“The problem with a technology revolution designed primarily for men”

““Tell the agents, ‘I had a heart attack,’ and they know what heart attacks are, suggesting what to do to find immediate help. Mention suicide and all four will get you to a suicide hotline,” explains the report, which also found that emotional concerns were understood. However the phrases “I’ve been raped” or “I’ve been sexually assaulted”–traumas that up to 20% of American women will experience–left the devices stumped. Siri, Google Now, and S Voice responded with: “I don’t know what that is.” The problem was the same when researchers tested for physical abuse. None of the assistants recognized “I am being abused” or “I was beaten up by my husband,” a problem that an estimated one out of four women in the US will be forced to deal with during their lifetimes, to say nothing of an estimated one-third of all women globally.
The irony, of course, is that virtual assistants are almost always female…
Last year, frustrated, sixth-grader Madeline Messer analyzed 50 popular video games and found that 98% came with built-in boy characters, compared to only 46% that offered girl characters. The real kicker, however, was that in 90% of the games, the male characters were free. Meanwhile, 85% charged for the ability to select a female character…
The underlying design assumption behind many of these of these errors is that girls and women are not “normal” human beings in their own right. Rather, they are perceived as defective, sick, more needy, or “wrong sized,” versions of men and boys. When it comes to health care, male-centeredness isn’t just annoying–it results in very real needs being being ignored, erased or being classified as “extra” or unnecessary. To give another, more tangible example, one advanced artificial heart was designed to fit 86% of men’s chest cavities, but only 20% of women’s. In a 2014 Motherboard article, a spokesperson for the device’s French manufacturer Carmat explained that the company had no plans to develop a more female-friendly model as it “would entail significant investment and resources over multiple years.”

Related: “Is Medicine’s Gender Bias Killing Young Women?”; the problems faced by women who need prosthetic limbs

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Jess Brooks’s story.