In a Man’s World

Hearing Caroline Criado Perez on the radio this week (yes, Radio 4, because I am essentially an old lady) has opened my eyes to the world in a way I would never have expected. Her book, Invisible Women, exposes subtle ways First World countries have permitted a startling gender bias to lie dormant: in plain sight.

50% of women in car accidents are more likely to sustain serious injury

Perez throws a splash of realism onto the world, revealing to what extent female needs have been overlooked. Her study of data bias reveals to what extent the world is designed for men: how phones are too big for women’s hands, fundamental army equipment being unsuitable for women, and even office environments being tailored to the male metabolic resting rate. But perhaps most concerning is her research into car crash dummies. European regulations require only the ‘Reference Man’ dummy to be used in simulated crash tests in order to determine the safety rating of a car. ‘Female’ dummies are merely scaled down male ones; an inadequate representation of the female physiology. Moreover, this scaled-down dummy is only required to be used once in the passenger seat in five tests. This exposes an invisible world of ‘gender-blind’ policy. Alarmingly, as a result 47% of women in car accidents are more likely to sustain serious injury. What does this imply? Decision-makers do not agree with female drivers and are secretly killing them off? Women are less valuable than men? It is a hard fact to swallow when you consider its implications.

And there is more. Medical trials misrepresent the female body. Specifically heart failure trials tend to use male participants. Resultingly, women are 50% more likely to be misdiagonised following a heart attack. This ‘one-size-fits-men’ approach, Perez describes, has even taken a hold of technology. The emblem of the future. VR headsets are more likely to make women sick; speech-recognition software is 70% more likely to recognise the male voice; and most prevailently, smartphones are too long for the female hand span.

This is a world where we are in the Third Wave of feminism and the Me Too movement. In December 2018, a record-breaking 71.4% of women in employment. However:

  • 41% of employed women are part-time compared to 13% of men.
  • On average, full-time women earned £509 a week, whilst full-time men earned £100 more.
  • 17.9% gender pay gap is indicative of the higher proportion of female part-time workers.
  • The gap between full-time men and women was only 8.6%.
The Ford sewing-machinist strike of 1968 over unequal pay whereby women effectively worked unpaid for two months a year

Compared to the conditions that led to the 1968 women’s strike at Dagenham’s Ford factory (which I can proudly say my great-grandmother participated in!), we have much improved. Nevertheless, there is very much still room to do better. Overwhelmingly, women choose to go part-time. Often, it takes an empowering decision to juggle child-care with maintaining a career. Yet, I wonder whether if more men stepped up to the mark, how things might be different. I appreciate that gender bias of part-time work will never be 50-50. But if more men were to balance their work life with their family life, perhaps more women in work to represent the female voice would transform the inequalities Perez has unveiled.

I am not a strongly politically opinionated person. Looking at this issue with an inquisitive mind has stretched my view of the data bias against women on this matter. However you stand on feminism: whether you believe it’s gone too far or equality has already been reached, the Invisible Women book starkly outlines issues that need to be addressed. Out of basic humanity, why should one half of the population have better survival rates in a car crash or after a heart attack?


Women’s Clothing

Today, International Women’s Day, I read a Guardian article about the latest fashion sensation, the ‘micro handbag’ smaller than a credit card. And it got me thinking.

On one of my first days starting at my sixth form college, a girl walked into a class wearing a beautiful floral summer dress. When a friend said she liked it, the girl exclaimed, ‘It has pockets!’ all the girls in the classroom jumped around to look in amazement. This led me to conclude that women’s clothing really is not made for women if finding pockets is something to be excited about. And it has a lot to answer for, including sexual assault apparently. 

How has the industry been allowed to filter high fashion down to such a poor quality range of clothing? From being see-through half of the time, impractical, and uncomfortable not just to move (I’m looking at you long-sleeved tops!), but to wear. I am sure most women can relate to taking off bras and seeing red imprints, the tight red rings of tights and seams and waistbands and suffocating skinny jeans: just to feel relaxed and unwind. I vividly remember being a young adolescent searching and searching for an appropriate dress to wear that didn’t have a ridiculously high hem and showed anything if you bent down; or you know, moved. Needless to say, this small endeavour genuinely took years, and made me feel very uncomfortable as a result.

Of course, online shopping has revolutionised the way women can dress themselves, with unlimited price ranges and styles available to them. Of course, this is essential for liberating their essential sense of identity: controlling their first impressions to people they meet every day, and expressing their state of mind and feeling. It is almost unsurprising that high street stores are now endangered; perhaps in part due to the restricting range of clothing they have to offer in-store, compared to the expanse online. However, why should women have to scour the internet to find respectable clothing, or pay an arm and a leg for a shirt, and contribute to the critical gender stereotype that women constantly shop? Naturally, there is absolutely nothing wrong with shopping. It is possible for it to be a therapeutic and liberating past time. But we are almost positioned to fill the critical trap laid out for certain mouths to blurt out ‘women are always shopping and incapable of saving money’. 

Additionally, the devastatingly tragic quality of clothing leads, from my own experience, means clothes rarely ever last for a year if I am fortunate enough. Although these are not top designer lines, whether I buy from New Look, Hollister, Jack Wills, Crew Clothing or H&M I have the same issue. Nothing considers longevity. Discussing this issue with my significant other, he was so surprised at this information and said all his clothes survived up to five years. Of course, this is totally individualistic, but the very fact that male clothing has the ability to last so long shocks me. Comparing my clothes to his, (which included ‘borrowing’ shirts and jumpers!), women’s garments are thinner, much less durable, and more prone to visible wearing such as pilling and running thin after a few runs in the wash. Therefore, this leads to a genuine gap in the average expense women have to budget for clothing. And there is often no compensation for this. Women’s clothing is no less cheap than men’s, often more expensive: especially when you consider components of womenswear. Bikinis are sold as two pieces, each alone the cost of a swimsuit: Not as a set of the top and bottom as you would rationally expect. All this for much, much less material, practicality and technology of fabric. 

Fake pockets? Not again!

Furthermore, the lack of pockets, reportedly due to production lines wishing to save material and labour on a basic component you can easily learn to make on YouTube, means women have to carry a bag. For anyone who knows me, I blatantly refuse to carry a purse or a handbag, simply because I cannot abide them (a handbag?!): uncomfortable, a nuisance, easy to leave somewhere. I do hope clothing chains do not see the micro hanndbag as an opportunity to skimp on material costs. But when far too many jeans have only two functioning back pockets, sometimes with the mocking parody of fake pockets (who’s idea was that?!), personal security is a major concern. The most common damage to phones is through dropping them down toilets.

I say all this but seeing stunning outfits on Instagram and perfect styles beautifully put together is something I totally admire. However, I cannot help but wonder whether she’s comfortable.