Women at risk in a world still made for men

Build a new world: Cement bags and bricks are built to be carried and used by men, discouraging female builders.

On International Women’s Day, a new book is shedding light on how everything from smartphones to stab vests are designed for the “average” man, with dangerous consequences for women.

The average smartphone display is now 5.5 inches wide. An adult man’s hand can fit around a phone that size. But a woman, whose hand is on average only one inch bigger than the screen, will struggle.

We live in a world designed by and for men. This is the message of Caroline Criado Perez’s new book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, which came out yesterday.

Criado Perez is a journalist and feminist, who successfully campaigned to get Jane Austen on the new £10 banknote in 2017.

After that, she was responsible for a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett being erected in Parliament Square — the first female to appear among 11 men.

Now, Criado Perez has turned her attention to the “gender data gap”.

Very little scientific research has been done on women compared to men. The standard office temperature, for example, is calculated for the comfort of a 40-year-old 70kg man, not smaller females with different metabolisms. This leaves women across the country shivering.

Data bias is prevalent in the male-dominated tech industry. Voice technology made by Google has been found to be 70% better at recognising male voices. Many women found that the technology only works if they lower the tone of their voice.

These cases might be inconvenient, but others can be deadly.

Seats and seatbelts were tested on male crash dummies, which might help to explain why women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured when they are in a car accident. Stab vests are not designed to fit around breasts, so they can lift up and leave female emergency workers unprotected.

In all her research, Criado Perez was most shocked to discover that women are more likely to die from heart attacks because “classic” heart-attack symptoms such as severe chest pain are more common to men. Women are more likely to have stomach pain, breathlessness, nausea and fatigue.

“I knew there was sexism and misogyny in the world, but this was science! And science is meant to be objective,” she said.

“The male experience, the male perspective, has come to be seen as universal, while the female experience — that of half the global population, after all — is seen as, well, niche.”

A man’s world

Why is there a gender data gap? Are scientists and inventors sexist? Or is it too easy to forget that women exist when men are still mostly in charge? Historically, it has been easier and cheaper to study men rather than take female hormone fluctuations into account.

So now what do we do? Should we redesign society so it works for women and men? Criado Perez argues that studying women’s health would pay for itself by saving money on healthcare when things go wrong. Is change on the horizon?

You Decide

  1. Is it easier to be a man than a woman?
  2. Will men and women ever be completely equal?

Activities

  1. Is feminism still needed in the UK today? Separate your thoughts into three bullet points. Compare your answers in groups. Do you disagree or agree?
  2. Research a prominent female scientist and write a one-page profile about their life, career and achievements.

Some People Say...

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, by George Bernard Shaw

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The use of male crash test dummies in simulated car accidents is particularly dangerous as women have low bone density, less muscle mass and other differences. Women are invisible from society in other ways too. The most recent statistics show that women make up only 24% of people seen, heard or read in the media — a figure that hasn’t changed since 2010.
What do we not know?
Whether the gender data gap is closing. In the US particularly, there has been an effort to include women in more clinical studies after years of exclusion. However, many projects still use older or “standard” data that is based on men.

Word Watch

£10 banknote
Criado Perez began her campaign after the Bank of England announced plans to remove the only woman who had featured on banknotes, Elizabeth Fry, who was an English prison reformer in the early 19th century.
Suffragist
Campaigners to get women the vote, they believed in peaceful protest, while the suffragettes were more militant. Suffragists also allowed men to join their organisation, whereas suffragettes did not.
Scientific research
Women are more likely to have adverse reactions to drugs than men are. As a consequence of lack of testing on women, some medications may not work as well on women or may have more side effects.
Metabolisms
How quickly your body converts food to energy in order to keep your body running. A faster metabolism can cause a higher body temperature.
Male-dominated
80% of tech positions are occupied by men.
Stab vests
One female police officer spoke out about getting breast reduction surgery so her equipment would fit.

Subjects

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