Apple’s Siri is anti-choice and pro-breeding.

Despite what you might have read, Apple’s virtual assistant iPhone program, Siri, is not “pro-life”, and no one is accusing it of such.* Instead, Siri is simply obfuscatory, with apparent anti-choice biases.

The last couple of links address some of the gender- and reproductive freedom-based reasons that we should care about Siri’s poor response to abortion inquiries. Another angle, apparently lost on, for example, Ars Technica commenters, is the net neutrality angle. I was pleased to notice that Sen. Blumenthal, of my home state of Connecticut, has already addressed this.

Abortion is not the only controversial issue that Siri weighs in on. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my little cousin was trying out Siri and asked her where she could get a dog. Siri responded that she couldn’t find any dog breeders in the area, and didn’t even search for animals shelters or rescue groups! (Of course, I was quick to remind my cousin that dog breeders are not the only source for adopting a dog.)

Obviously, a perfectly neutral online information environment is probably impossible, and no one is saying that you should be free to leave your common sense at home when you have your iPhone in your pocket, but the specifically addressable issue here is that Siri is being bamboozled – like many women are – by so-called “crisis pregnancy centers.”

* It’s pretty disappointing to me that Ars Technica, usually a great source of tech news, not only wholly fabricated the act (of accusing) described in the headline and chose to characterize the abortion access issue as a matter of being “pro-life,” but even went so far as to put “pro-life” in quotes – suggesting that the groups named in the article (ACLU, NARAL) had been quoted as making the charge using the specific term “pro-life.” In fact, neither ACLU’s blog post or NARAL’s statement ever accuses Apple/Siri of being pro-life, or even uses the term. The Ars article links to this Abortioneers post, saying that “the paucity of responses in the area of pregnancy and birth control have raised concerns that Siri is programmed to be ‘pro-life.'” Of course, no such concern is expressed in that post, which describes the poor search results as “fishy.” It’s a bit of a stretch to say that calling something “fishy” is the same thing as raising concerns about being pro-life. In fact, the only major source I could find that used the phrase “pro-life” in discussing the issue was this Slate post. And although the Slate post doesn’t make any claims that Siri is, in fact, pro-life – it merely discusses that people are concerned – the AOL-owned blog TUAW triumphantly linked to Slate in its own post, called, inaccurately enough, “Debunked: Ridiculous claims of ‘pro-life’ bias in Siri.”

In conclusion to this footnote that has overwhelmed the blog post, words matter, and people who write for a living should be a little more careful when using them.

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Wear makeup, get promoted.

A new study reports that women wearing makeup are perceived as more likable, competent, and trustworthy, and the New York Times is on it. In other words, as the Times put it: “cosmetics boost a woman’s attractiveness.” The study was paid for by Procter & Gamble, who sells CoverGirl cosmetics, and designed and executed by researchers at Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I can’t wait to see how CoverGirl is going to harness this research to sell us ladies more endocrine-disrupting potions to slather on our faces!

This is real no-shit-Sherlock science, but I suppose it’s good to get it out of the way and established. But I’m surprised at the Times‘ treatment of it. The article barely gives the time of day to Stanford Law professor and author of The Beauty Bias (also major legal scholar on issues of legal ethics and gender) Deborah Rhode, describing herself as not a “beauty basher.” The article does quote the study’s lead author, Nancy Etcoff, saying:

“Twenty or 30 years ago, if you got dressed up, it was simply to please men, or it was something you were doing because society demands it,” she said. “Women and feminists today see this is their own choice, and it may be an effective tool.”

Yes, it’s true – many women and feminists do see getting dressed up and putting on makeup as their own choice, and they may use it as an effective tool to get what they want in society. But that doesn’t begin to address the point that it’s a choice that perpetuates a historically- and culturally-embedded demeaning of women’s value.

In fact, the article does kind of implicitly illustrate this point:

“I’m a little surprised that the relationship held for even the glamour look,” said Richard Russell, an assistant professor of psychology at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. “If I call to mind a heavily competent woman like, say, Hillary Clinton, I don’t think of a lot of makeup. Then again, she’s often onstage so for all I know she is wearing a lot.”

Exactly. You almost certainly are never going to see Hillary Clinton wearing no makeup. The fact that this (male) professor of psychology doesn’t even realize that Hillary Clinton always wears makeup in public is why our society needs to stop this ridiculous beauty standards arms race.

I recently watched the trailer for the documentary Miss Representation, which looks like it deals with this issue pretty well: