2017 has been quite the never-ending conveyor belt of terrible news, hasn’t it? Still, I feel I’ve gotten quite used to hearing that a beloved entertainer is actually a sexual abuser or that my future is going down the toilet because of crappy politicians and their crappy decisions. I just take a moment to steady myself, absorb the reinforcement that everything is terrible, and move on. I am the “it’s fine” dog in human form. Everything is burning, but it’s fine. Everything is fine.
Somehow it’s the smaller, more insidious examples of how society is stacked against women that get me. They slip under my defences and get me right in the screaming black vortex where my heart used to be. Today’s moment of sitting down and wailing “Oh my god, I can’t believe even THAT is sexist WHAT IS THE POINT OF ANYTHING” exasperation comes courtesy of Google Translate, and the gender bias it puts on to languages without male or female singular third person pronouns. Don’t worry, I’m going to explain that in the next paragraph.
So you know how in English we can say “he”, “she”, “it” or “they” to refer to another person or thing? “He has a reputation for masturbating at unsuspecting women”; “She got fed up of society and went to live in a commune”; “It is all terrible”; “They escaped the planet and built a new, solitary life on Mars”, that kind of thing? In Turkish, they don’t have that: the pronoun “o” covers every kind of singular third person. When Google Translate translates from Turkish to English, it has to decide what pronoun to replace “o” with.
Shall we take a guess at what happens when Google Translate has to decide whether to use “he” or “she”? Spoiler alert: nothing good.
Whether we’re using Google Translate for research, to plan a trip or to decipher what our ex’s new Turkish partner is saying on their Instagram captions, we don’t need this crap. The world is hard enough as it is
I could go through the individual instances of “he’s” and “she’s”, but I can feel my pulse throbbing behind my eyes and somehow hear Ride of the Valkyries playing in the distance, so instead I’ll just share some of the beautiful poem about gender that Quartz wrote using Google Translate:
Gender (by Google Translate)
he is a soldier / she’s a teacher / he is a doctor / she is a nurse / he is a writer / he is a dog / she is a nanny / it is a cat / he is a president / he is an entrepreneur / she is a singer / he is a student / he is a translator / he is hard-working / she is lazy / he is a painter / he is a hairdresser / he is a waiter / he is an engineer / he is an architect / he is an artist / he is a secretary / he is a dentist / he is a florist / he is an accountant / he is a baker / he is a lawyer / he is a belly dancer / he-she is a police / she is beautiful / he is very beautiful / it’s ugly / it is small / he is old / he is strong / he is weak / he is pessimistic / she is optimistic
Wonderful. Judging by Google Translate’s lovely poem I must be a man, because after this I am feeling very pessimistic indeed.
Before everyone on Facebook comes after me with sarcastic gif’s and the eye-rolling emoji, let me make it clear that no one is saying Google Translate itself is sexist. It bases its translations on existing texts and language, so it’s merely reflecting an existing cultural bias back to us. But still. This is one step too far. Whether we’re using Google Translate for research, to plan a trip or to decipher what our ex’s new Turkish partner is saying on their Instagram captions, we don’t need this crap. The world is hard enough as it is.