Book Review: Invisible Women
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
Written by Caroline Criado Pérez
Published by Chatto and Windus
Publication date: 7th March 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
The history of humanity. The history of art, literature and music. The history of evolution itself. All have been presented to us as objective facts. But the reality it, these facts have been lying to us. They have all been distorted by a failure to account for half of humanity – not least by the very words we use to convey our half-truths. This failure has led to gaps in the data. A corruption in what we think we know about ourselves. It has fuelled the myth of male universality. And that is a fact.
For too long we have positioned women as a deviation from standard humanity and this is why they have been allowed to become invisible. It’s time for a change in persepctive. It’s time for women to be seen.
First impressions: I was so excited to see this book, as I remember reading about how women react differently to drugs because of smaller body mass and higher percentage of body fat and how that meant that females were more likely to accidentally ‘overdose’ on prescription medication or have side-effects. Yet, unless you go looking for it, there are few places where information about how the differences between the sexes can affect everyday life. Thank goodness for this book!
This book should be required reading for everyone, absolutely everyone!
I remember reading a medical study, years ago, about the fact that women suffered disproportionately from adverse reactions to prescription drugs, due mainly to the fact that female physiology is different from the ‘standard’ of a 70kg male and that most drugs had never been tested on women at all, because of the risk that the medicine might behave differently due to hormone levels or the chance that a woman might be pregnant. It blew my mind! How could we be ignoring half of the world’s population in such an important field?
In the years since I have read various articles, all looking at one piece of the puzzle, but I am yet to come across another book that pulls all these strands together in such a cohesive and illuminating way as this book does.
Each chapter pulls together statistics, anecdotes and often highlights just how difficult it is to come to any conclusion because of the sheer lack of data featuring women. I feel like I need to read it all again, just to take it all in, but it is surely well overdue for women to be represented in every industry and level of society in the proportion of the population they represent and for some of these gender data gaps to be filled in order to improve living conditions for everyone. This book is not about w’women’s issues’ but #everyone’s issues’ and we need to start thinking like that, rather than relegating women to being considered as a slightly weirder, more unpredictable version of a man.
The author also highlights how the data gap gets even worse when you consider intersectional bias as well – while women are underrepresented, people with disabilities, certain ethnic groups, sexualities, etc are even more under-represented.
Read this article on The Guardian to get a preview of some of what the author talks about in her book, looking at the fact that a woman is 47% more likely to be hurt in a car crash because car crash dummies are based on male physiology and how female police officers often suffer knife wounds because their stab vests don’t allow room for breasts.
Or listen to this interview on NPR (transcript also available) where the author talks about her research and why she wrote this book.
There is also an interesting article on The Verge where the author talks about how lots of little things added up to her feeling the need to write this book.
In this video the author visits Waterstones Piccadilly and talks about a few points raised in her book:
Failing to collect data on women and their lives means that we continue to naturalise sex and gender discrimination – while at the same time somehow not seeing any of this discrimination. Or really, we don’t see it because we naturalise it – it is too obvious, too commonplace, too much just the way things are to bother commenting on. It’s the irony of being a women: at once hyper-visible when it comes to being treated as the subservient sex class, and invisible when it counts – when it comes to being counted.
What I liked: The clear links to further studies, the call to action to design our world so it works for both men and women and the clear, succinct way the book is written. Some of it makes for tough reading, but my time flew past as I was reading it and I have been recommending it to everyone since I read it.
Even better if: This book makes a difference. I hope that as many people as possible read this book and that it does make a difference. The author touches on how experiences of the world can be different not only if you are female but if you are disabled, a certain race, etc. I would like to see more of this intersectional research too.
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a fascinating springboard for debate, particularly if you give your pupils some of the statistics in isolation and have them debate the reliability of the figures, why they think the disparity between the figures is so great and how many people have experiences which match up with what is being said in the book. I can imagine a gender divide in the classroom as those who have has these differences affect their everyday lives debate with those who may not have noticed that the world is only designed for the ‘average’ male who, often, actually represents nobody. It would be great if students could think about small changes that could be made in their immediate environment to make it more welcoming and safer for all genders.
What did other people think?
‘A rallying cry to fight back’Sunday Times
‘Press this into the hands of everyone you know. It is utterly brilliant!’ Helena Kennedy
‘A game-changer; an uncompromising blitz of facts, sad, mad, bad and funny, making an unanswerable case and doing so brilliantly…the ambition and scope – and sheer originality – of Invisible Women is huge’The Times
Briana and Krysta @Pages Unbound Reviews said:
“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.”
Shay @ Required Reading said:
“Invisible Women reads as a veritable laundry list of gaps, omissions, and injustices that result from presuming a male default in everything from medicine to urban planning to product design. ”
Alex @ Randomly Yours, Alex said:
“This book should be read by anyone making policy, collecting data, or using data, about humans. Politicians, business people, public servants, medical researchers: all of them.”
(Thank you to my local library for ordering in a copy for me!)
Thanks for reading!