Review: Invisible Women

ELEANOR TAYLOR | REPEAT OFFENDERS



Invisible Women was written by Caroline Criado Perez and released in 2018 and explores the lack of data collected about the experiences of women around the world. Looking into innocuous topics such as public bathrooms and outdoor spaces, Perez reveals how public spaces are designed to facilitate men and subtly exclude women.


From issues that seem trivial such as the size of phones which are designed to fit in men’s hands (which are on average, larger than women) to disturbing topics such as the devastating health ramifications that can occur when women are misdiagnosed due to their sex, Perez covers huge ground in just over 400 pages.


Most impressively, this book is readable. As an avid reader, I often struggle to read books laden with data and find them confusing most of the time. However, Perez presents data in an accessible way so that anyone regardless of their general knowledge will be able to understand the topic at hand. Eliane Glaser put it best when she said “the problem with feminism is that it’s just too familiar.” Mainstream feminism focuses largely on white women and their victimhood at the hands of the patriarchy. The result is that feminist discussions are often tired and ineffective, repeating the same #girlboss talking points which have been expressed for years now. Perez’s discussion of feminism is intersectional and refreshing; based on data, Perez does an excellent job shining a light on the experiences of a wide array of women. One case study looks into the experiences of women and works safety hazards, zooming in on nail salon workers in the UK; often immigrant Asian workers who are paid poor wages and easy targets of exploitation. Perez discusses the health problems unique to female-dominated industries. What makes Insivible Women unique is the way Perez uses her seemingly infinite data and case studies to shine a light on topics left out of mainstream feminist discussion.


The fantastic thing about data is that it is quantifiable and it shows what would otherwise be missed in feminist discussions. For example, we know that on average women work more than men each week if unpaid labour is included. We know that there is a strong link between public bathrooms and sexual assault. Violence against women decreases when they have access to more toilets in public spaces and so do health issues such as UTIs. Before reading this book, none of these ideas would have organically crossed my mind. Now whenever I leave the house, I cannot help but think about how the public transport system I use was designed based on male experiences.


An early example Perez used was snow-ploughing. How could snow-ploughing be sexist? Well, it turns out that in Sweden roads were being cleared of snow and pavements were not. Men tend to monopolise car use, women tend to be pedestrians. Because roads were being prioritised, pedestrians were forced to use snowy paths. Most of these pedestrians were women and they were more likely to be injured as a result of icy conditions. Not only did clearing paths as well enable women to travel faster but it saved communities money because resources no longer went to female pedestrians in hospitals who had fallen on ice.


Medicine is often based on “the average man” who is about 40 years old and weighs 70kgs and Perez provides endless examples illustrating how this default male thinking will impact female health and result in unnecessary deaths. Furthermore, our attempts to design gender-neutral cities does not lead to gender equality because when we consider a ‘scientist’ we all mentally still picture white men. The default is still male thinking, therefore designing societies around this simply accommodates men and ignores women.


There is no huge complicated theory behind Perez’ work, the focus is on data and the inequality created by both a lack of data surrounding women and the existing data being ignored. Perez’ statement is simple; inequality is automatic in a world designed for men. Overall, Perez has done an exceptional job presenting a heavily researched data-driven critique of our society, which is most importantly readable and suited to a wide audience. I would absolutely recommend Invisible Women to anyone looking for a feminist read without super intense theory, which focuses on comprehendible statistics.


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