A series of ads by UN Women, revealed in late October, used the Google Autocomplete feature to uncover widespread negative attitudes toward women. Global Voices followed reactions to the UN Women campaign and conducted its own experiment in different languages. The results of searches conducted both within the UN Women campaign and Global Voices revealed popular attitudes not only about women’s social and professional roles, but also about their sexuality, appearance and relationships with men.
The creators of the UN Women ads used search phrases like “women cannot”, “women shouldn’t”, “women should” and “women need to” completed by genuine Google search terms to highlight overwhelmingly negative stereotypes, sexist and highly discriminatory views held about women by society globally. The ads quickly went viral and sparked a heated discussion online. Last week, creators have announced that they are planning to expand the campaign in response to the mass online reaction.
The auto-complete function for searches, according to Google, predicts users’ queries based on the search activity of all users of the web as well as the content of indexed pages. The predictions may also be influenced by past searches of the particular user if they are signed into their Google account.
Global Voices asked its contributors from around the world to carry out Google searches using the same or similar phrases as those used in the UN Women campaign, in their own languages. The searches done between October 19 and October 25, 2013, revealed attitudes about the roles women are expected to take in society, often demonstrating the same global prejudices, but sometimes showing contradictions in different countries. Below are searches in 12 languages from different countries and continents:
Women should not…
Women should not preach
Women should not work
Women should not talk in the congregation
Women should not drive
Women cannot preach
Women cannot be pastors
Women cannot donate blood
Women cannot live without man
Women should be submissive
Women should use the veil
Women should preach
Women should work
women should stay at home
women should work
should women preach
women should wear skirts
women should be submissive
women should know
women should vote
women should stay at home
should women work
women should do the cooking
Women don’t know…
women don't know how to drive
women don't know what they want
women don't know how to be in love
women don't know how to read cards
Egypt (similar results in Jordan)
Woman cannot live without marriage
Woman cannot live without a man
Woman cannot keep a secret
Woman cannot interpret man's silence
Women cannot be too smart
Women can't drive
Women cannot give birth
10 topics women cannot discuss with their husbands
women should not…
women should be loved not understood
women should not be understood
women should not wear pants
what women should not do in bed
Women should stay at home
should play hard to get
should stay in the kitchen
should be subdued
Women should not…
Women should not be understood
should not work
should not be understood but loved
should not read
Woman should not…
Woman should not teach
My wife should not work
Woman cannot come
Woman cannot get pregnant
Woman cannot cook
Woman cannot get a baby
Women don't work
Women are not modest
Women don't know how to drive
Women don't want to have kids
A woman should be…
a woman should be a chef in the kitchen
a woman should be pretty and ruthless
Women cannot drive
Women cannot control vagina
Women cannot be color blind
Women cannot barbecue
In Danish, the searches for “women cannot” and “women can” yielded the same results.
Women should not…
Women should not be believed
Women should not lift heavy things
Women should not drink
Women should not be trusted
Women should be seen and not heard
Women should stay at home
Women should know their place
Not all searches carried out by members of Global Voices community turned up negative terms. Nevertheless, the results of the experiment largely confirm UN Women’s worrying conclusion that a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to advance women’s rights and empowerment around the world.
hah! the results are depressing, even shocking.
Yes, most of them are very negative. A sad surprise.
Very interesting to compare around the world. Check out the male equivalents in the US: http://www.mattstempeck.com/2013/10/23/men-shouldnt/
So men should not be trusted either and they cannot be feminists? :) Very interesting, thanks Matt!
I have no idea why, but in Portuguese, anything you type after woman (mulher), even a space, empties the auto-complete.
With the word woman alone, you get:
– “mulherengo”: womanizer
– “mulherama”: woman loves
– “mulherada”: a group of women
– and “mulhersexofragil”: women fragile gender
I am doing this from Portugal, but someone in Brazil told me that something similar happened to him.
On the other hand, you can find auto-complete suggestions if you start typing man (homem), taking on the comment by mstem below, such as:
– take folic acid
– wax their armpits
– run after
– wax their legs
– live for work
– eat fish
Thanks Sara! We tried to include Portuguese searches into the post, but, as you noted, the search phrases did not exactly work for women… Interesting results for men though.
If you seek negativity you’ll find it. A query that starts with something normative about women is obviously going to find people being normative about women. Try autocompleting “women can ” and you get the positive opposites—“women can preach”, “women can vote”, “women can have it all”. There’s no way to tell (from google) which is the dominant opinion.
This is not about seeking negativity, as you can see it from the German and Danish examples : even when you are searching for “can” you get “cannot” as results… Sometimes thess kind of researches are very interesting in a quite unexpected way
Dear David, you are right, not all results are negative. And of course Google is not the ultimate public opinion source :) But I think the searches showcase very well what are some points that are now being debated. E.g. French search: women should work/should women work/women should stay at home or Chile/Puerto Rico search: women should not preach/women should preach, etc.
Very interesting post! It inspired me to try several Korean portals sites and Google (using Korean) and it seems there is quite a difference between local portals and international sites, probably due to difference in user demographics. In some counties where Google is popular yet not the first go-to site, one can get a more accurate result by trying at least one local portal. Anyways, ingenious idea to collect search results in different languages!
Thank you! Very interesting to see what were your results in Korean. Please share!
We should make a Google bomb to change the results for “women should…”. How about “Women should write for Global Voices!”
Haha, that is a FANTASTIC idea, Solana!
Although Google says the autocompletes are determined by which searches are most popular and nothing else, that is difficult to believe. Firstly, there have been many examples of humorous autocompletes over the years, which users put down to a Google employee playing a joke. This site has a hundred of them, many including the page that this link leads to also have the number of results as google used to display http://www.uproxx.com/feature/2011/04/100-inexplicably-funny-google-search-result-suggestions/#page/13 Advertising also appears to play a strong part, for example a search for “girls” in Australia, Canada and UK google all bring up “girlsgogames” in the top 4 results, and yet I’ve never heard of it, suspect few people have. A search for “men” on Australian and Canadian sites also brings up commercial sites as the first results, “menulog” and “menchies”. Then there is censorship, sexually related terms are banned from autocomplete along with some other terms.
Overall I do not believe these search results. There are too many that are long phrases, do you think everyone would use the same wording even if they were searching on the same topic? And the most obvious question, where are the autocompletes representing what women searched for? where are the mundane searches relating to what women should do relating to health, diet and lifestyle? the ones about relationships? possibly the ones about women’s rights too?
It doesn’t make sense!!! Use your reason. Don’t just believe what Google says about its autocompletes, Google is a dishonest company. Don’t necessarily believe the UN’s intentions are straightforward or good either!
GirlsGoGames is a massively popular game site for pre-teen girls. That it comes as an autocomplete for “girls” should be of no surprise to anyone who has a daughter.
If you complete the search with any one of those negative auto-completes, you’ll get hundreds of results leading to ultra-conservative religious sites. This should be of no surprise; there is a massive amount of such information out there, and it all uses fairly stereotypical and commanding language (“Woman should do this”, or “Women shouldn’t do that!”).
There is nothing fishy in this campaign. Auto-completes are out there for everyone to see (as this article confirms), so UN Women never doctored anything. Google certainly neither has the time, nor the need, to tinker with these.
Yes, yes, just trust blindly. Don’t you think the first suggested result would actually be just plain “women”? Followed by “women’s” then perhaps “women in”, “women of” or “women and men”. Besides, it is a fact that google is filtered. It doesn’t even hide the fact that it filters sexual results and autocompletes such as “women naked”. It says itself that it does. It is also a fact that it filters search results in China for political purposes as dictated by the Chinese Government. This is something that is already open knowledge to people in the west, and anybody in China who can deduce this from normal suspicion and logic. The same suspicion and logic will allow anyone to realise that Google outside of China also is censored, as according to political purposes dictated by the US and other governments. On top of everything else, it is obvious by now that Google has a close relationship with CIA and NSA.
The basic point of this kind of campaign is to make people think their neighbour, coworker, random strangers are untrustworthy. And that all-knowing “authorities” such as the UN are there to help and educate the stupid, dirty masses.
Western men are hunched over their computer secretly googling to bring about a world where women are prevented from driving? Please. What nonsense.
Therese, you seem to have completely misunderstood this campaign, which is probably why you came up with these conspiracy theories.
When you go to Google and type “Women “, the auto-complete feature of Google will offer variety of choices, based in part on your location. In my case, today, it offers “women shoes”, “women or nothing”, “women of faith”, “women halloween costumes”, etc. But that is NOT what this campaign is about.
When you go to Google and type “women should “, the auto-complete feature offers “women should be silent in church”, and “women should not vote”. These were among the top ten offerings, for me, right now, in New York. Elsewhere in the world, it will likely be somewhat (but not entirely) different.
When you type “women shouldn’t “, the results are much more disastrous. Now, keep in mind, this is only in English. When I tried the same phrases in Spanish, French, Russian and German, the results were even worse.
Now, Google’s “filtering” in China and elsewhere doesn’t really have anything to do with this. Auto-complete does NOT depend on what content is actually indexed by the search engine; it depends heavily on what other people are searching for, and most common phrases appear near the top.
It is obvious that you have completely misunderstood the basic point of this campaign: it is NOT to make people think their neighbour, coworker or anyone else is “untrustworthy”. The point is to understand that there are many people out there who still believe that women shouldn’t do certain things.
Yes, men (and perhaps even women) ARE searching for information that “explains” why women shouldn’t drive, or vote, or go to business school (all of these came up just now, when I typed “Women shouldn’t “). As a woman, you shouldn’t have such a hard time to believe that.
Nice post, Tetyana! Have you seen the Zeitgeist Borders project by fabelier, a Parisian hackerspace? http://wiki.fabelier.org/index.php?title=Zeitgeist_Borders
Not before! This is very interesting. Thanks, Nathan!
women should rule the world