Goodreads: Invisible Women
Published: March 12, 2019
Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.
Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. It exposes the gender data gap – a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives.
Award-winning campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez brings together for the first time an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrate the hidden ways in which women are forgotten, and the impact this has on their health and well-being. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, Invisible Women reveals the biased data that excludes women. In making the case for change, this powerful and provocative book will make you see the world anew.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed by Men is equal parts enlightening and infuriating. I first came across Criado Perez’s work when I read a February 2019 article in the Guardian (linked at the bottom of the review), where she discusses everything from office buildings being too cold for women to cars not being tested for women’s safety to medicines not being tested for women’s bodies. The issues are much deeper and much broader than this, however. The book is basically an endless list of how literally everything in our world has been designed for men and not for women. This is not a neutral oversight, but rather has staggeringly dangerous and far-reaching effects on women that, frankly, it seems shocking our societies have not noticed or addressed before.
Some of the information seems a bit frivolous or unimportant. I am always cold (and frankly sick of being always cold and then being told to wear a sweater, as if it’s normal to dress like a skier inside in summer, or as if my comfort is less important than other people’s, usually men). But on some level, I do accept I just have to “deal with it,” that it’s somehow my personal problem that I’m always cold. The research presented here helps me feel vindicated, but at the end of the day, I just shiver and put on my sweater. However, the more the book goes on, the darker and more depressing it gets. It turns out that women aren’t overlooked just when it comes to setting the air conditioner. They are overlooked literally everywhere, on public transportation, in politics, in chemical safety testing, in designs for safety equipment for the police and the military, in workplace polices, in public planning for available restrooms. Everywhere. If you think women are doing alright and generally being treated equally in your country, even if there is some room for improvement here and there, this book will make you think again.
I’ve talked to some men who seemed defensive about the information presented in the book, but Criado Perez emphasizes that, in most cases, the overlooking of women is not necessarily malicious or overtly sexist. It’s just that when people hear the term “average person,” they imagine a man and go from there. Office temperatures are comfortable for the average man. Piano keys are designed for the average man. Car safety features are designed for the average man. City buses are convenient for the average man. But none of these things work nearly as for women and acknowledging that is the first step to changing. The itself book is also filled with examples of men who refused to believe evidence presented to them that things needed to change because the issues didn’t affect them, and that’s incredibly frustrating. However, there’s enough data and references to studies in the book that Criado Perez will be convincing to anyone who has an open mind, and I hope those people aren’t only women.
This is a book I really recommend that everyone read. It is eye-opening. I found the whole thing very readable and got through it in a matter of days, but you can also go through it and read chapters about topics that particularly interest you. Then go copies for everyone you know and try to change the world.
If you want an shorter overview of some of the topics addressed in the book, check out this interview or this article in the Guardian. Here’s a quotation from the article that gives you a sense of what type of information to expect:
Men are more likely than women to be involved in a car crash, which means they dominate the numbers of those seriously injured in them. But when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seatbelt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die. And it’s all to do with how the car is designed – and for whom.
Women tend to sit further forward when driving. This is because we are on average shorter. Our legs need to be closer to reach the pedals, and we need to sit more upright to see clearly over the dashboard. This is not, however, the “standard seating position”, researchers have noted. Women are “out of position” drivers. And our wilful deviation from the norm means that we are at greater risk of internal injury on frontal collisions. The angle of our knees and hips as our shorter legs reach for the pedals also makes our legs more vulnerable. Essentially, we’re doing it all wrong.
One of my friends also mentioned that she had heard about Criado Perez’s research on the Guilty Feminist Podcast.