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Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men Paperback – 17 March 2020
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*THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER*
'HELL YES. This is one of those books that has the potential to change things - a monumental piece of research' Caitlin Moran
Imagine a world where...
Your phone is too big for your hand
Your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body
In a car accident you are 47% more likely to be injured.
If any of that sounds familiar, chances are you're a woman.
From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, and the media. Invisible Women reveals how in a world built for and by men we are systematically ignoring half of the population, often with disastrous consequences. 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 profound impact this has on us all.
Discover the shocking gender bias that affects our everyday lives.
'A book that changes the way you see the world' Sunday Times
'Revelatory, frightening, hopeful' Jeanette Winterson
Frequently bought together
HELL YES. This is one of those books that has the potential to change things – a monumental piece of research -- Caitlin Moran
Revelatory, frightening, hopeful. A secular Bible -- Jeanette Winterson
This book is a devastating indictment of institutionalised complacency and a rallying cry to fight back… Invisible Women should propel women into action. It should also be compulsory reading for men -- Christina Patterson ― Sunday Times
Invisible Women takes on the neglected topic of what we don't know - and why. The result is a powerful, important and eye-opening analysis of the gender politics of knowledge and ignorance. With examples from technology to natural disasters, this is an original and timely reminder of why we need women in the leadership of the institutions that shape every aspect of our lives. -- Cordelia Fine
- Publisher : VINTAGE ARROW - MASS MARKET (17 March 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 432 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1784706280
- ISBN-13 : 978-1784706289
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The book is heavily referenced throughout with endnotes. These are collected directly after the acknowledgements, a full 69 pages of references. The impact of this collected body of commentary serves to underline the density of information and dedication of the research which went into this book. While I’m not a fan of endnotes, personally, the stylistic choice to collect them all together gives undeniable weight to the book, and makes it difficult to dismiss its conclusions.
But that’s enough about the physical construction of this book (for which Chatto and Windus deserves great praise). What about the content itself?
Well, I read this book with a combination of mounting horror, frustration, and rage. Criado Perez takes the reader by the hand and gently leads them along a journey of discrimination against women which is endemic in all areas of life. Split into six thematic sections (Daily Life, The Workplace, Design, Going to the Doctor, Public Life, and When it Goes Wrong), this book catalogues a pantheon of circumstances where what is female is considered as abnormal, as less than standard, as Other. Collected together, the ignorance of design to the differing needs of 50% of the population is both fascinating and incredibly infuriating.
Criado Perez doesn’t use this book as a stick with which to beat the patriarchy, however. Rather, she delicately unpicks the circumstances which lead to a lack of consideration of the needs of those other than what is considered to be the default. Her examples are wide-ranging, touching on every area of life, and consistently return the same conclusion: women just haven’t been thought about. It’s not that their needs have been considered and dismissed. It’s that the fact that they might have different needs hasn’t even occurred to the people creating these structures.
(Generally. There are some notable exceptions. One quote from Tim Schalk really burned my cookies. But it’s not actually the norm.)
From Sheryl Sandberg’s explanation at Google that heavily pregnant women can’t walk long distances to Apple Health’s omission of allowing tracking of a menstrual cycle, for many examples in this book, the reason for these omissions is that people didn’t even think of them as a potential need. Cars are crash tested rigorously before making it to market – but the dummies used are 1.7m tall. This is the size of the average man, not the size of the average person, and it leads to shocking statistics like the fact that women – despite being less likely to crash – if they are involved in a crash, are 47% more likely to be seriously injured. Criado Perez points out myriad ways that this unthinking acceptance of male as default – and as applicable to all – unfairly impacts on women, and leads to their being unconsidered in further development.
The book has one overarching message, which calls clearly from every page. Do something about this. Don’t accept data as applicable to all. Sex-disaggregate data, and investigate how men and women are differently impacted. In an era which relies on big data more than ever, the gender data gap needs to be acknowledged, counteracted, and filled. And it needs to be done with a specific focus on counteracting the detriment which the gender data gap had caused. Otherwise we end up with situations where a policy designed to create more family-friendly situations actually end up disadvantaging those it intended to help.
Criado Perez is not myopic in her discussions either – she skillfully acknowledges the intersections of race, gender identity, disability, and other minority identities can have to create a cumulatively detrimental effect. Invisible Women is a primer on how not to design, a feminist manifesto, a fantastic example of hard research with incredible readability, and a thoroughly engaging experience. It has filled me with rage and frustration – my friends and family have borne the brunt of several rants already – and I’ll be passing it on and recommending it to pretty much everyone I know.
Firstly the positives:
The author is clearly very passionate about her field and has put together a truly awe inspiring set of statistics that completely support the stance that women are biased against in society. This clearly needs to change, and there are some very good examples of where this could be done easily and effectively. It has been an eye opener to me to consider some of the examples brought up, crash test dummies, drug testing and outdated sexist guidance in a number of areas.
There is a consistent pattern of stating a set of statistics, and then expressing an opinion that this is an example of gender bias which could be fixed with gender disaggregated data. On a first read the conclusions, which seem consistently that men make decisions and that those decisions are implicitly designed to make women worse off off, are not entirely supportable by the statistics gathered.
As an example, snow sweeping - which is carried out by clearing the main roads first and then minor roads. The statement made is that this is biased against women as this benefits those commuting by car (men) and harms (physically) those who travel on minor roads as pedestrian (women). The conclusion that data should have been gathered which included more women to prevent this bad decision.
Firstly, it could be plausible that the decision makers - being commuters by car themselves - might have made a decision based upon their experience. This is in and off itself is decoupled from gender. One could imagine a mixed panel of working men and working women making the same poor decision with equal gender representation.
Secondly, the bias that exists seems to be that men benefit more from the status quo than women due to the nature of the jobs they do (paid work, full time, greater male proportion). The imbalance here is not how streets are cleared but who the jobs are carried out by - so addressing gender bias via the job market would be a better path to removing the gender bias without addressing the poor decision making of how to clear snow.
Thirdly, if one were to gather gender dis-aggregated data this might incentivise equal gender participation. However, this does not guarantee that the set of people involved were from different selection groups and might still exclude those "people" that do not commute via main roads. I am sure plenty of women also benefited from the 'main road first' approach - so one could imagine a poll of opinions which covers 50/50 by gender but excludes non-commuters.
All of the above are independent on what the best way to clear snow is and what we even mean by "best" in this context (cheapest for execution, reducing road accidents, reducing hospital attendance).
I've already fixated on this one example too much, there are others but if you have read this far I risk boring you too much. The issues raised in the book could probably more accurately be expressed as a journey into poor decision making by excluding groups given selection bias. The biases are not specifically gender and do not generally indicate a bias against women (there are other biases and poor decision making at play that predominantly harm women as a side effect) - although there are also examples of terrible bias that deserve to be considered - crash test dummies for everyone please!!
I think the author sets off with an axe to grind, and spends the book grinding it. If you are feminist or pro-equality with a view that the world is biased there will be a lot to enjoy here. If you attack it objectively there are still some gems with regards to systemic bias but there are plenty of opinions that do not bear up to analysis.
Overall a good book (I think), just lacking a level of objective scientific rigor that would have made it's message more convincing.
The author makes fantastic points backs it up with great facts but then in an attempt to cement her point she will suddenly and needlessly jump to unrelated examples of sexism e.g. she makes fantastic eye opening points on why women's toilets should be bigger than men's but then jumps from discussing women's needs and toilet requirements in the West to toilet issues faced by women in India (this just belittles her first point).
She also uses the term 'White Men' a lot, I really cannot stand generalisations but stuck with it. The author seems blame all the issues faced by women on men but reading this book makes you think a lot of these issues are a product of their time and are now a systematic societal issue which is as much women's fault as men's; for example 76% of teachers are women and women by far make up the majority of childcare, so why/how are children still being raised with a male gender bias? We have everything we need to change it so why hasn't it been changed? the reason is because the women themselves (and men) don't know issues exist, both genders need educating on these issues.
Everyone should read this book as it provides great insight into bias we cannot see but live with but I think blaming one gender for the issues faced by another will create division and stall progression.