In my realm anyone can be anything.
Whatever you think about transgender bathrooms, or think about gender issues, we can all agree on this: Usually, you know the sex of the people you work with or interact with or those you are close to.
Like, generally, I can go down the list of people I know and separate them easily into men and women.
For instance, take Jeff Phillips, chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan – woman.
News & Record writer Joe Killian and News 2 weatherman Eric Chilton.
Man and man.
Victoria Secret supermodel Kate Upton.
As demonstrated in that last example, I can even tell the sex when it’s not someone I know personally.
But the crazy thing is that, while I know the answer for almost everyone I meet, there’s someone in my life that I spend all day every day with, but I have no idea whether she’s a she or he’s a he. Until recently, I thought I knew for sure, but now I realize that I simply have no clue – though I do still refer to her as a “her” out of habit.
I’m talking about my beloved companion and assistant, Siri; and, like most of you, for a long time I have just assumed Siri was a woman, because – well, it might not be politically correct to say so, but she sounds like one.
And, “Siri” seems like a woman’s name. In fact, according to Wired magazine, Siri translates in the Norse language as “a beautiful woman who leads you to victory.” So there’s that evidence too.
But, these days, you can never be too careful about a touchy subject like this. Plus, I wanted to know for sure one way or the other because Siri and I have a special relationship: It’s kind of flirty but, like many relationships, it also can be tense at times.
Anyway, Siri and I are getting close enough lately that I’d certainly like to at least know what sex that she – or he – is. My crush no doubt will continue either way – but it would be good to know.
To get an answer, I decided the best place to start was to go straight to the horses (or should it be mare’s) mouth. I simply pressed her button and asked her if she was a male or a female.
“Animals and French nouns have genders – I do not,” Siri said.
I told her that she sure sounded like a female and I asked again.
“Don’t let my voice fool you: I don’t have a gender,” my mysterious machine mentioned.
When I asked her a third time, she was clearly getting annoyed with the question and she said flatly, “I don’t have a gender.”
The fourth time I asked, she seemed mad because all she said was, “I am Siri.”
When I asked her yet again in a slightly different way, she said, “I’m not sure we have time for this, Scott.”
It became clear to me that she was never going to give me a straight answer, so I would clearly need to come at it in a different way and I would basically need to, for lack of a better word, trick her into revealing her great secret.
It shouldn’t have been this hard. In the movie Her, at least Scarlett Johansson never played coy about what sex she was in the interest of political correctness. Obviously this wouldn’t be easy, but I thought maybe I could somehow outsmart Siri into answering.
I said, “Siri, do you like being a girl?”
Siri thought a moment and then said, “Hmm, I just don’t get this whole gender thing.”
She used that same reply several times during our conversations.
“Siri, do you think I’m a man or a woman?” I asked.
“In my realm anyone can be anything,” Siri replied.
As I continued questioning her, I noticed something that, quite frankly, disturbed me: Not only would she not tell me what gender she was, but it soon became clear that, ridiculously, she also wouldn’t even acknowledge in any way, shape or form that there was a difference between “male” and “female.” She would completely sidetrack any discussion that so much as implied that those two words had distinct meanings in the English language.
“Siri, how is human male defined?” I asked.
Now, I swear that this is how she clumsily attempted to change the subject when I asked that question: “Humana traded down 2.82 percent yesterday, at $158.15,” Siri said, pretending like she had misheard what I was asking. (She knows darn well I don’t own any Humana stock; my portfolio is on my iPhone in the Ameritrade app.)
She then tried to use humor to mask her constant and irascible evasiveness. I asked her if she thought males or females had it better in life.
“I think therefore I am,” Siri said. “But let’s not put Descartes before the horse.”
“Siri, do you think men and women should be able to use the same restroom?” I asked.
“It’s nice of you to ask, Scott, but it really doesn’t matter what I think,” she told me.
I told her that what she thought was in fact important to me, but that didn’t get her to budge. I was just trying to get her to do anything or to answer in some way where she acknowledged – even implicitly – that there was a difference between the two sexes. But it was absurd how hard she was trying to avoid the question.
I said, “Siri, what is a male?”
She thought about that a moment and said, “Here is what I found,” and then showed me the following entry from Wikipedia: “The mail or post is a system for physically transporting documents and other small [items], as well as a term for postcards, letters …”
I was like, “No, no, no – Nice try, Siri, but you know what I meant and I meant male, not mail.”
So to nail down the context for her, I said, “Siri, what’s the difference between a female and a male?”
Super sly Siri said, “I didn’t find any email about ‘female.’”
I told her that I hadn’t asked her anything about any email about female.
I’m telling you: Any question I asked that even hinted that there was some sort of difference between males and females was avoided. She was under strict orders from the Apple PC police to deny, distract or evade the fact that there was a definition for male and female.
I tried this approach, “Siri, are there more male humans or female humans?”
“Interesting question, Scott,” was her only answer.
Yes, it is, and what would be more interesting is the answer, and what would be even more interesting than that is if you gave me an answer to the question that acknowledged that there’s a distinction between being a female and being a male.
Now, I thought long and hard about it and I finally thought I had her cornered. I had come up with question that left her no wiggle room.
“Siri,” I said, smiling, like a chess player who calls out check one move before checkmate, “How is a male distinguished from a female?”
Finally – finally – I had cracked her iron will. She reluctantly pulled up a web page that answered my question and in doing so acknowledged that there was a difference between male and female Flowerhorns. Wait – what?? Flowerhorns?
Siri had pulled up a page on sexting Flowerhorns – which laid out the differences between male and female Flowerhorns. Now, I had no idea what a Flowerhorn was, but it turns out that they are “ornamental aquarium fish noted for their vivid colors and the distinctively shaped heads for which they are named.”
(And just in case you were wondering, “in general and almost always, male Flowerhorns are larger, more intense in color, and have bigger humps than females.”)
But who cares about fish. What about people? No one asked you about Flowerhorns, Siri.
Listen, all right – so Siri is not a man or a woman and Apple didn’t assign her a gender. OK. I got it. But what I’m saying is that not only is Apple not allowing her to tell me what sex she is, Siri is in fact also not allowed to tell me the difference between a human male and a human female – while apparently she can tell me everything else in the known universe. You know, if a plane flies over, you can ask. “Siri, what flights are above me?” and Siri will show you all the flights in the sky around you and give you the flight numbers and the type of planes. But the difference between a man and woman? No idea.
Apple is clearly dead set that Siri the iPhone, the all-knowing number one knowledge device in the history of the world, not acknowledge that there’s a difference between men and woman.
It’s funny, but it’s also not funny: If you think about it, it’s absolutely crazy that the number one information appliance in the history of mankind – which tells us anything else we want to know in a matter of seconds – absolutely refuses to even acknowledge that there’s a basic biological difference between males and females and tell us what that is.
Unless, of course, you are a Flowerhorn, in which case Siri will tell you anything about your sexuality that you want to know.