World designed for men constantly fails women

/ 07:30 AM March 09, 2019

LONDON—A “gender data gap” is making the lives of women around the world more dangerous from the misdiagnosis of heart attacks to ill-fitting protective equipment, according to a new book published this week in Britain.

Caroline Criado Perez, a British feminist campaigner and writer, has compiled a comprehensive account of built-in sex discrimination that leads women to suffer results that range from the merely annoying to life-threatening.


‘Big data gap’

In “Invisible Women,” the author sets out to show the sheer extent to which gender bias pervades modern society and how it “distorts the supposedly objective data that increasingly rules our lives.”


From urban planning to politics, daily life to design, Criado Perez spotlights how the long-held practice of seeing men as the human default has been embedded into our ever-more digital age.

Heart attacks misdiagnosed

“The lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall,” the writer argues, noting that “most of recorded human history is one big data gap” when it comes to women.

“‘Invisible Women’ is the story of what happens when we forget to account for half of humanity. It is an exposé of how the gender data gap harms women,” she writes.

Criado Perez became prominent in Britain after successfully campaigning for a woman to be put on British banknotes and a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett to be erected opposite parliament.

Her new book stemmed from discovering doctors are more likely to misdiagnose women suffering a heart attack, in part because female symptoms—stomach pain, breathlessness, nausea, fatigue differ from those of men and so are classified “atypical.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” she told The Sunday Times in a recent interview. “Science is meant to be objective.” Criado Perez began researching the subject and amassed a dizzying number of examples of this male-oriented approach enough to fill a book.


She found cars have been designed using crash-test dummies based on the “average” male, contributing to women being 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured when involved in a car crash.

Fatal consequences

Frontline female emergency workers have been given protection gear like stab-proof vests which are mostly based on the sizes and characteristics of males with sometimes fatal consequences.

Even the formula for determining optimum office temperatures turns out to have been developed in the 1960s around the metabolic resting rate of an average man, often leaving workplaces feeling too cold for women.

Everyday consumer products are also prone to being male-centric, with voice recognition software far more likely to accurately recognize men’s speech and cell phones too big for many women’s hands.

“Designers may believe they are making products for everyone, but in reality they are mainly making them for men,” Criado Perez writes. “It’s time to start designing women in.”

Male default

Sarah Hawkes, who leads University College London’s Center for Gender and Global Health, said Criado Perez’s conclusions struck a chord. “The default in medicine for about the past 2,000 years has been male,” Hawkes told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Criado Perez’s 411-page work  which includes 69 pages of endnotes citing case studies and research concludes that reform will only come from women making their voices heard. “The solution to the sex and gender gap is clear: we have to close the female representation gap,” she writes.

“When women are involved in decision-making, in research, in knowledge production, women do not get forgotten. Female lives and perspectives are brought out of the shadows.”  —AFP

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TAGS: “Invisible Women, , British feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado Perez, Gap, gender, gender bias, Men, Women
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