The Ubiquitous Female Voice

Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD
17 min readNov 22, 2020

The voice of women runs the world, from Siri, gynoids Alexa & Cortana, GPS, Walmart Self-Checkout, Car Wash, etc

Men are more likely than women to own smartphones worldwide (see previous piece on Bisexual Aesthetics). Blocking daughters access to a smartphone is a modern manifestation of sexist norms limiting women’s independence. In addition, the gender pay gap means that male customers will generally have more money to spend.

Thus, giving Siri & other systems a female voice helps retain the customers who represent the ‘mode’ (males) by giving them the pleasure of controlling the female voice. Importantly, it also means they are yelling at/ criticizing/ turning off the female voice whenever something doesn’t work or the ‘voice’ doesn’t follow their demands. What do you imagine some of the implications of this may be?

USA COVID19 research tracking the geolocation of 15 million smartphones over time revealed that counties with a higher % of women were more likely to adhere to social distancing (Okten et al., 2020).

The finding that women with smartphones have been more responsible than men with smartphones makes the sex inequality in smartphone ownership even more nauseating.

“The leading manufacturer of self-checkouts, National Cash Register Company (NCR), is coy about the woman whose authoritative manner won her the voiceover job. The person has been chosen for having a calming voice and an approachable manner.’ In laboratory and shop studies, customers ‘overwhelmingly responded better to the female voice’.”
- Gill Martin (2010)

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is quite literally more than a century in the making, starting with Emma Nutt as the first female operator in 1878, to typewriters being marketed as women’s work because women’s nimble/dexterous fingers have ‘machine-like’ precision.

In 1935, Fortune Magazine declared that women’s place was at their typewriter.

Telling the female operator where to connect you, the female typist what to type for you, the female in your phone what to search for you (thanks Siri)…

[Note: most of the personalized/at-home tech items offer the option to change the voice’s sex & accent. However, in most cases the default voice is XX rather than XY.]

Ai of Rainbows

Michelle Bastian — Haraway’s Lost Cyborg and the Possibilities of Transversalism (2006)

Donna Haraway’s entire body of work is permeated by her interest in finding ways of allowing heterogeneous actors to work productively together. This interest weaves its way through the cyborg, the Modest_Witness, and now the companion species. Within all these figures lies the desire to develop “vulnerable, on‐the‐ground work that cobbles together non‐harmonious agencies and ways of living that are accountable both to their disparate inherited histories and to their barely possible but absolutely necessary joint futures” (Haraway 2003, 7).

Strangely enough, while Haraway’s comments on technology have been widely explored,

this important work on coalition building has been largely overlooked.

…it is equally important to understand the pain and fear that inevitably coincide with the attempt to critically evaluate one’s own subject position. Discussions of the difficulties of actually reworking our conceptions of subjectivity are limited in Haraway’s own work, so as a response to this problem I seek to bring Haraway’s theories into conversation with the theoretical aspects of transversal politics as they are expressed by Cynthia Cockburn and Nira Yuval-Davis. This theory of building coalitions for peace outlines some of the practical issues involved in learning how to perform the identity work necessary for interacting openly with others. Transversalism is a particularly apt conversation partner for Haraway…

Further, since both Haraway’s work and transversal politics start from the premise that conflict is impossible to eliminate, the community implied by the conjunction between them challenges common conceptions of community as the place of harmony and communion. Instead, social structures and subjectivities are developed that allow us to view disagreement as a productive opportunity rather than as something we need to abolish. In order to gain a clearer idea of how disagreement might be viewed in a more positive light, I turn to the work of Linnell Secomb and Jean-Luc Nancy, who, while coming from quite a different theoretical background to both Haraway and transversalism, nevertheless have important insights to offer to the conversation.

I conclude by emphasizing that, while adequate theories and techniques are needed for the possibility of more productive communication, what is also important is

a personal desire for change that is able to withstand the difficulties of being constantly challenged without growing defensive or self-protective.

Haraway’s most famous work is, of course, her essay titled “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991b, 149–81). At the time of its development, Haraway was concerned that feminism was simply rejecting science as masculinist and therefore forfeiting the opportunity to define the features of the new integrated circuit of twentieth-century technoscience. In addition, mainstream feminism was criticized by women of color, who argued that the all-encompassing category of “woman” elided the lived realities of many women. Haraway’s notion of the cyborg was therefore conceived as a way of recognizing both of these critiques of hegemonic feminism…

(Page 1042): Transversal politics recognizes that the need to work together should not be confused with mutual affection, or even liking. Indeed, Cockburn describes friendship “as the last resort of an alliance” (1998, 228). Although she does not deny that friendship can make the process more enjoyable, an important aspect of transversal politics is the ability to interact without assuming the similarity that friendship entails. Thus, transversal politics does not rely on common identities in order to act.

Transversal politics does not claim to be able to solve all our problems. As Yuval-Davis reminds us, “Transversal politics are not always possible, as conflicting interests of people who are situated in specific positionings are not always reconcilable” (1994, 193).

An understanding of political action is produced that does not rest in a space of unproblematic knowledge of others or self-confident actions but, rather, constitutes what Diane Elam describes as a “realm of continual negotiation . . . in the absence of any accounting procedure” (1994, 81).

Transversal politics shows that acknowledging that we must act without certain frameworks does not imply that one must be either paralyzed or unprincipled and opportunistic.

(Page 1043): all participants in political work need to be listened to, negotiated with, and not silenced by the invocation of objective principles. Through the work of Haraway and transversalism, politics becomes understood as a process, as an unending work. Putting transversalism into practice will not result in a final unproblematic reconciliation between the parties involved. Nor can it save us from all difficulties in some vague future. It is rather “the difficult reality of unavoidable, unending, careful and respectful struggle” (Cockburn 1998, 216).

(Page 1044): “disagreement, difference, and passion mark the living community,” not the failed one (Secomb 2000, 148).

For Secomb, community is best understood “as productive disagreement” (2000, 134). She argues that disagreement “holds a space open for diversity and for freedom. It is not disagreement, resistance, and agitation that destroy community. It is rather the repression or suppression of difference and disagreement in the name of unity and consensus which destroys the engagement and interrelation of community” (2000, 134). Secomb therefore resists the notion that the proper task of politics is to create a unified community. Instead, she insists that understanding a society as fractured is beneficial not only in that it would recognize structurally the importance of difference but also in that it would “also overcome stagnation and complacency, and generate transition and transformation” (2000, 137).

(Page 1045): As Nancy says, this type of community “is not a work to be done or produced. But it is a task, which is different — an infinite task at the heart of finitude” (1991, 35). Here Nancy is referring to Maurice Blanchot’s notion of unworking. For Blanchot, part of the possibility of creating a work is the impossibility of completing the transferral of inspiration to a finished form. He writes that this incompletion prevents one from being able to view one’s work and say “at last it is finished, at last there is nothing” (1981, 30)

the condition of possibility for community is that its tendencies toward unity are always apart from it, never materialized but constantly retreating in front of our efforts to live peacefully together. If it were to become fixed in place, we would no longer have community but rather the end, the finish.

Instead of connection being seen as an end point, connection must be rethought as process.

Ahmed suggests precisely this when she argues that “collectivities are formed through the very work that has to be done in order to get closer to other others” (2000, 17).

Nancy’s argument, which Secomb also refers to, suggests a similar notion: “It is not a matter of making, producing, or instituting a community. . . . It is a matter of incompleting its sharing. . . . For a complete sharing implies the disappearance of what is shared” (Nancy 1991, 35).

However, Secomb argues that Nancy fails to present a picture of how this incompletion might be enacted or sustained. In addition, she argues, this vision of sharing must be balanced with an emphasis on “the defiance and non-conformity of being-together” (Secomb 2000, 143). The figuration of the fractured community is therefore produced in order to provide a form that emphasizes both.

(page 1046): An Ally Community is one that exists in a “yet hopeful fashion as that which it is not, at least not yet.”

“In order to commit to actively and self-critically developing the tools that allow one to be less threatened by others, the longing for change must permeate one’s lived everyday habits. Only then might we become the honest, compassionate subjects that this suspiciously generous politics calls for.

As bell hooks writes, “To have a non-dominating context, one has to have a lived practice of interaction. And this practice has to be conscious. . . . In reality this non-exploitative way to be with one another has to be practiced; resistance to the possibility of domination has to be learned” (1994, 241).

Practicing to be a cyborg means taking action for collective social change, based on both our own goals and the goals of others. In particular, one’s sphere of responsibility or accountability must be extended to see not only how we are oppressed but also the way in which our actions maintain other people’s subjection. Becoming cyborgian therefore entails taking on the terrifying task of working toward justice, not a calculable justice that would hope one day to be complete but a Levinasian justice that is never ending, such as Diane Elam describes: “Justice does not involve paying one’s debts. Believing that one’s debts can be paid is a fundamentally irresponsible belief; the desire to wash one’s hands of responsibility to others. Rather, justice involves recognition of the debts that cannot be paid, the debts that set a limit to one’s autonomy. To recognize such debts as unpayable is not to write them off, either — it is rather to commit oneself to an endless work of reparation without the final solace of redemption” (1994, 111).” “{The difficulties of embracing heterogeneous subjectivity as a consciously enacted strategy}”

(Page 1047): Thus, the playfulness of Haraway’s work can now be rewoven into the theoretical pattern created by this article as the brightly colored thread that draws and entices other players to the game:

a game of cat’s cradle that, as Haraway writes, “invites a sense of collective work, of one person not being able to make all the patterns alone” (1994, 70)

Thus, through the cyborg, Haraway proposes a subject who does not participate in creating opposing others — named enemies — or in fixing others in stereotyped categories. This form of subjectivity points to a vastly different way of conceiving coalition work, one that requires “the recognition that one cannot know the other or the self, but must ask in respect for all of time who and what are emerging in relationship” (Haraway 2003, 50).

Matthew Wilson (2009). Cyborg Geographies

The permeation of cyberspace into everyday life is what Rob Kitchin (1998, 394) terms ‘cyborging’. Identity is multiply produced in cyberspace and cyborging, according to Kitchin (1998, 394), describes the ‘merging of nature with technology, as humans and computers coalesce’. Kitchin and Kneale (2001) also enroll the concept of cyborging to discuss cyberpunk fiction. Kitchin’s usage of the cyborg concept is a marker for hybrid identification. Cyborging, for him, is a process of unification through merger and coalescence — the becoming of one, identifiable subject. Cyborging is a writing device to invoke hybridity, through analyses of lives lived online and literary fiction. This device, when used in cyberspace, according to Kitchin, enables a user to actively create identity, to cyborg. Cyborging is this process whereby ‘[u]sers literally become the authors of their lives’ (Kitchin 1998, 394). It is this hybridity-in-the-making that draws Kitchin (1998, 395) to the cyborg concept, where cyberspace subjects ‘play’ with ‘fantasies, … othernesses, … [and] crossdressing’. Cyborging in cyberspace is about enacting hybrid identities in virtual and imaginative geographies. However, I stress that this notion of ‘cyborging’ is limited to an ontological dimension. To enroll cyborg figuration is to witness and situate these productions of cyber-identities, beyond a recognition of their made-up becomings and towards a critical visuality. Cyborging, as I alternatively read it, is not only coalescence, but also the always-unfinished project of attesting to the ways of knowing self and other in the network.

Similarly, Nadine Schuurman (2002, 2004) calls for ‘writing the cyborg’, arguing for increased use of GIS by women and underrepresented groups (Schuurman 2002, 261)

Cat’s Cradle

Haraway’s Postscript (Modest Witness) → Racial discourse has persistently pivoted on sexual hygiene, and the therapeutic scene has been the theater of nature in the city of science. I am sick to death of bonding through kinship and “the family,” and I long for models of solidarity and human unity and difference rooted in friendship, work, partially shared purposes, intractable collective pain, inescapable mortality, and persistent hope. It is time to theorize an “unfamiliar” unconscious, a different primal scene, where everything does not stem from the dramas of identity and reproduction. Ties through blood-including blood recast in the coin of genes and information-have been bloody enough already I believe that there will be no racial or sexual peace, no livable nature, until we learn to produce humanity through something more and less than kinship. I think I am on the side of the vampires, or at least some of them. But, then, since when does one get to choose which vampire will trouble one’s dreams?

[Page 267]

Witnessing is a collective, limited practice that depends on the constructed and never finished credibility of those who do it, all of whom are mortal, fallible, and fraught with the consequences of unconscious and disowned desires and fears. A child of Robert Boyle’s Royal Society of the English Restoration and of the experimental way of life, I remain attached to the figure of the modest witness. I still inhabit the stories of scientific revolution as earthshaking mutations in the apparatuses of production of what may count as knowledge. A child of antiracist, feminist, multicultural, and radical science movements, I want a mutated modest witness to live in worlds of technoscience, to yearn for knowledge, freedom, and justice in the world of consequential facts.

Queering all or any of these distinctions depends, paradigmatically, on undoing the founding border trace of modern science — that between the technical and the political. The point is to make situated knowledges possible in order to be able to make consequential claims about the world and on each other. Such claims are rooted in

a finally a modern, reinvented desire for justice and democratically crafted and lived well-being.

[Page 268]

I want to call the problematic but compelling world of antiracist feminist multicultural studies of technoscience “cat’s cradle.”

Making string figures on fingers is Cat’s Cradle (Westerveld 1979). Relying on relays from many hands and fingers, I try to make suggestive figures with the varying threads of science studies, antiracist feminist theory, and cultural studies. Cat’s cradle is a game for nominalists like me who cannot not desire what we cannot possibly have.

Cat’s cradle is about patterns and knots; the game takes great skill and can result in some serious surprises. One person can build up a large repertoire of string figures on a single pair of hand, but the cat’s cradle figures can be passed back and forth on the hands of several players, who add new moves in the building of complex patterns.

Cat’s cradle invites a sense of collective work, of one person not being able to make all the patterns alone.

One does not win at cat’s cradle; the goal is more interesting and more open-ended than that. It is not always possible to repeat interesting patterns, and figuring out what happened to result in intriguing patterns is an embodied analytical skill. The game is played around the world & can have considerable cultural significance. Cat’s cradle is both local and global, distributed and knotted together (Haraway 1994a).

reflexivity is not enough to produce self-visibility. Strong objectivity and agential realism demand a practice of diffraction, not just reflection. Diffraction is the production of difference patterns in the world, not just of the same reflected-displaced elsewhere. The modest witness in the cat’s cradle game cannot breathe any longer in the culture of no culture. Let me summarize a few of the terms circulating in the net of the virtual community of feminist science studies, where retooled modest witnesses surf: strong objectivity (Harding 1992); agential realism (Barad 1995a and 1995b); modest interventions (Heath forthcoming); boundary objects, borderlands communities of practice, articulation work, misplaced concretism, and feminist method (Star 1994); cyborgs and situated knowledges (Haraway 1 991); border crossings and narrative strategies (Traweek 1992); science as social knowledge (Longino 1990). If any one thing pervades this heterogenous list, it is a commitment to avoiding what Whitehead called “the fallacy of mis’- placed concreteness” (1948:52), where simple location and a metaphysics of substantives with primary and secondary qualities-those fruitful but extreme abstractions that were critical to seventeenth-century innovations later narrated as the Scientific Revolution-get mistaken as reality.

[Page 269]

I think what binds the lumpy community of modest witnesses called feminist science studies together is what bell hooks (1990) called “yearning.” Yearning in technoscience is for knowledge projects as freedom projects-in a polyglot, relentlessly troping, but practical and material way-coupled with a searing sense that all is not well…

[Page 271]

A livable worldwide web should be the mutated modest witness’s game of cat’s cradle, where the end of the millenium becomes a trope for swerving away from the brands that mark us all in the too persuasive stories of the New World Order, Inc

By Nick Clegg, 2021

[Assuming people will leave social media] “as inaccurate as the December 2000 Daily Mail headline declaring the internet “may just be a passing fad.” Even if Facebook ceased to exist, social media won’t be — can’t be — uninvented. The human impulse to use the internet for social connection is profound.

Data-driven personalized services like social media have empowered people with the means to express themselves and to communicate with others on an unprecedented scale. And they have put tools into the hands of millions of small businesses around the world which were previously available only to the largest corporations. Personalized digital advertising not only allows billions of people to use social media for free, it is also more useful to consumers than untargeted, low-relevance advertising. Turning the clock back to some false sepia-tinted yesteryear — before personalized advertising, before algorithmic content ranking, before the grassroots freedoms of the internet challenged the powers that be — would forfeit so many benefits to society.

The personalized “world” of your News Feed is shaped heavily by your choices and actions. It is made up primarily of content from the friends and family you choose to connect to on the platform, the Pages you choose to follow, and the Groups you choose to join. Ranking is then the process of using algorithms to order that content.

This is the magic of social media, the thing that differentiates it from older forms of media. There is no editor dictating the frontpage headline millions will read on Facebook. Instead, there are billions of front pages, each personalized to our individual tastes and preferences, and each reflecting our unique network of friends, Pages, and Groups.

Personalization is at the heart of the internet’s evolution over the last two decades. From searching on Google, to shopping on Amazon, to watching films on Netflix, a key feature of the internet is that it allows for a rich feedback loop in which our preferences and behaviors shape the service that is provided to us. It means you get the most relevant information and therefore the most meaningful experience. Imagine if, instead of presenting recommendations based on things you’ve watched, Netflix simply listed the thousands upon thousands of movies and shows in order of those most watched. Where would you even start?

When you think of how you experience Facebook, what you probably think of first is what you see on your News Feed. This is essentially Facebook’s front page, personalized to you.
The average person has thousands of posts they potentially could see at any given time, so to help you find the content you’ll find most meaningful or relevant, we use a process called ranking, which orders the posts in your Feed, putting the things we think you will find most meaningful closest to the top. The idea is that this results in content from your best friend being placed high in your Feed, while content from an acquaintance you met several years ago will often be much lower down.

Thousands of signals are assessed for these posts, like who posted it, when, whether it’s a photo, video or link, how popular it is on the platform, or the type of device you are using. From there, the algorithm uses these signals to predict how likely it is to be relevant and meaningful to you: for example, how likely you might be to “like” it or find that viewing it was worth your time. The goal is to make sure you see what you find most meaningful — not to keep you glued to your smartphone for hours on end. You can think about this sort of like a spam filter in your inbox: it helps filter out content you won’t find meaningful or relevant, and prioritizes content you will.

This sifting and ranking process results in a News Feed that is unique to you, like a fingerprint.

[A common critique is that] algorithmic systems actively encourage the sharing of sensational content and are designed to keep people scrolling endlessly. Of course, on a platform built around people sharing things they are interested in or moved by, content that provokes strong emotions is invariably going to be shared. At one level, the fact that people respond to sensational content isn’t new. As generations of newspaper sub-editors can attest, emotive language and arresting imagery grab people’s attention and engage them. It’s human nature. But Facebook’s systems are not designed to reward provocative content. In fact, key parts of those systems are designed to do just the opposite.

Facebook reduces the distribution of many types of content — meaning that content appears lower in your News Feed — because they are sensational.

[In fact, in 2018, Facebook decided it] would focus not only on serving people the most relevant content but also on helping them have more meaningful social interactions — primarily by promoting content from friends, family, and groups they are part of over content from Pages they follow. The effect was to change ranking such that explicit engagement metrics would still play a prominent role in filtering the posts likely to be most relevant to you, but now with an extra layer of assessing which of those potentially relevant posts was also likely to be meaningful to you. In doing this, they recognized explicitly that this shift would lead to people spending less time on Facebook because Pages — where media entities, sports teams, politicians, and celebrities among others tend to have a presence — generally post more engaging though less meaningful content than, say, your mum or dad. The prediction proved correct, as the change led to a decrease of 50 million hours’ worth of time spent on Facebook per day, and prompted a loss of billions of dollars in the company’s market cap.”



Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD

I'm passionate about making a tangible difference in the lives of others, & that's something I have the opportunity to do a professor & researcher.