Did you know that until 2011, all car crash test dummies were dudes?
That’s just one of the “wait, seriously?” moments in Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, a new book by Caroline Criado Perez. A British writer and feminist activist, Criado Perez's second book, after 2015’s Do It Like a Woman, details the many ways the world is designed for men—and why that sucks.
Invisible Women focuses on what the author calls the “gender data gap,” arguing that most research depends on the experiences of men, while the fundamental differences of women are ignored.
Differences like sensitivity to cold. Raise your mittened hand if you’re familiar with the concept of a desk sweater. Yeah, that’s because most offices are five degrees too cold for women, since the formula used to determine the corporate climate was based on the metabolic resting rate of a 40-year-old, 155-pound man in the 1960s. (So…not us.) Women’s metabolisms are slower, so they tend to require a higher temperature to feel comfortable. And despite the fact that 47 percent of U.S. workers are now women, in many cases, these benchmarks have never been updated.
But it’s often more serious than workplace shivers. Think about what you know about the symptoms of a heart attack. If you were having one, you’d get chest pain and possibly tingling down your arms, right? Well, if you’re a man, you might. Women tend to report stomach pain, nausea and breathlessness during a heart attack, but these symptoms aren’t talked about nearly as often. This means that women are more likely to be misdiagnosed—a potentially fatal oversight.
OK, so what's the solution? According to the author, change will come in a number of ways. First, just by reading this book, we’re aware of the gender data gap and are starting to talk about it. Criado Perez is also an advocate for hiring quotas and measures to get women into decision- or policy-making roles. (Some British political parties, for example, use all-women shortlists to decide which candidate will stand for them in a general election.) Most of all, though, the author argues that many of these issues could be solved if researchers made it a rule to collect sex-disaggregated data. By treating men and women as two different research groups, men will stop being the default.
Even with all the progress women have made in the last few decades, Invisible Women proves we still have a long way to go. Reading this book—preferably in a comfortably warm room—is the first step.