In the hit TV show, The Good Place, there is an important character named Janet who is an artificial being who has all the knowledge of the universe and can produce any item out of thin air, which she uses to help the people in the show. She is a reliable, non-threatening female, who is attractive but not distractingly so, and she is helpful and ever ready to assist her male boss, played by Ted Danson, at any time. She wears a natty skirt suit with vest, made even more fun with pussy bowed shirt. While it’s fun to see Janet on the television show, I am noticing more and more ‘Janet’s’ in everyday media.
We have the Ford girl, who many people love to hate but she wears the Ford brand colour of a certain type of blue that is often used for banks and airlines, and she tells us about the specials and the runaway sales, and all the fabulous things Ford cars can do for you. When she changes her hairstyle, her online community of fans and haters throw opinions around with a passion saved only for the AFL during finals week.
The Ford girl has a particular speech pattern that people either find soothing or annoying, but whatever she is for you, she is getting cut through in advertising as she’s still doing the ads for Ford after several years.
Then we have Toyota who bought in their character, Jan, who is more comedic than she is soothing. She is like Janet from The Good Place but not as funny and can’t get you what you want when you want it but she does wear a pussy bow like her influence Janet, so that’s something.
Then we have the Trivago girl, who tells you where to get the best hotel deal. She is confident she can help you find a place to rest your weary head, where you won’t get bed bugs or your passport stolen. She is popular and her constant fashion changes have won her several Pinterest boards dedicated to her satorial choices, which range from Marcel Marceau inspired stripes when telling where to stay in Paris, to some sort of superhero outfit when she telling us the prices to stay on Wonder Woman’s island Themyscira, or maybe she was smashing hotel room prices, I am still unsure.
I recently read that many men are crueller and cruder to female AI voices, such as Siri or Alexa, than they are when the program set to a male voice and since female AI is mostly programmed by men for service, and this perpetuates the continual gender inequality in society.
When women are in the media as the ‘weather-girl’, the entertainment reporter, the hostess and the company concierge, we are letting ourselves be seen for so much less than we are and can be.
We have a responsibility to ensure there is gender balance in AI and in the media, otherwise we will never reach a post gender world. We need to see and hear voices and people from all over the world. Accents and colours and abilities that reflect more than the brunette, white female “Janet’s” of this world.
Siri only had a male voice option included in the last 12 months, which makes me wonder if it’s a connection to the #metoo movement. We are so conditioned to be in servitude, telling people the directions, the answers, the facts, the specials, all while be subservient that we forgot we have a voice beyond being the helper and host. We can stand up and demand more equality and more than we are getting from the world right now.
Don’t be a Janet. Be a Jessica Jones. The Marvel female superhero, who is flawed, brilliant, gifted, a bitch, who feels at a deep level, who is cynical and hopeful and above all, self aware. Something we should all strive to be.