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Why Are Digital Assistants Always Female?


The Female Factor Source: Pixabay

Bossing around a digital assistant sure is fun. You talk, and she has no choice but to listen and carry out your demands, no matter how insidious they may or may not be. Whatever your wish she must make it so in double time, and without daring to question your motives. Want to send a rude, ranting text message to your boss, with curse words used like punctuation? She’ll do it, with not even a hint of judgement in her voice… I love her.

It’s like having, if I were being honest here, the fastest, most reliable personal assistant in existence. Which is probably what the makers of these digital assistants were going for.

But ever notice that digital assistants are always female, at least by default? Even as far back as the first GPS navigation systems the digital voices used have always been female. Though, granted, a much more believably human voice now, than back when she sounded like a permanently annoyed British woman.

Siri, Alexa, Cortana… not a Frank, Robert or James amongst them. It’s curious when you stop to think about it, and makes you start to wonder what sort of psychology is involved.

Assistants Are Traditionally Female

The vast majority of human assistants and secretaries are female. In fact, you might as well just say all. When was the last time you walked into any establishment and were not greeted by a woman? Normally an attractive young one, who smiles so much half of all her income is surely spent on keeping her teeth as shiny white as possible.

So, it just stands to reason that a digital assistant would likewise be represented by a female voice. Of course, a digital assistant need not worry about keeping her teeth white. At least not yet anyways.

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The Female Factor

It’s not to say some men don’t have pretty voices, but you’d be hard pressed to find a soothing, more appealing voice than one coming from a lady. According to professor Clifford Nash from Stanford University, humans are simply programmed to find female voices more appealing. Why? Well, we all have a mother and we all started inside her womb. That pretty much says it all.

So, when finding a voice that appeals to the broadest spectrum of humans possible, it’s going to be a female one. Freudian jokes be damned, it just so happens to be the truth.

It’s Standard At This Point

If you’ve been in an airport recently you’ll probably have noticed that the announcer’s voice is female. Call a customer support centre and you’ll likewise almost always initially be talking to a woman. But lets go back to the dawn of the telephone, and learn a bit about how it all started. Phone operators, when they were still a thing, first used to be teenage boys, for no other reason than they happened to be in abundance and were cheap labour.

But the teenage boy demographic isn’t known for being polite. In fact, it turned out that they were rude to customers, often played practical jokes, and loved to generally be a pain in the ass. Taking note of this, Alexander Graham Bell hired a young lady named Emma Nutt and she set the standard for decades to come. She was polite, friendly, loved her job and was basically the sole reason that by the end of 1880s, all phone operators were exclusively female. Hence, since the invention of the telephone it quickly became apparent which gender was the best choice when finding someone to deal with customers verbally.

As a final thought, HAL 9000, the killer machine in 2001: A Space Odyssey was going to be a female voice named Athena. At the last minute Athena was changed to HAL, and based on the above information, you can probably figure out why. HAL was meant to be menacing and scary, not comforting and soothing, and it seems that most people don’t think that’s a role for a lady. Cleary they haven’t dated my ex-girlfriend…

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