Today, Apple introduced us to the iPhone 4S. It’s hard not to feel let down after the iPhone 5 rumor mill was spinning at full force just yesterday (courtesy of the craziest rumor yet), but a couple 4S features were enough to perk up my spirit. One feature in particular, Siri, pretty much blew my mind. It is, far and away, the coolest voice control system I’ve ever heard of, and seems to do just about everything.
Ask Siri for nearby Greek restaurants? Bam! 20 Yelp listings are instantly sorted by rating. Ask Siri to read you your texts? No problem, she’s on it. Ask Siri what Siri is?
“I am your humble personal assistant.”
Okay, this just got a little weird.
Before I go on let me just say that I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not Siri comes with customizable (female/male) voices, like a TomTom GPS. If so, this post can just be about what I would think if Siri was a female-only voice.
Anyways… While checking out the Siri demo during Apple’s presentation I couldn’t help but be amazed. Siri feels like a real person, and what it does is… well, amazing. But hidden under all that awesomeness is one very subtle tidbit that no one (as far as I can see) has inquired about: Why is the personal assistant voice control feature on the new iPhone a lady? Is it because we generally perceive receptionists and assistants to be female?
Here’s your answer: Probably, but who cares?
Yes, a feature like this may advance the stereotype that women, like yours truly, are the docile, resourceful assistants of big, strapping men like your average iPhone user. But freaking out over it only advances other stereotypes (like the notion that feminists try to make everything a feminist issue).
“But… But…” they cry, “Won’t this affect perceived gender norms of future generations?”
Things like income inequality, reproductive rights, and domestic violence might affect the children… but a phone that, like most electronics, defaults to a woman’s voice? It’s not all that significant in the grand scheme of things, is it? Though the debasement in her self-identification is a little fishy.
I personally think Siri’s voice sounds wonderful but in all honesty, Siri could be spoken in the voice of Gilbert Goddfried or Fran Drescher and I wouldn’t care. As long as she does all cool things Apple says she’ll do, it doesn’t really matter.