Recently, the creative agencies ‘Virtue’ and ‘Copenhagen Pride’ responded to the needs of the times, to resolve an issue of gender stereotypes, by developing the first genderless voice assistant named ‘Q’. After recording the voices of 24 male, female, transgender, and non-binary people, they modulated it to the sound between 145 to 175 hertz so that it sounded neither ‘masculine’ nor ‘feminine’. Q was officially launched after a survey of 4,500 people found that most couldn’t distinguish whether the voice was male or female.
Some people may about the purpose of creating Q. Most of the digital voice assistants including Siri(Apple), Alexa(Amazon) and Bixby(Samsung) primarily offer female voices, even though users can change the settings to male. This is because the female voice is usually considered caring, warm and helpful, while the male voice is often perceived as authoritative, strong and firm. However, this concept reinforces gender stereotypes, especially amongst younger children, where females must be sweet and quiet, while males are supposed to be useful and powerful. In a recent report published by UNESCO, along with the German government and the Equal Technology Coalition, which supports the technological equality of girls and women, the female AI voice infuses prejudices in the user where women are seen as blindly obedient helpers. Julie Carpenter, a scientist who participated in the production of Q, pointed out in an interview with Fast Company, that services like Alexa can reinforce the existing gender stereotypes that women are helpers, while men make important decisions. She also stressed that she began producing Q from the perspective of making it sound just like a human voice, not a voice of a certain gender. Developers of Q believe that creating neutral voice can help instill in future generations a more appropriate notion of gender and be more receptive to people that are gender-fluid or LGBT by reducing sexual stereotypes.
Surprisingly, “Q” is not our first attempt at promoting a genderless culture. Over the past few years, the fashion and beauty community has also been experimenting with this idea of inclusiveness. In 2016, L’Oreal Paris became the first cosmetic company to include a male model in their foundation range advertisement. And in 2017, M.A.C partnered with Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender athlete and celebrity formerly known as Bruce Jenner. Major companies like these are including males, transgenders, people of color, and generally ‘non-typical’ models instead of the usual blond, pretty female in their advertisements. This is a huge step forward towards a genderless culture, breaking unhealthy gender stereotypes. It is also a great way to be inclusive and represent all types of skin tones and genders.
In Korea, going genderless has been discussed in the fashion world as well. ‘Fashion in the Age of Genderlessness” was the topic of a session during Seoul Fashion Week. Male and female models walked together in the show and no one could tell whether the clothes were for men or women. The genderless culture in fashion is not about the clothing. It’s about acceptance and about us feeling comfortable and confident in what we wear.
We have also started seeing a genderless culture in our daily lives. In Japan, a trend has started around junior high school in Tokyo to redesign their school uniform. Students are free to choose to wear pants, skirts, ribbons or ties. Some schools even redesigned the uniform, removing any “feminine” (lace, ribbon) or “masculine” (cuff links,) elements. The trim and pattern of the uniforms is also being altered, so it does not emphasize body lines and chest shapes. A neutral color tone and checkered pattern is being used, so that it is suitable for everyone. The schools are aiming to create a genderless uniform to be considerate towards LGBT communities as well.
|▲ Japan's new genderless junior high uniform, a comfortable and gender-neutral design suitable for everyone. (Photo from Kyodo News)|
In the U.S., Target has also made the decision to stop labeling the toys section for “boys” and “girls”. In the past, blue colored and toys that were deemed more adventurous (cars, machines, robots, etc.) were labeled for “boys”, whereas pink colored cute toys (dolls, mini kitchen, coloring book, etc.) were labeled for “girls”. Studies conducted by ‘Let Toys be Toys’ conclude that these give the children the wrong association towards gender roles and limits their creative space. These stereotypes and inequalities were being exposed to them at a young age, brainwashing them to a point where the distinction was hard to erase and was brought along into adult life. By removing these labels and creating genderless toy sections, children can feel free to explore their interests and become more respectful and understanding.
As a result, Q a genderless AI voice assistant was developed for use with various programs. Though, there were some difficulties in developing Q, big companies like Samsung and Apple are also trying to manufacture genderless AI programs. If genderless AI becomes more in demand in the future, we can imagine a more advanced and peaceful ‘genderless’ or ‘gender-neutral’ culture than we have today.
There are number of disagreements between females and males due to serious discord in thoughts on gender roles. To be more specific, in South Korea, the word ‘feminist’ is negatively reflected as being anti-male and as a result, severe hatred between the sexes has arisen. If this kind of conflict is stirred, it can become more of a social problem. Creating a gender-neutral society might be a tool to relieve tensions between men and women, encouraging us to instead to understand and respect each other. Rather than defining or criticizing our gender roles, we need to try to consider people as people and not as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ entities. Only then can we work together to create society that is comfortable and safe for everyone.
|▲ The genderless clothing items featured in fashion shows, making a statement to the world. (Photo from Teen Vogue)|
Mak Hao Yang, 남윤경, 서채원 firstname.lastname@example.org