Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez (author, narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781982699383, June 2019

We live in a world driven by data, an ocean of data that in theory should enable us to make much better decisions. Yet, to a truly frightening degree, that data leaves out half the human race--the female half.

One way is, of course, in medical studies. For a long time, women weren't included at all. Only men were included in medical studies, and it was just assumed that of course the same data, at least when adjusted for weight and height, will apply to women. Yet the reason women aren't included in studies is because women's bodies are different, and in some ways more complicated. It's bizarre that no consideration is normally given to whether this might mean that drugs and treatments might affect women differently.

Of course, they do. One of the better-known examples, now, is that women don't show the same symptoms as men when having a heart attack. Because of this, women tend to get diagnosed later, and are less likely to survive. But there are a wide range of problems resulting from the lack of female data in medical studies. Women have different proportions of fat in their bodies than men, and different proportions of the different types of muscle than men. This causes many drugs to be processed differently, and this can make those drugs less effective in women, or make different dosages than arrived at by taking data based on men and adjusting it only for weight.

But's not just medical data that's missing, and that matters. Virtual reality designs are based on men, and aren't always as effective for women. Okay, that's just games. What about homeless shelters, or disaster relief shelters, or refugee shelters? We want them to be safe, but "safe" for men isn't the same as "safe" for women. Yet typically all these shelters are designed with the assumption of "gender neutral" design is genuinely gender neutral, when in fact it simply leaves out women's safety issues.

Most unpaid work, caring for children, other family members, elderly parents, is done by women. Women to the cooking and cleaning, most of it anyway, and the amounts done by men and women hasn't changed as much as we like in the last forty years. That work is of great economic value, and society depends on it, but because it's unpaid, it's simply not counted, and it's not accounted for in making tax, pension, and other legal and economic decisions that affect women's ability to do both their caring work and their paid work--often forcing women to cut back on or drop out of paid work. Some of those decisions are the ones working women or formerly working women deal with on a daily basis in middle class lives in developed countries. Others are truly startling, like building public housing that takes no account of extended families and informal local networks that provide backup and support for women trying to both care for their families, and earn money to provide for them.

Criado-Perez recounts the impact of the lack of data, or even more infuriatingly, the impact of not using data that has been collected, in a lively, interesting, accessible, and compelling way. I personally think the most startling error caused by not talking to women, or as far as I can tell, thinking, is the rebuilding of housing following a natural disaster in Sri Lanka--without kitchens. How do you not realize that houses need kitchens? Even not bothering to talk to the women, but only the men, hardly seems like an adequate reason for doing that, but it apparently also happened elsewhere, for the same reason.

I'm not conveying at all, I think, just how engrossing this book is, how well-organized, and how informative and enlightening. Highly recommended!

I bought this audiobook at Libro.fm.

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