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September 15, 2019 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez is a book about, well, data bias in a world designed for men.


The main thesis of this book is that a lot of assumptions we make about people as a whole are only accurate when it comes to men, because men are seen as the default for all human beings. These assumptions are enforced by the “data gap”—a term Criado Perez uses to refer to a gap in our knowledge about women and their needs. The book discusses how this data gap affects women and society as a whole—in everything from bathroom queues, to city design, to medicine. 


Criado Perez notes that these assumptions aren’t necessarily conscious ones—which makes highlighting the data gap even more important in challenging these assumptions.


The book is well-written, and easy to read. It covers many areas of expertise, from city planning, to software, to medicine, and explains how the data gap affects these fields. Criado Perez provides ample statistics and references, with good use of anecdotes to help the reader understand what the consequences of this data gap can look like.


One of the early examples in the book is how cities are often designed around car use and work commutes—failing to account for the different transport needs of women, who are more likely to use public transport, and more likely to make many small interconnected trips rather than twice-daily commutes to and from work.


Throughout the book, it’s discussed how “one size fits all” usually means “One-Size-Fits-Men”. Examples range from phone screens being too big for most women’s hands, to voice recognition software not working properly with women’s voices, to tools designed for male hands that reduce women’s ability to work.


I’ve had many conversations with female friends about them not being taken seriously by doctors, and about how useless some painkillers have been for them. Part IV: “Going to the Doctor” backs those conversations up with evidence—highlighting how many drug trials do not include women (meaning drugs may have differing effects on women, or none at all), and how assumptions based on how men’s bodies work contribute to doctors failing to correctly diagnose—or to outright dismiss—women’s health issues.


The book isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Criado Perez provides many examples of when the data gap is taken into consideration to positive effect—from getting pregnancy parking put in at Google, to developing cleaner-burning (and therefore safer) stoves for use in developing countries. She highlights initiatives like the UN-backed organisation Data2X, whose mission is to “improve the quality, availability, and use of gender data in order to make a practical difference in the lives of women and girls worldwide”.


I think getting this book into as many hands as possible would make a positive difference. While I already agreed with the author that gender inequality is an issue (wow what a hot take), reading Invisible Women gave me an insight into, and made me aware of, experiences I could never have myself. It got me thinking about solutions, and made me re-examine my own views with a more critical and better-informed eye.


Writing this review, I’m worried that I may not be doing the book and its themes justice, as I can’t possibly cover all its points in a 600-word review. Not only is it interesting—it’s important. 


I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially to anyone who makes decisions that affect other people.


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