The Atlantic Complains Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ Robot Isn’t a Feminist

An Amazon Echo device / Getty

A writer for the Atlantic dedicated 1,700 words to complaining that Amazon's interactive "Alexa" program is insufficiently feminist.

"Sorry, Alexa Is Not a Feminist," wrote Ian Bogost, a contributing editor at the Atlantic, in an article published Wednesday. The piece was prompted by a contrary take from Quartz, headlined "Amazon's Alexa is now a feminist, and she's sorry if that upsets you."

"As waves of sexual-harassment allegations crash against the shores of work culture, now is a good time to support women—even robots with female personas like Alexa," he argued.

Bogost, a professor of media studies and interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noted that, if asked, Alexa would tell users that she is a feminist and would no longer respond to sexist abuse. But he complained that Amazon's Echo line already "played to sexist tropes before the company stepped in to help remedy matters."

"If you survey the major voice assistants on the market … three out of four have female-sounding names by default, and their voices sound female, too," he wrote. "Even before the user addresses Alexa, the robot has already established itself as an obedient female presence, eager to carry out tasks and requests on its user's behalf."

"A truly feminist Alexa, one that might decouple service work from passive femininity, wouldn't have been cast as ‘Alexa' to start with, but perhaps as a baritone named Alex instead," he added.

When asked for comment by the Atlantic, Amazon responded that Alexa exemplified many positive qualities as well.

"When we developed Alexa's personality, we wanted her to have a lot of attributes we value at Amazon, like being smart, helpful, and humble, while having some fun, too," the company's statement read. "These attributes aren't specific to any one gender, rather traits we value in all people."