The subtle sexism of closed captioning

After Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated for President by a major political party in the United States (one helluva baseball stat), a lot of ink was spilled in the matter of her outfit. To many, the fixation on the female nominee’s sartorial decision-making was clear evidence of sexism. For the media to give the same sort of attention to what a man chose to wear, they pointed out, would come off as absurd.

But it’s not just living, breathing human beings exercising their own judgment who sometimes fail to see past superficial features. Sometimes the automata  we set loose on the world contain bits and pieces of our worst. Remember that time Google Photos identified black people as gorillas? Well, I spotted an example a little bit like that while watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but — luckily — far milder and less problematic.

The incident occurred while Stephen hosted Viola Davis, who told the audience a relatively uninteresting story about how strong she had been as a child. Soon afterward, Stephen shook her hand (screenshotted above) and remarked — as one might after hearing such a story — “Nice grip.” Here’s how the closed captions heard it:

viola davis stephen colbert nice grip small

Still with the clothes! Already machines betray us, just like in all the movies.


2 thoughts on “The subtle sexism of closed captioning”

  1. Hillary actually chose to wear a white pantsuit because of the color’s symbolic link with the women’s suffrage movement. It’s easy to say that the press would not have focused on a man’s sartorial choices on such an occasion, but a man’s sartorial choices on such an occasion are generally limited to suits of gray, black, or navy blue. Is this sexism or just a reflection of the way men and women choose to dress?


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