#12. ‘Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’ by Caroline Criado Perez.

“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth” Simone de Beauvoir.

Man as Default

Currently, there are 7.8 billion people in the world, and more than half of them are women. When you look at governments and big corporations, you are mostly looking at white men. Everything from public transport to medical research is based on data collected on half of the population – men. In 1949 Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself, but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being (…) He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other”. When we think human, we think man.

The Life Designed to Fit Man’s Needs

In this book, Caroline Criado Perez argues than man is the default human, that every aspect of our lives is designed to fit man’s needs because as long as it satisfies his desires, aspirations and dreams, a woman should be satisfied likewise. It’s not that men did that on purpose; Perez writes about unconscious bias, which means that most of the decisions that affect our lives were based on data which lacks female participation. For example in ‘A sea of Dudes’ chapter, Perez puts on a spotlight tech giant like Apple. You would think that when they designing their phones and adding new technologies, their research is based on all of their users. Well, not really. Their AI development, ‘Siri’ can help you to find prostitutes and Viagra suppliers but not abortion suppliers. If you have a heart attack Siri can find the nearest emergency unit, but if you say ‘I was raped’ she will simply say ‘I do not know what you mean’. 

Historical Gaps

In the chapter ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’  shockingly most of the medical research does not involve women in clinical trials at all. The medication that we take for heart diseases,  menstrual problems or even depression where designed using only male data. Therefore, there is this huge historical data gaps when it comes to female bodies which should be addressed yesterday. In the chapter ‘Gender Neutral With Urinals’ Perez writes about access to public toilets in less developed countries, like India. In Mumbai’ for example, there are no free female public toilets, which means that women are forced to share bathrooms with men or travel far from their homes to find a female restroom. Urban planning clearly did not take into account sexual assaults data when it comes to something so basic, like a toilet.

The Book About Gender Data Gap

Not surprisingly, Caroline Criado Perez was the winner of The Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize for 2019. Her research is full of statistics and insightful data that is inspiring and worrying at the same time. Considering a large amount of data, it was easy to read the book. It was an emotional journey to go through it, mostly I felt angry and frustrated but also hopeful that this piece of research will change the course of future planning and decision making and that women will get their say when it comes to their daily lives. I highly recommended it to both men and women.

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