Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men – Review

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ [Henry Higgins] grumbles. It’s a common complaint – and one for which the common solution is to fix the women. This is unsurprising in a world where what is male is seen as universal and what is female is seen as ‘atypical’.

I finished this book several days ago, but I’m only writing my review now. The reason for this is because I was so frustrated and angry with all of the facts I found out in this book, and I had to take time away from it so when I came to write the review I would talk more about the book itself, its writing style and so on, as opposed to just the facts. I found them fascinating and frustrating all at once, but despite that I really enjoyed this book. It was incredibly well researched, with 70 pages of endnotes citing various articles, books, and sites, and explored a wide range of topics clearly and concisely. I learned a great deal from reading this book, but Criado Perez’ writing meant that this information was conveyed with wit and humour, rather than being dry paragraphs of facts and figures. While reading I noted over twenty pages I wanted to quote from in this review, to show just how widespread the issues of the data gap are, but the ones I ended up using are just from the first hundred pages or so. This book is truly crammed with information, but it does not read that way. The writing style is surprisingly easy to read, considering the wealth of information and the topics being discussed, which actually allows the facts to resonate more as they are so starkly presented.

…the Braziliam government moved women away from the formal workplace […] and provided them with inadequate public transport and no childcare. In so doing, they practically forced women to turn their homes into a workplace, by making this the only option that is realistically open to them. And they’ve made it illegal.

And it’s not just women in Brazil… these issues are happening all over the world.

Women end up working in jobs below their skill level that offer them the flexibility they need – but not the pay they deserve […] Women are also asked to do more undervalued admin work than their male colleagues – and they say yes, because they are penalised for being ‘unlikeable’ if they say no.

Some of the topics covered in this book were ones I hadn’t even realised would be an issue, like the design of cars – as a woman learning to drive that was especially concerning for me – or how drugs work differently for men and women. But others, such as when the book discusses the harrasement women face in public on a daily basis, confirmed that I wasn’t just over-reacting, that I wasn’t being silly to be scared of walking about at night. It’s a harrowing thought, but this book showed me I am not alone in these fears – half the population have them, and need to deal with this sort of behaviour on a daily basis. But what frustrated and upset me more was the fact that this book had to cover so many topics, from public toilets to the economy, goverment to medicine, technology to the media, and showed just how little women are considered in all of them.

‘The invisibility of threatening behaviour women face in public is compounded by the reality that men don’t do this to women who are accompanied by other men […] men who didn’t do it and didn’t experience it simply didn’t know it was going on. And they all too often dismissed women who told them about it with an airy ‘Well, I’ve never seen it.’

What I feel I should point out is that this book did not demonise or belittle men, rather it showed that there so many unconcious biases that both men and women are unaware of. But women are not just scaled down versions of men, we’re different on a cellular level. At present, men are considered the default and women an anamoly – when half of the population is considered a deviation from the norm, there’s a big problem. It’s not just the ‘little’ things like the size of your phone, but the fact that so many of these unconcious biases, from the bullet proof vests that don’t fit properly to inadequately tested medicines, are constantly endangering women all over the world. This book is enlightening and enraging at the same time – but what matters now is that something is done with the information it presents.

… designing the female half of the world out of our public spaces is not a matter of resources. It’s a matter of priorities, and, currently, whether unthinkingly or not, we just aren’t prioritising women. This is manifestly unjust, and economically illiterate. Women have an equal right to public resources: we must stop excluding them by design.

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