Our world is run on data. From the economy to healthcare to education we use numbers to allocate resources and make decisions. But there’s a blindspot in our data, and it’s huge: gender. Data doesn’t take women into account and uses men as the default human, leading to bias and discrimination across the board. Women pay for this bias in time, in money, and often with their lives.
Caroline Criado Perez has gathered as much data as possible (often difficult because such data doesn’t always exist) to show how data bias is affecting women throughout the world. We’re ignored when it comes to design – which could be medical, technological or architectural – and leads to medical misdiagnoses or just plain being accused of making up your pain; cars whose safety isn’t designed with us in mind (women are more likely to be severely injured or die in car accidents because cars are tested with a male crash test dummy which doesn’t take into account our anatomy/height). Our unpaid work is also ignored and seen as insignificant, even though if we stopped doing it the world would shut down.
The first chapter covers transport and planning and how the focus is most often on cars vs pedestrians. But who is more likely to be a pedestrian or public transport user? Women. In Sweden they discovered that by changing their priorities and clearing snow for pedestrians first rather than cars they reduced the number of injuries to pedestrians significantly. Therefore saving them money on time lost to missed work and medical care. Studies also often don’t factor in how women move around – not directly to and from work but dropping off kids, taking relatives to the doctor, going to more than one job. And systems aren’t set up to make that easy for them.
As a pedestrian in Canada I get enraged on an almost daily basis by how everything is geared towards drivers. Pavements are barely maintained, trees and hedges grow over into the path, and in winter shovelling snow is left to the homeowners. This year I couldn’t get out of the house with my kids because I have twins and a double stroller and the unshovelled pavements were impossible to traverse. There’s also the times I’ve had to walk far out of my way because roadworks on both sides of the road have been scheduled for the same time, completely cutting off access to the pavement in the direction I want to go. It drives me crazy. How can you not take pedestrians into account?
The book also covers medical data bias. Women live for years in agony and have their lives disrupted because their symptoms are ignored or because drugs (which weren’t designed for them, hello all male trials!) don’t work the way they are ‘supposed’ to. They’re deemed hysterical or attention seeking and told to go home. Women in this book have waited a decade or more for a diagnosis, have been told time and again by (male) doctors that nothing is wrong with them. Whereas male pain is always taken seriously and men are seen more quickly and given pain medication more quickly when going to the hospital than women are. When I was a teenager my (male) GP told me my migraines (which occurred on or a day either side of my period starting) were not connected to my period and it was just a coincidence. He also diagnosed me with stress for whatever I went in for, noting when I was near exams or close to finishing school. He did what these other doctors do, dismissed my symptoms because I was female.
This is an excellently researched and well written book. It’s important and should be read widely. But I can’t say I enjoyed it much. It’s an assault of data (the kind that is often missing when it comes to designing things for women, or just taking us into account at all) as well as a barrage of just depressing stories. From assaults on nursing staff to companies knowing they have a gender data gap and not doing anything about it. It’s a hard time to read this book, I admit (although when has there been a good time to be a woman?). Right now the president of the US has been accused of rape, again, and nothing will happen. A UK MP used violence against a female protestor, on camera, and nothing will happen. Indeed all that happens is men (and some women, of course) falling over themselves to discredit the women who have been hurt and defend the aggressors.
I am so fucking tired.
It should not be this hard. To be listened to, to be catered to, for the world to take us into account. To hold those hurting us responsible.
So I didn’t enjoy it, but I recommend it. Especially to the men who keep saying the problems women face are made up or not that big a deal. You want sources and stats and data to back up these claims? The author has them. The world has been built around the idea that humanity is exclusively male and women are just an add on, an anomaly. I’m not hopeful that this will change in my lifetime.