Living as a woman in a world built for men
Updated: Sep 5, 2019
I found out yesterday that I am 17% more likely to die in a car crash than a man driving in the same car sitting in the same seat. I am also 47% more likely to suffer serious injuries in the same situation.
This is for the shocking reason that car crash dummies are based entirely on the male body. There is only ONE dummy in existence (in the US) which could somewhat replicate the collision impact on women and that is actually based on a very short male (described as a "scaled-down man"). As a very short woman, this is not helpful or reassuring.
I listened to this statistic and many others in frank disbelief at an event at City Hall attended by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London. The activist and author Caroline Criado-Perez was ‘In Conversation’ with Leah Kreitzman, Mayoral Director for External and International Affairs. You may remember Perez as the driving force behind the first woman’s face on a British banknote and for her campaign to get the first statue of a woman erected on Parliament Square (suffragette Millicent Fawcett). Making women visible. George and I were kindly invited to attend the event by the Mayor's Senior Advisor, Sneha Patel, because we sit on the committee for Women in PR which advocates change for women working in our industry through addressing issues such as the gender pay gap and unconscious bias. Our President, Bibi Hilton, also came to represent WIPR UK.
Perez has just published a book, “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, which exposes and explores many serious issues and contradictions which affect the way women live and are supported in most societies today. If you don't have time to read a book, this Guardian article is a fantastic summary. Read it and weep.
Many gender studies are based on qualitative and anecdotal observations rather than based on quantitative research. Perez believes this is unhelpful as it does not provide specific, incontrovertible evidence that women are adversely affected in many more ways than most people realise, and therefore serious problems which could be addressed lie undetected and unsolved. Her book highlights various examples where the lack of sex-disaggregated statistics create serious problems for women. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, this is "data collected and tabulated separately for women and men allowing the measurement of differences between women and men in terms of various social and economic dimensions").
This book makes it plain that the lack of sufficient understanding of women’s bodies, behaviour and attitudes leads to policies, products, services and medical care designed for men. The lack of data-based design in all areas can and does create dangerous situations and even death (see the car crash dummy example).
Perez speaks with warmth about this being a shared problem and not down to a few ‘baddies’ who are deliberately sidelining half the human race. Gender debates can be polarising between the sexes and that is not helpful if we desire change. So rather than railing about what can seem too big a problem to fix (sexism and gender bias), what three specific things would she like to change today?
1. Testing on women as well as men to reduce the impact of car crashes. This should include simulations of pregnant women to reduce the foetal mortality rate (I was shocked again to learn there are NO seatbelts designed for use during pregnancy - although I have been pregnant myself and never considered it…)
2. All clinical trials funded by the public purse must include men and women and must include sex disaggregation.
3. Stop allowing men to occupy the “gender-neutral spot”. I wasn’t sure what this meant until she used the examples of ‘female writers’ (we don’t say ‘male writers’) ‘ladies’ mountain boots’, and conversely, if we’re going to talk about ‘women’s football’, let’s say ‘men’s football’ too. We are all complicit.
Ultimately Perez has done feminism a big favour by publishing this book. Many gender studies take an emotive route, which can isolate men who believe themselves to see women as equal, and therefore don’t think it is an issue in their lives which could affect their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. She has aimed to quantify feminism and give it some hard facts and figures that collectively we can build on to effect change.
The Mayor wrapped up the talk by thanking Caroline for writing the book and sharing the insights with the audience, which included many senior policy makers across the spectrum of public policy. I heard one civil servant committing to change gender-based vocabulary on her very high profile government website as a direct result of the talk (see point 3.)
I’ll start by telling my husband to enjoy his game of ‘men’s football’ tonight.
You can buy the book here.