Book Review: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Reading format: Library hardback
Content warnings: None
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Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez is a nonfiction compilation of essays that examine the pervasiveness of the gender gap in data and how that lack of sex-disaggregated data continues to put women at a disadvantage. Criado Perez introduces us to the “default male,” or how the structure of human society sees men as the human default and women as the departure from that standard (thanks, Aristotle). Because society as a whole sees maleness as universal, Criado Perez argues that data on males makes up most of the data we have, resulting in biases towards women in both normal, everyday situations and in situations where something goes awry.
Criado Perez shows us how gender inequalities exist regarding public infrastructure, such as public transportation, which often doesn’t consider women’s safety or travel patterns; medical research, which is mostly done on males and fails to account for the biological differences between males and females; unpaid work, which affects the amount of time women can perform paid work and therefore limits their economic contributions to society as well as their pensions; uniform sizing, which can result in personal injury in fields such as the military and law enforcement; and so much more. The research presented in this expose ultimately shows us how “gender neutral” does not automatically mean “gender equal” and how important it is to include diverse voices, women’s voices, which lend perspectives that the default male perspective may not consider.
In my opinion, Criado Perez did an incredible job researching for this book and summarizing her finds into an informative read. This research is evidenced not only in the text itself, but the comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book. I admit, though, that I did not always enjoy all chapters equally. In fact, I was tempted to shelve this because I didn’t appreciate the “click bait” style of naming chapters. The presentation of fact after fact (even though I do love facts) is also departure from the more narrative storybook style of nonfiction that I prefer to read.
However, I persevered based on the feedback from a book club I participate in. I’m glad I did because I found that as I got farther along into the book, the chapters became more relatable. The most memorable chapter for me was about the gender gap in medical research. My jaw dropped when I read that in drug trials women often make up (way) less than half of the participants. Most drugs aren’t tested on women at various stages of hormonal fluctuations tied to menstruation; this results in many drugs that don’t work as well in women as they do in men. Talk about an unscientific method!
So if you’re looking to broaden your understanding of the gender gap, or frankly if you just love data, then this is the book for you.