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Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men Hardcover – 7 Mar 2019
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"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)
"Invisible Women is 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; no less than the story of what happens when we forget to account for half of humanity. It should be on every policymaker, politician and manager’s shelves" (Melanie Reid The Times)
"Hugely readable, packed with facts and insight. An important book written with humour and flair" (Robert Webb)
"The thoroughness of Invisible Women doesn’t detract from its absolute readability. This is entertaining, scholarly and so very important." (Adam Rutherford)
"Here are the facts! Caroline Criado Perez shines her penetrating gaze on the absence of women from the creation of most societal norms – from algorithms to medicinal doses to government policy. Knowledge is power – we all need to know how our systems work if we want change. Arm yourself with this book and press it into the hands of everyone you know. It is utterly brilliant! " (Helena Kennedy)
"Invisible Women is an absorbing cornucopia of thought-provoking facts - fascinating, alarming and face-palming in equal measures. Caroline Criado-Perez shows up the shortcomings of a world designed for men by men. The consequences of treating men as the default option, or women just as smaller men – if they get considered at all - has wide-reaching implications for everything (and everyone) from snow clearing to seat-belts and many branches of medicine. I shall certainly think of this book next time I have a heart attack, a car crash or just want to go to the toilet at the theatre." (Professor Gina Rippon)
"A blisteringly good book... never less than eye-opening, and frequently staggering" (Bookseller)
"It’s a smart strategy to invite readers to view [a] timeworn topic through the revealing lens of data, bringing to light the hidden places where inequality still resides... Criado Perez wields data like a laser, slicing cleanly through the fog of unconscious and unthinking preferences." (Guardian)
"Criado Perez comprehensively makes the case that seemingly objective data can actually be highly male-biased… Policymakers everywhere should take heed" (Sarah Gordon Financial Times)
About the Author
Caroline Criado Perez is a writer, broadcaster and award-winning feminist campaigner. Her most notable campaigns have included co-founding The Women's Room, getting a woman on Bank of England banknotes, forcing Twitter to revise its procedures for dealing with abuse and successfully campaigning for a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett to be erected in Parliament Square. She was the 2013 recipient of the Liberty Human Rights Campaigner of the Year Award, and was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2015. Her first book, Do it Like a Woman, was published in 2015. She lives in London.
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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.
The book is organised in six parts: daily life, the workplace, design, going to the doctor, public life, and when it goes wrong. There are notes. Perez discusses and examines the absence of women from the creation of many things, from government policy to algorithms. As she reminds us, power comes from knowledge, hence everyone needs to know how our systems work. What we don't know and why is at the heart of this absorbing book.
This account is an analysis of the gender politics of knowledge and ignorance. The author uses examples from technology and natural disasters to illustrate her arguments. Perez says most of recorded history is one big data gap. Women are absent from the story of human evolution. What she calls ' silences' affect women's lives every day. Some can be deadly. The gender gap is not deliberate or malicious, it is the consequence of a way of thinking. Men tend to define women as relative to them. Women are not regarded as an autonomous being. The author argues that regarding women as the 'Other' in a world more and more reliant on data means that the truths you get are at best half truths.
For example, AIs have been trained on data, information, that is full of data gaps. This book says we need women in the room. Their absence creates an unintended male bias. Three themes appear frequently in the book : the female body, women's unpaid care burden, and male violence against women. These affect almost every part of women's lives. They result in a form of discrimination against women. The root cause is not the female body it is 'the social meaning we ascribe to that body'.
Perez admits she is unable to provide proof why the gender gap exists. She hopes that the information she provides will allow one to conclude that this gap exists. The danger that women are regarded as a sub-type of men is, she says, real and prevalent. The author gives examples from medical, military and business organisations.
This a well-argued and scholarly work that makes you think anew about a male dominated society.