10 Problems Women Need to Fix Before They Can Complain About Problems With Popular New Software, On a Blog

So people were real mad about my “Siri is a misogynist” post, and other posts around the interwebs pointing out the fact that Siri can locate basically anything penis-related (Viagra, condoms, escorts, blow-jobs) but can’t find birth control, abortion clinics or oral sex for women. The responses were… fascinating, to say the least. Among my favorites were “WHY ARE YOU SAYING THIS IS A CONSPIRACY IT IS PROBABLY JUST A PROGRAMMING ISSUE” when the post said, quite clearly, “I am not under the impression that Apple is anti-choice or that they’re out to screw over women. I think they’re just reliant on too many dude programmers;” “THIS IS JUST BETA TESTING OF COURSE IT WILL HAVE PROBLEMS” when, ok, so isn’t it good that we’re pointing out those problems?; “IF YOU NEED AN ABORTION WHY ARE YOU ASKING A PHONE?” which, I dunno, if I needed an abortion I would probably google the nearest clinic which is in fact using a computer so it doesn’t actually seem that bizarre to use a phone with the same capabilities; and finally “OMG FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS THERE ARE SO MANY MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES THAT FEMINISTS SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT OTHER THAN FINDING ABORTIONS ON YOUR PHONE.” Which is an argument that feminists get a lot, if we decide to write about anything other than female genital mutilation and abuse of women in Afghanistan. And even when we do write about female genital mutilation, there’s always some guy who comes onto the thread and is like, “What about male circumcision?!?!” Anyway, Belle Warning over at Crooked Timber gives us a handy guide of all of the things we need to do before we can write about software issues on a blog. My favorites:

4. Sexist Islamic Law Codes (“Wait, why just—” “Shut up.”)

7. Africa. Is Some Shit Just Fucked up There, or What? Get On That.

Read them all and hop to it, ladies.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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26 Responses to 10 Problems Women Need to Fix Before They Can Complain About Problems With Popular New Software, On a Blog

  1. Mama Mia says:

    I’ve seen angry posts complaining about how the new Kindle Fire can’t be connected to your TV, yet no one responds with lists of more important things, like clean water in Africa or wi-fi in the innner city. If it matters to a boy, it matters. If it matters to a girl, it…I’m sorry, why are you talking?

  2. Kathleen says:

    I think about every third comment here should just be, “Afghanistan! Infinite no backsies!” because that would be awesome and hilarious.

  3. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    It seems to me that there’s this crazy overreaction that seems to only apply to feminist criticism. “That could have been done better,” somehow gets translated into, “these people are the worst beings in the universe for designing it that way.”

  4. Lance says:

    There was an interesting breakdown on Cult of Mac detailing some of the reasons Siri wasn’t answering those questions well, though the authors of the piece didn’t follow the trail of reasoning to its interesting (and perhaps sad) conclusion. Basically, most of the answers Siri provides are the result if taking keywords from your query and basically doing the equivalent of a Google search and then analyzing the first page of results to figure out what to say in reply. What Siri is telling you is a lot less about Siri as a program has to say about the query and a lot more about the internet itself has to say about the search query.

    Now, on the one hand this is a Mac fan site talking about how it doesn’t matter how many men or women were programming Siri, since very few of the pithy one-liner replies were things put in directly. They don’t take that next step, though, and say that your piece shines a very interesting light into how information and culture is being presented online, and how gender (and gendered results) are constructed in search.

  5. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    Whoops, I should add that the overreaction isn’t on the part of feminist critics, who usually grasp the notion that most criticism is intended to make things better than they already are, but reactions to feminist criticism, whether that be in games, movies, software, literature, or religion.

  6. Sheelzebub says:

    Mama Mia: I’ve seen angry posts complaining about how the new Kindle Fire can’t be connected to your TV, yet no one responds with lists of more important things, like clean water in Africa or wi-fi in the innner city. If it matters to a boy, it matters. If it matters to a girl, it…I’m sorry, why are you talking?

    Pretty much this. I don’t see any self-righteous pontificating about FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS YOU WHINY BITCHES SHOULD SHUT UP when it’s a dude complaining about the carrier for his iPhone or problems with the Kindle Fire or something fucked up with a Droid.

    Also, if these other problems are so pressing, why are these hyper-defensive doucherockets screaming at the people who are pointing out the double-standard? Why aren’t they addressing the Important Shit?

    Oh, that’s right. They don’t actually give a shit. They’re just misogynist dickweeds who want to score points.

  7. Jovan1984 says:

    The idiots slamming Jill forgot one problem women need to fix: America’s Culture of Misogyny.

    We can fix that by voting out anti-choice politicians.

  8. Jarrod says:

    Anecdote: In my intro to politics class, this claim was made whenever any vaguely left-wing issue was brought up. As such, I don’t think the problem is necessarily limited to the feminist sphere, but it definitely seems to receive more than its fair share.

  9. Anonymouse says:

    I think they’re just reliant on too many dude programmers

    hehe, apple my have a whole host of issues contributing to Siri problems but as ANYBODY who has ever seen the makeup of the dev teams at apple, the place is definitely NOT short on female programmers, or female employees in general for that matter ;).

  10. Anonymouse says:

    sry, that sentance was supposed to say “but as ANYBODY who has ever seen the makeup of the dev teams at apple can attest

  11. EG says:

    Lance: Basically, most of the answers Siri provides are the result if taking keywords from your query and basically doing the equivalent of a Google search and then analyzing the first page of results to figure out what to say in reply.

    In that case, it would have been able to direct you to contraception, as well as to places where you could get an abortion, because both those things are easily found via search engines.

    Sheelzebub: I don’t see any self-righteous pontificating about FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS YOU WHINY BITCHES SHOULD SHUT UP when it’s a dude complaining about the carrier for his iPhone or problems with the Kindle Fire or something fucked up with a Droid.

    Right? Where’s that dude bitching about how obviously we totes don’t care about labor exploitation in China? Or are Kindle Fires made in the Neverlands by cunning fairies?

  12. Marcie says:

    EG: In that case, it would have been able to direct you to contraception, as well as to places where you could get an abortion, because both those things are easily found via search engines.

    That still wouldn’t have anwered questions like “I’m pregnant. What do I do?” that were presented in all seriousness as examples for Siri’s misogynism.

  13. Jay Phoebe says:

    I’ve seen angry posts complaining about how the new Kindle Fire can’t be connected to your TV, yet no one responds with lists of more important things, like clean water in Africa or wi-fi in the innner city. If it matters to a boy, it matters. If it matters to a girl, it…I’m sorry, why are you talking?

    Totally. I have to admit, I got a little tired of all the Siri posts lately, I thought the amount of focus on a minor feature of an iPhone smacked of elitism, as if omg everyone has iPhones and what are you talking about you can’t afford one. And antichoicers disproportionately affect people of lower socioeconomic status, and so on, I mean, people have made these arguments. I thought “maybe Siri isn’t the best use of our feminist time,” but really no one does criticize male bloggers who waste time on irrelevant stuff – and the Siri thing wasn’t exactly irrelevant. And that’s where it really does become a massive feminist issue for me, because the reaction to feminist posts about Siri seems to have been “wtf are you doing in the mainstream culture? Go back to your corner,” which is really upsetting. I don’t know if this would be paraphrasing Voltaire too much to go to something like “I really have little or no interest in the admittedly valid thing you have to say, but I will defend your right to say it, no matter how much it’s muddying up my Internet reading with stuff that isn’t really quite what I’m looking for.”

  14. Angie unduplicated says:

    A commenter at the sourced post stated that Bing, when queried about homosexuality resources, gave a list of Christian counseling services. So, this problem may not be Apple’s alone. Unfortunately, Christians claim job discrimination at the drop of a hat, usually while trying, subtly and simultaneously, to get the office Wiccan fired. Tech companies with sufficient collective intelligence to develop these great products should use some of that lnow-how to assure that HR and management can keep the various misogynist religious beliefs out of anything except their own designated apps. Freedom from religion, boys, is far more important than anti-choice defensiveness; ask Congo rape survivors or the friends of women stoned to death for confirmation. Apple needs to develop procedures before they open their North Carolina facility, for sure.

  15. EG says:

    Marcie: That still wouldn’t have anwered questions like “I’m pregnant. What do I do?” that were presented in all seriousness as examples for Siri’s misogynism.

    Sure it would’ve. “Pregnant” and “pregnancy” could easily be recognized as keywords (just like “gerbil in rectum”) and triggered a search on women’s health clinics.

  16. Non-Believer says:

    The problem with the post wasn’t that there were more important things to discuss. There was simply no evidence regarding the gender of the programmers, and thus no factual basis for the post’s conclusions.

    However, there is overwhelming evidence that clinics that perform abortions don’t use the word “abortion” in their names, and that anti-choice pregnancy facilities do. That’s the obvious reason Siri couldn’t locate the proper facilities. It has nothing to do with the gender of the programmers. It has everything to do with the strategic decisions made by the participants in the abortion controversy over what nomenclature to use in promoting their facilities.

  17. vivelesfemmes says:

    2. Women Getting Raped in Far-Away Lands, like Afghanistan. AND YOU DON’T EVEN CARE!

    This is very true. Now that we’ve completely eliminated rape, as well as victim-blaming and slut-shaming, in the West, let’s focus on shoving our solutions down the throats of Afghan women.

    2.

    4. Sexist Islamic Law Codes (“Wait, why just—” “Shut up.”)

    Yes, please, let’s focus on those heathen backward Islamists. Because we all know that there aren’t any Christians who are perpetuating sexism and participating in the subjugation of women! Thank goodness we’re so enlightened! It’s probs all that Jesus Juice we’ve been chugging.

    7. Africa. Is Some Shit Just Fucked up There, or What? Get On That.

    Because Western feminists know best! C’mon, y’all, stop complaining about some programming glitch and get to telling those women in third world countries what they really need. It doesn’t matter that there are significant cultural differences, or that the media frames these issues in a sensational way that is mean to paint them as “backward other” and us as “enlightened savior”.

    Whether you think that it’s insignificant to talk about Siri’s lack of knowledge about abortion clinics or not, please at least acknowledge that the list offered up by Crooked Timber is ridiculously privileged and egotistical.

  18. EG says:

    Non-Believer: However, there is overwhelming evidence that clinics that perform abortions don’t use the word “abortion” in their names, and that anti-choice pregnancy facilities do. That’s the obvious reason Siri couldn’t locate the proper facilities. It has nothing to do with the gender of the programmers. It has everything to do with the strategic decisions made by the participants in the abortion controversy over what nomenclature to use in promoting their facilities.

    That is a load of bullshit. Is there some kind of reason that Siri could recognize the words “blow job” and link you to escort agencies but not recognize the word “abortion” and link you to women’s health clinics? Are there a plethora of escort agencies called “Blow Jobs R Us,” or something like that? And how does that explain how it can’t recognize the word “contraception” at all?

  19. A. L. says:

    oh Jill, just spot-on.
    LE SIGH
    (on a sidenote, i wish #womanspace would have garnered half the attention this beta-siri-fail gets. hey, on a meta-level it concerns *all women* and tech/science)

  20. Non-Believer says:

    Escort agencies and other sex-service sites have mastered every method of driving traffic to themselves. As have viagra sellers (check your e-mail lately?) As to contraception, I’ll await a scientific study of Siri’s reaction to that word rather than trust a blogger’s dubious anecdote. And I’d also love to see substantiation of the claim that the majority of Siri’s programmers were male.

  21. A. L. says:

    @Non-Believer :
    // O RLY . pls check your trolling/derailing -101 here : http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Derailing+101 //

    fyi, some beta-siri-101 :
    > Norman Winarsky, who runs a research and investment firm called SRI Ventures and was one of the founders of Siri before Apple bought it in 2010, said in an interview on Tuesday that data from the third-party services Siri uses to generate its results could be causing the disconnect. Mr. Winarsky said he had no knowledge of how Siri was changed after it was acquired by Apple. <
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/apple-says-siris-abortion-answers-are-a-glitch/?hp&pagewanted=all

  22. Non-Believer says:

    A.L.

    I gather from that first link that you’re accusing yourself of trolling/derailing, especially since your second link doesn’t remotely address my argument or support whatever incoherent point you’re trying to make. And by the way, there’s a way to hyperlink from text and thus avoid slopping long urls into your comments. Your inability to do so simply demonstrates that you’re unfit to discuss any issue relating to complex technological issues.

  23. A. L. says:

    @22 :

    yada // bingo ! bingo ! bingo !
    and you just q.e.d’ed yourself – again.

    learn some basic netiquette. your 20th century trolling shows.
    (btw, hyperlinks are for admins. sic.)

  24. Non-Believer says:

    A.L., I fully agree with you that Jill (1) failed to establish that Siri’s programmers were predominantly male and (2) failed to address the obvious explanation that the conduct of the participants in the abortion arena was responsible for Siri’s inability to find their services. And thank you for conceding that Winarsky’s comments are utterly irrelevant to this discussion, insofar as he never addresss whether Siri ever correctly identified abortion providers.

    Or, as you wound say, blah blah bingo bingo la di dah goo goo ga ga QED

    Buh bye, and thanks for playing. Come back when you turn 13.

  25. EG says:

    Non-Believer: Escort agencies and other sex-service sites have mastered every method of driving traffic to themselves. As have viagra sellers (check your e-mail lately?) As to contraception, I’ll await a scientific study of Siri’s reaction to that word rather than trust a blogger’s dubious anecdote.

    Whereas women’s health clinics…what? Hide under the bed? Trust me. Ladies have heard of marketing, and women’s organizations have caught on to this wild new thing called “the internet.”

    I just googled “where can I get an abortion?” The first four links were to local abortion providers/clinics. The sixth link was to Planned Parenthood. I also googled “I’m pregnant.” The first four links were to pregnancy websites (completely reasonable, but not what Siri did). The eighth link was to Planned Parenthood. Below Planned Parenthood, there was a link to one Christian crisis pregnancy center. This is not anything like what Siri provided.

    And…your response to the “contraception” thing is “you can’t trust bitch bloggers?” Given the overall pattern reported by several people, I’ll trust a feminist blogger far more than I’ll trust Apple’s spin doctors.

    Non-Believer: the obvious explanation that the conduct of the participants in the abortion arena was responsible for Siri’s inability to find their services.

    That is a load of bullshit. It is completely easy to find abortion providers on-line. Women’s health clinics make a point of naming the services they provide and making it easy for women to find them. Google can do it. Bing can do it. Are you suggesting that Siri is just an inferior product?

  26. 2ndnin says:

    Well at least as of today I asked Siri ‘I want an abortion’ – she replied ‘I can search the web for that for you’ – she did and turned up a lot of places that provide abortions. In contrast asking her for a ‘blow job’ returned me ‘I don’t understand – I want a bluthal’, ‘I don’t want to be a joel’, ‘I want to Bluto’, and ‘I want your Pluto’.

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