(Before we begin, a brief plug for Geekquality, a new podcast devoted to “Feminism, Race, Ability, Gender, and Sexuality in Geek Culture”. Though I have not yet had a chance to check it out, I approve of it on general principles. Huzzah!)

 

Many electrons have died recently to bring us stories on Siri, Apple’s automated-query-searching-wrapped-up-in-voice-recognition app for the iPhone 4. There are, of course, the people hacking Siri to purposes far beyond “schedule meeting” and “call Mom’s cell”: this discovery that Siri can potentially report on anything that can script, which seems to have led directly to this coding project. I salute you, Siri hackers!

 

And there is a darker side, like the revelations that Siri’s programming has some blind spots that strongly suggest that its programmers kinda sorta overlooked some of its users, namely: women. Siri reportedly had an easier time finding Crisis Pregnancy Centers (decoy clinics run by evil fucks) than actual abortion clinics; in fact, it seems to fall down entirely when it comes to women’s health, being baffled by such simple queries as “Where can I get contraception?” The blogosphere wondered–rightly–whether the programmers had any women among them, or had spoken to any women, or even met any.

 

As night follows day, so too does mansplaining follow women speaking up, however mildly: here, Amanda Marcotte recounts the many men who were kind enough to tell her that she was, no offense, stupid to believe that either Siri or its poor beleaguered programmers were sexist. 

The thing is, they also tested their own software to make sure that it was working properly, and while they made sure that it knew how to translate “blow job” into an escort service or “Viagra” into a drugstore, it didn’t do the same for “birth control” to drug store. That’s a huge oversight.

 

Amanda’s exactly right.  We have written before about geek sexism; we have linked a lot to the wonderful Geek Feminism Blog; and here, right in front of us, is yet another example of the sort of thing we’re always on about. Male is default; women are a specialty market.  When your app visibly puts a lot more effort into jokes about helping its users dispose of bodies they have murdered (which, let us recall, is illegal everywhere) than into helping its users find abortion care (which, let us recall, is not only legal but constitutionally-guaranteed), you have a problem. Women are half of humanity, not an afterthought.

 

Apple did not set out to be sexist.  They just didn’t think of women. I am reminded of this one time I went to DefCon and fell to talking with some guys wearing t-shirts that indicated that they hacked for charity. I asked them what, exactly, they did for the charities, and they responded that they did free IT architecture and network security consulting.  “Oh, I see,” I said, “like, say, for womens’ shelters: an environment where the stakes are life-and-death and the attackers are extremely motivated.”

 

The mens’ eyes lit up.  “Yes,” they said, “EXACTLY like that!”  Later in the weekend, one of them crossed me and said that they’d told the rest of the hackers, and everyone thought it was a magnificent idea.  An off-the-cuff idea from me, but they had never considered it.

 

It’s not that men and women live in different worlds. It’s that women are technology users, too,  and we deserve to be considered as more than an afterthought.