Review: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Strictly speaking, women are a global minority—but only just. The UN estimates that women make up 49.6% of the global population. And yet, they are almost completely missing when it comes to the data that our world is built on. From smartphone sizes, crash test dummies, protective clothing, town planning, and even standard medicine dosages, our world has been designed for—and by—men.
In Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez explores the ‘gender data gap’: the invisibility of women, their experiences, and female bodies in the data that drives decisions and designs. It is an enraging, eye-opening, and insightful analysis of how patriarchy works to undermine women’s importance and remove them from public consideration.
Caroline Criado Perez is no stranger to pointing out invisible women. In 2012, after two BBC radio features (on teenage pregnancy and breast cancer) contained no female experts, she founded the website Women’s Room. In 2013, she criticised the Bank of England for replacing Elizabeth Fry—the only woman other than the Queen on any British currency—with Winston Churchill on the £5 note. Her campaign to ensure women were represented on British currency resulted in Jane Austen replacing Churchill on the £10 note. Criado Perez was also the force behind the first ever statue of a woman to be erected in Parliament Square, Westminster. In 2018, the statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled.
It is not deliberate malice, she argues, that leads to men everywhere ‘forgetting’ to include women in their work, but the result of the complete erasure of the female experience. Men, Criado argues, are treated as the default human, the standard from which women often (annoyingly) deviate. This oversight is what leads companies like Apple to release ‘comprehensive’ health trackers that can monitor blood pressure, heart rate, steps taken, and even copper intake, but completely forget a period tracker.
While quibbling over whether newer iPhones are too big for the average woman’s hand (they are, even though women are more likely to own an iPhone) or if the standard office temperature is too cold for women (also true) may sound frivolous, the consequences of the data gap can be deadly. Women’s heart attacks are more likely to go undiagnosed because they do not present in the ‘typical’ (male) way. Women are also far more likely to die in car crashes, because female dummies are not consistently used to test car safety.
Invisible Women identifies three main ways that women suffer as a result of these data gaps.
The invisibility of women’s bodies in design and research
The violence and harassment that is perpetrated by men towards women who do not consider them fully human
The unpaid and unrecognised labour of women inside and outside the home.
Invisible Women shows us all the myriad of ways that women and female bodies have been ignored or dismissed by the people (mostly men) in power.
However, it barely scratches the surface of simultaneous data gaps that impact people marginalised by race, disability, gender diversity, or neurodivergence. The power of Invisible Women is that it arms you with the ability to spot and challenge data gaps of all kinds and fills you with enough rage to seek them out.
"Failing to collect data on women and their lives means that we continue to naturalise sex and gender discrimination – while at the same time somehow not seeing any of this discrimination… It’s the irony of being a woman: at once hyper-visible when it comes to being treated as the subservient sex class, and invisible when it counts – when it comes to being counted." — Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women