iPhone's Siri Shows We Like to Tell Women What to Do

female robotEver since she made her debut on the iPhone 4S one week ago, the personal assistant app Siri has been the talk of the town. She's an exciting innovation in smartphones that can actually understand what you're trying to say. I didn't think I'd be using her as much as I have been, and I continue to be impressed with what she can do -- from reminding me to do whatever it is I need to be reminded of "when I get home" to texting "my boyfriend" (which she now associates with his name and number in my contacts).

In fact, it's almost as if she's become a new part of our family. Aaawwww! I know, crazy, right? But as you can tell, I refer to her not just as "Siri," but as "she," "her," etc. Because of her very clearly computer-meets-woman's voice, she's female through and through. And why is that? Why are voicemail, GPS, and Siri all female?


Some say it has to do with biology. Research shows that we all tend to find a woman's voice more pleasing to the ear than a man's. There's also the fact that female voices have been used in navigation devices since World War II, where they'd stand out against mostly male pilots in airplane cockpits. Or think of telephone operators, who were typically female, so people got used to "getting assistance from a disembodied woman's voice." Ah-HA!

Which leads me to my theory on why Siri's a woman! Seems like the majority of people prefer to hear a man's voice when it comes to being told something authoritative ... you know, all the ridiculous controversy that arose when Katie Couric took over on the CBS Evening News, and even the kinds of ridiculous statements made when Hillary Clinton was a serious contender to become President. Discouragingly, many people said loud and clear that they'd prefer to hear a man speaking from a position of power like this.

BUT when it comes to receiving assistance from an entity we can direct to respond in a submissive way -- like Siri, for instance -- people prefer female voices. Which, helloooo, totally shines light on how just how ingrained some of our most sexist beliefs are. Even if part of the reason is also that women are presumed to be better at communication and fostering relationships, that's still gender stereotyping, no?

But, it's not like we should get ourselves all bent out of shape about this or go after Apple! It's not their fault their marketing research shows our gender stereotyping ways! But at the very least, it does seem wise to be aware of it.

How do you feel about computer voices being mostly female? Do you think it has to do with gender stereotyping?


Image via Caroline Davis2010/Flickr

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