[iDC] misogynist search engines?

Sullivan sullivan at riseup.net
Wed May 9 13:01:00 EDT 2007

It seems like it might be a little more complicated than that, but It may
just be the presuppositions I am making.
We're asking why this particular algorithm is giving us these particular

In the case of "She invented" you get over 2 million results. That's a
pretty large number of results. Sure, "He invented" gives you more. It may
be an algorithm that google uses that's causing this result... but who
designed the algorithm? Did the algorithm just appear in a vacuum?

When you search for  "she cooked" it doesn't make any alternate
suggestion, and you get 1.6 million results.
Search for  "he cooked" and you get just over 3 million results, but it
gives you the alternate  "Did you mean: he looked".
"He looked" gives you 51.6 million hits.
"She looked" gives you 32.7 million hits. Why didn't it ask me if I meant
"she looked" when I put "she cooked"?
There are only 17 times as many results for "he looked" as for "he cooked"
but there are 20 times as many results for "she looked" as "she cooked".

It's certainly questionable that it suggests you mean to look for men
instead of women inventing things (a stereotypically male activity) or
that you didn't really mean to look for men cooking but did for women (a
stereotypically female activity). It does the same damn thing with "she
created" (58.8 million hits) and "she built" (56.5 million hits) and "she
designed" (52.4 million hits), even though all of those result in millions
of hits.

Language, used in a largely patriarchal culture and historically
structured largely by male power, is used in the interest of male
dominance and gender inequality. as radfeminist46 posted in the comment
section to this previous post:
We learn to think of doctors, lawyers, scientists, and professors as male.
The harmful assumption is that women aren't intelligent, hardworking, or
rational enough to be in these occupations. We even unconsciously
(sometimes consciously) encourage boys and young men to become scientists,
doctors, and professors...to go into science and math. We tend to
encourage girls and young women to go into teaching, nursing, and other
service work. Since women's work is devalued in this society, nurses,
teachers, secretaries, flight attendants, etc. are low-paying careers,
which offer little room for advancement and most of them have a low
prestige. Remember that the average nursing salary didn't go up
considerably until men started entering the profession.

All of this is to say that when we refer to a doctor as a "woman doctor"
we're saying that she is a doctor IN SPITE OF her gender. What we imply is
that she has gone beyond what we expect of her and her "abilities" as a
woman in becoming a medical professional. On the other hand, when we say
"male nurse" we are implying that we do not expect men to work below their
"abilities" and become nurses. After all, we all know that's a woman's
job...or so the stereotype goes.

Phrases like "Male nurse" don't hurt men or reinforce harmful stereotypes
about men. Rather, they reinforce the old stereotype that service jobs and
jobs where you help the "real" professional (i.e. doctor) are for women.
This stereotype has real world consequences. Girls are channeled into
occupations that pay less and have low prestige...which leads to the wage
gap. Women who do go into professions dominated by men are seen as
"bitches" who likely "slept their way to the top."

In other words, for men, gender works to their benefit and for women,
gender works against them.

So, the question again is about why this algorithm is generating these
particular results, who designed this algorithm, in what social context?
does this mean something about the possibilities for seemingly neutral
software to encode distinct cultural biases?

This quote from Fatima Lasay:
?Software cultures are cultures generated by programmers, designers and
software users. As such, programmers, designers and software users
interact with the social dimensions of software. Here, the social
dimensions of software not only reflects but also is an extension of the
social structure of a cultural group within which information is shared. A
subservient society misunderstands and misuses the social dimensions o
software. A subservient information society produces a productive yet
docile information economy- subservience is the collective acquiescence of
programmers, designers and software users to the corruption of a
consumerist information society?. (from Philippine BBS Culture, No

On Wed, May 9, 2007 12:03 pm, idc-request at mailman.thing.net wrote:
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> Today's Topics:
> 1. Re: Search engines and the politics of code (Andreas Schiffler)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Wed, 09 May 2007 10:28:57 -0300
> From: Andreas Schiffler <aschiffler at ferzkopp.net>
> Subject: Re: [iDC] Search engines and the politics of code
> To: IDC list <idc at bbs.thing.net>
> Message-ID: <4641CC99.7080708 at ferzkopp.net>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
> A (second) technical note:
> On the surface it seems that Google is just a program applying some
> simple statistics. The "did you mean" recommender will probably just lookup
> a cluster of simple query transformations (i.e. remove one character, flip
> characters, etc) and pick the one at the top of the list IF it has also
> significant hit counts.
> So when you look at the hit-statistics, the digital logic of "The
> Google" seems to work as expected:
> 159,000 for "she invented"
> 1,060,000 for "he invented"
> Interestingly other languages do not offer corrections for a similar
> search even though they could. Here are some hit stats from other
> languages:
> German
> 10.500 für "sie erfand"
> 50.100 für "er erfand"
> French
> 27 800 pour "elle a inventé"
> 105 000 pour "il a inventé"
> Spanish (wow, what a difference!!)
> 633 de "ella inventó"
> 670.000 de "él inventó"
> Italian and Portuguese (no difference in gender forms?, somebody needs
> to help me here) 470.000 per "ha inventato"
> 829.000 para "inventou"
> Also, it is not hard to find similar terms that recommend the "HE" in a
> similar way. Some that I found are:
> she coded she build she created she discussed she operated she purchased
> mapped she discussed she photographed she saved she joined she washed
> I fail to see a pattern ...
> -- Andreas
> Sullivan wrote:
>> Now what this says about Google, well I leave that to you. . .
>> the digg post:
>> http://www.digg.com/offbeat_news/Google_She_invented_Result_Did_you_mea
>> n_He_invented/who
>> also, some historic women communications inventors: Nora Blatch, Hedy
>> Lamar
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"People are in a very depressed state because they see things as bad and
getting worse," he said. "The antidote is joyful, constructive activity.
Oh, there are pills, also. Unfortunately, after a certain period of time
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