Alexa: Why Are You a Woman?
Digital assistants have grown very popular, and, in particular, Alexa. Alexa is, according to Google, “an intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon”. By now I assume we all know what Alexa is capable of so I’ll skip that part.
A few weeks ago I came across an article titled “Women vs Machines: Why I won’t invite Alexa into my home”. The article asks why Alexa is a ‘she’, and whether this supports outdated stereotypes of women.
So why is Alexa a she?
Before giving an answer, let’s look at boats. Why are boats female too? Paraphrasing a blog post, “a ship is called a she because there’s usually a group of men about, she has a waist and stays put, it takes a lot of paint to keep her pretty – and it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly”.
How would all the women on this planet survive without being correctly handled? Giving things like boats and robots a gender emphasizes (and reinforces) the idea that women should be told what to do. This has to change. It all stems from outdated ideas of what a woman should be (there to please, awaiting command) and, with Alexa, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.
In 2013 the World Economic Forum stated that it will likely take until the year 2186 to achieve economic gender equality. With devices like Alexa reinforcing the idea of the woman as the helper, I’m not exactly optimistic about these assistants assisting women any time soon.
Yes, Alexa is useful – if you can’t look out the window to see what the weather’s like yourself, or if you struggle to write a shopping list on your iPhone. But for gender equality to be something we can realistically expect, brands really need to think about what message they’re sending before creating a product.
Junior Media Planner/Buyer