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.
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%.
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?