Invisible Women

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men  - Caroline Criado-PĂ©rez

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Wow, did this book hurt. And made me angry. In a good way, that is—not feeling angry at some, at least, of what it deals with, would have probably been abnormal. For two main reasons: 1) it points at things one doesn’t necessarily thinks about when reflecting at first upon all the ways women still get the short straw, and 2) once you consider these things, you realise you’re not even surprised, and -that- is proof that all of this stuff is… just sad. It’s the 21st century, and half of humanity is still forced to deal with rubbish.

Here’s a very simple illustration of one of the problems the author points. It’s very simple, and minor, and I bet a lot of people (possibly mostly men, but surely also some women) would tell me to ignore it and “suck it up” and “it’s not important, so stop dwelling on it.’ But it is a good example. I work in a fairly good company when it comes to treating people equally. It’s not perfect, of course, but let’s just say that for a Silicon Valley company, they actually openly try to recruit more diverse people than just 25-ish white male nerds, which in itself deserves to be pointed. And it gives its new hires little welcome gifts. So when I joined, among the gifts, was a pair of socks. They’re pretty, I like their colour, and I’d love to wear them. There’s just a problem that no one obviously though about: they’re not “one size fits all”, they’re “one size fits all MEN”. Which means they’ve been gathering dust at the bottom of my wardrobe, since wearing socks whose heels ride above your ankles is really incomfortable. And there you have it: the way the default “human being” is actually “male”, with female bodies being sort of a side show that those poor men have to accommodate (/le sigh).

(In defence of my employer, they do give us female version of T-shirts, too, so it’s not completely hopeless either. And no, my point is not to rant about socks. If someone hasn’t gotten my point by now, they should probably read this book because they’d make a good target for it.)

It is both enlightening and infuriating to read about this for 300+ pages, about all the circumstances in which women are still, more or less unconsciously, treated as the less important part of humanity, the part that can “suck it up” and “deal with it: look, we men deal with it”, except that it’s much easier for men to deal with it since the “it” was made for them at first. An example from the book: tsunami shelters in countries where there’s a solid separation between the female sphere and the male sphere, where women can’t go out unless they’re with men from their family, because if they do, they’re pretty much free buffet for all. So, when a tsunami hits, and the shelters are designed as huge places where hundreds of people have to cram, without any separation between the sexes, guess what happens? Well, women die, because they don’t dare to go in there (if they do, they almost surely end up shamed and beaten and raped); and that’s IF they get to the shelters in the first place, since a man from their family needs to warn them and take them there first. (It is also telling that in such dire circumstances, like these ones, or refugeed camps, the worst for women is often not even the wars or natural catastrophes that led them there, but male violence.)

And the worst of it, the saddest part, is that most of the time, it’s not even done on purpose: it happens because most people who plan these places, most people who decide about infrastructures, are still men, and the mere idea that not all people (read: 50% of the people) don’t have exactly the same needs as theirs doesn’t even cross their minds. How pathetic is that?

Conclusion: Read this book. Read about all these pathetic things, that you can’t dismiss as “oh well it’s not true, surely this (female, of course) author is exaggerating”, except that she’s not, nope, you can indeed see all this around you, every day, if you pay attention. I don’t even need to check sources to realise this. If it’s around me in 2019 Britain, I can’t dismiss it as “but it only happens in ‘certain countries’, luv”.