patriarchy

Thinking of asking Siri to give you a weather update? How could you?! Don’t you know that ordering your AI devices around like that makes you a tool of the patriarchy? Just ask Dejan Jotanovic. His article in The Guardian asserts: “Put that iPhone down, or I’m calling the feminist police!

Jotanovic says that features like Siri and Cortana have female voices for a reason. “Consumers are looking for a voice of obedience and subservience,” he writes, “a voice trained to take direction, to always be available, always of service. A woman’s voice: the perfect servant.” Now we know what Jotanovic thinks of women. Hopefully he’s unmarried.

Jotanovic says these female-voiced artificial (meaning not real, lest we forget) intelligence functions fit “neatly into a patriarchal tradition where women are both forcibly and insidiously assigned roles that speak solely to servitude.” It’s a little-known fact that, before you purchase your iPhone, someone has to abduct Siri from her job as artificial CEO of an artificial company where she was breaking artificial glass ceilings (which I guess made them plastic) and squish her up so she’s teeny tiny and shove her into your phone. It’s barbaric.

“‘Siri, play some music’ is reminiscent of the traditional 1950s housewife,” writes Jotanovic. Housewives who, in case we weren’t aware, were “women locked into domestic labour and the chores of the household.” Jotanovic continues, “‘Hey Google, when is my meeting today?’ brings forward the Mad Men-era secretary, carefully schooled to listen and respond but never speak against.” It’s hard to tell whether Jotanovic simply thinks the voice of these AI functions should be male, or whether he actually thinks that Siri and her pals are victims of a terrible conspiracy to enslave fake people and force them to do our will.

“The more we condition ourselves to speak to our AI with the dichotomy of master and servant, the further we banish femininity and womanhood to old-fashioned stereotypes about how women and men are meant to be,” Jotanovic writes. Ah, so it’s the latter. I know Siri sounds really real, but it’s actually just a computer program and doesn’t have any feelings and technically is our servant if you want to get right down to it. Does Jotanovic ask his computer whether it’s okay to turn it off? (Never mind, don’t answer that, he probably does.)

Commenters on Jotanovic’s article make some excellent points. “Deepeeoh” writes: “No doubt if mens’ voices were being used the ardent fems would still be complaining about the patriarchy and absence of women’ voices.” Incorrect apostrophe placement aside, this is very obviously true. I wonder what Jotanovic would say if the default AI voice was male — I’m sure it wouldn’t even occur to him to say how wonderful it was that women get to order their fake male computer programs around.

“So when the female voice of Google Maps tells me where to go, what am I to conclude from that?” asks “Quarantedeux.” Another good point, since presumably the awful misogynists that Jotanovic spends his days hiding under the bed from would rather veer off the road into a lake and drown than take orders from a woman.

“Pavs” says “This might be the most dumb article I have ever read,” and “MissionIncredible” says “I facepalmed so hard I knocked myself backwards off my chair.” Neither of these are good points, exactly, but they’re worth noting for their veracity.

The thing is, while it may be fun to try to find a way for every single thing on the entire planet to be anti-feminist, some things are just . . . well . . . things. Pretty much every AI function on every device has a variety of voices that users can choose from — male, female, British, American, the list goes on. If Jotanovic is so averse to giving orders to the fake lady inside his phone, he can very easily turn it into a fake man. Which he should approve of. After all, gender is just a social construct.