The World According To Men
100 years after the suffragette movement won the vote for women in the UK we are still fighting for equality in so many different areas of our lives.
Caroline Criado-Perez author of “Invisible Women” says “When women aren’t seen, we are forgotten. And when we are forgotten, we end up poorer, sicker and sometimes we die. It’s 2019. It’s time to stop forgetting women. Its time for women to be seen”
You might think that Criado-Perez sounds a little evangelical and that society is more equal - it is true that massive strides have been taken but it is also apparent that we still have a very long way to go.
Going back to the theory of Man the Hunter, the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall. When it comes to the other half of humanity, there is often nothing but silence. And these silences are everywhere. Films, news, literature, science, city planning, economics, the stories we tell ourselves about our past, present and future, are all marked – disfigured – by a female-shaped “absent presence”.
Criado-Perez highlights some surprising areas where, despite representing 51% of the population, the female perspective isn’t even taken into consideration. She refers to this lack of consideration of female wants and needs as ‘data gaps’.
These silences, these gaps, have consequences. They impact on women’s lives, every day. The impact can be relatively minor – struggling to reach a top shelf set at a male height norm, for example. Irritating, certainly. But not life-threatening. Not like crashing in a car whose safety tests don’t account for women’s measurements. Not like dying from a stab wound because your police body armour doesn’t fit you properly. For these women, the consequences of living in a world built around male data can be deadly.
Car safety design is built around an average man. Crash-test dummies based on the ‘average’ male are just one example of design that forgets about women – and puts lives at risk. Women are considered ‘out-of-position’ drivers. We tend to sit further forward to reach the pedals, more upright to see clearly over the dashboard, meaning we are at greater risk in frontal collisions - we are 47% more likely to be seriously injured and 17% more likely to die. Yet no Car manufacturer has ever built a car specifically for a female or offered a bespoke safety adaption.
Take the mobile phone industry - a relatively recent invention that surely considers men and women equally in product design - surprisingly it doesn’t. There is plenty of data that shows that the average woman handspan is smaller than a mans but all mobile phones are designed around the handspan of a man. In fact phones are getting larger - disadvantaging women. The average man can fairly comfortably use his device one-handed but the average woman - no chance. Again no mobile phone manufacturer seems to consider a target market of 51% of the population attractive enough to design a female friendly model.
Offices and workplaces are also riddled with these so called data gaps. The working environment was developed around the average working man in the 1960’s and very little has been done to adapt it to the more modern working culture of a male/female 50/50 split. Doors are too heavy, shelves are too high, glass stairs are inappropriate. The average office temperature calculated in the 60’s around the resting metabolic rate of a 40 year old male means that most offices are 5 degrees too cold for the average female. Surely a forward thinking employer should turn the heating up!!
Voice technology has been developed to recognise a mans voice - not surprising then that many women have given up shouting at voice activated technology - fed up of misinterpretations. In 2016, Rachael Tatman, a research fellow in linguistics at the University of Washington, found that Google’s speech-recognition software was 70% more likely to accurately recognise male speech.
Clearly, it is unfair for women to pay the same price as men for products that deliver an inferior service.
When Apple launched its health-monitoring system with much fanfare in 2014, it boasted a “comprehensive” health tracker. It could track blood pressure; steps taken; blood alcohol level; even molybdenum and copper intake. But as many women pointed out at the time, they forgot one crucial detail: a period tracker.
When Apple launched their AI, Siri, users in the US found that she (ironically) could find prostitutes and Viagra suppliers, but not abortion providers. Siri could help you if you’d had a heart attack, but if you told her you’d been raped, she replied “I don’t know what you mean by ‘I was raped.’”
And in the medical world most of the research is done on men - why? The vast majority of what we know about the human body is actually what we know about the male body - even most of the lab rats are male.
The female body is according to most researchers too complicated, too variable, too hormonal to be a good research vessel. Surely though for the very reason that we are different, that we do operate around a menstrual cycle it is even more important to test women because if the menstrual cycle is affecting study results its affecting the real women who will go on the use these drugs. Menstrual cycle impacts have so far been found for antipsychotics, antihistamines, and antibiotic treatments. More research is needed to enable clinicians to tailor medications to menstrual cycles to ensure that more or less of a drug is used appropriately.
It’s hard to believe that as a majority player, the female voice is still unheard by so many of the worlds big players - they are missing out on a massive opportunity. Criado-Perez is on a mission to challenge the male bias in our society and we should all be adding our voice to hers.