Monday, February 27, 2023

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez


I read this hot on the heels of TECHNICALLY WRONG, which was a mistake, because I felt like that was a better book: even though it deals with a lot of the same subjects, I felt like TECHNICALLY was more inclusive and intersectionally feminist, and also more accessible. INVISIBLE WOMEN is very dry and data-heavy (which perhaps makes it a more credible read than TECHNICALLY in some regards) and reads like a women's studies textbook. It is also written by a UK woman and largely cites UK studies (although not exclusively).

My favorite chapter was the introductory chapter about "The Default Male" and how data gaps can cause people to assume gender where there is none. When I was blogging anonymously, and serializing my work anonymously, people often assumed I was a man. There is an assumption, also, for many people to assume that voices of expertise or authority are male, I think, unless told otherwise beforehand. I also liked how the author talked about how incensed men get when women come into "their" spaces, and how equality to some can feel invasive. The hidden biases in city planning that followed in the next chapter were also interesting, but after that, I lost interest in the book.

I guess my first red flag was the bathroom chapter, where the author makes the odd choice to say that gender neutral bathrooms don't work because they have urinals in them and men can pee faster? But then, why not just put in more stalls? When I still physically went into the office, we had gender neutral bathrooms and they were great. No urinals, just stalls. You didn't have to wait in "your" line to go in, and people who were non-binary or perhaps trans but not out didn't have to make a public choice about their identity every time they went in to do the necessary. Weirdly, trans people weren't mentioned in this chapter at all, though, and I thought that was odd because when you are talking about bathroom rights and bathroom accessibility, that's often one of the top 5 issues that comes up. The author instead chose to focus more on how lack of bathroom accessibility can lead to sexual assaults for women.

This segues into another thing I noticed other critical reviewers taking issues with: lack of intersectionality. I have the Kindle edition and I did a few quick searches in my copy to check representation: trans people are mentioned not once, LGBT was mentioned once as a voting block, lesbian was mentioned once in reference to what the author calls "corrective rape" (lesbians being victims to men who want to turn them straight). Black women were referenced three times, twice in the chapter on health care and once as disproportionate victims of environmental disaster, but the author does not mention that they are also disproportionate victims of violence and also seems to have neglected to discuss how Black women's pain can be especially ignored by medical professionals and they are more likely to be turned away or accused of seeking medication to abuse recreationally.

Between the dry text and the surprising gaps, I don't think I can give this a high rating. I really appreciate what it was trying to do but it seems to take a pretty narrow focus on the issues at hand.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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