From: Invisible Women

Invisible
Invisible Women written by Caroline Criado Perez

Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men1 exposes the substantial and often fatal reality of patriarchy that still rules the entire world. For me, it is a feminist freedom practice that is urgent, especially in this time and age of climate breakdown and the surge of fascist movements and political parties. In The Second Sex2 Simone de Beauvoir argued that real changes in the relations between women and men require new societies. Criado Perez reveals the practical possibilities and (political) actions needed for such new societies to come into existence. It is not for nothing that the Invisible Women starts with a quote from De Beauvoir: “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”

Hereunder you will find my favourite quotes from Caroline Criado Perez’ Invisible Women, and I genuinely hope this will invite you to read the whole book. Everyone, who wishes to live in reality, and is striving for justice and equity, should!


Silence and Thoughtlessness

“[The] lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall. When it comes to the lives of the other half of humanity, there is often nothing but silence. And these silences are everywhere. Our entire culture is riddled with them. Films, news, literature, city planning, economics. The stories we tell ourselves about our past, present and future. They are all marked — disfigured — by a female-shaped ‘absent presence’.”

“[The gender data gap] is simply the product of a way of thinking that has been around for millennia and is therefore a kind of not thinking.”

“[Three} themes crop up again and again: the female body, women’s unpaid care burden, and male violence against women.”

“[Sex] is not the reason women are excluded from data. Gender is.”

“[The] female body is not the problem. The problem is the social meaning that we ascribe to that body, and a socially determined failure to account for it.”

“[When] it comes to women of colour, disabled women, working-class women, the data is practically non-existent.”

“What matters is the pattern.”

“[The] gender data gap is both cause and consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male.”

“[Women] are still very much de Beauvoir’s Second Sex — and […] the dangers of being relegated to, at best, a sub-type of men, are as real as they have ever been.”

Generic Masculine and Erased History

“The extent to which male-unless-otherwise-indicated permeates our thinking may seem less surprising when you realise that it is also embedded in one of the most basic building blocks of society: language itself.”

“The word ‘man’, [Sally Slocum] wrote, ‘is used in such an ambiguous fashion that it is impossible to decide whether it refers to males or to the human species in general’.”

“When you say man you don’t ‘include women too’, even if everyone does technically ‘know that’. Numerous studies in a variety of languages over the past forty years have consistently found that what is called the ‘generic masculine’ (using words like ‘he’ in a gender-neutral way) is not in fact read generically. It is read overwhelmingly as male.”

“And yet in the face of decades of evidence that the generic masculine is anything but clear, official language policy in many countries continues to insist that it is purely a formality  whose use must continue for the sake of … clarity.”

“[We] read most things as male unless they are specifically marked as female.”

“[The] truth is that getting rid of the generic masculine would only be half the battle: male bias is so firmly embedded in our psyche that even genuinely gender-neutral words are read as male.”

“We class the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries as ‘the Renaissance’ even though, […], it wasn’t a renaissance for women, who were still largely excluded from intellectual and artistic life. We call the eighteenth century ‘the Enlightenment’, even though, while it may have expanded ‘the rights of man’, it ‘narrowed the rights of women, who were denied control of their property and earnings and barred from higher education and professional training’. We think of ancient Greek as the cradle of democracy although the female half of the population were explicitly excluded from voting.”

“[Women] didn’t have ‘broad name recognition’, because a woman barely has to die before she is forgotten — or before we consign her works to the gender data gap by attributing it to a man.”

“[Women] simply didn’t have the resources or position to ensure their legacy.”

“The history of humanity. The history of art, literature and music. The history of evolution itself. All have been presented to us as objective facts. But the reality is, these facts have been lying to us. They have all been distorted by a failure to account for half of humanity — not least by the very words we use to convey our half-truths. This failure has led to gaps in the data. A corruption in what we think we know about ourselves. It has fuelled the myth of male universality. And that is a fact.”

“Brilliance bias is no small part a result of a data gap: we have written so many female geniuses out of history, they just don’t come to mind as easily.”

Identity Politics and The White Male

“These white men have in common the following opinions: that identity politics is only identity politics when it’s about race or sex; that race and sex have nothing to do with ‘wider’ issues like ‘the economy’; that it is ‘narrow’ to specifically address the concerns of female voters and voters of colour; and that working class means white working-class men.”

“These white men also have in common that they are white men.”

“When you have been so used, as a white man, to white and male going without saying, it’s understandable that you might forget that white and male is an identity too.”

“Pierre Bourdieu wrote in 1977 that ‘what is essential goes without saying because it comes without saying: the tradition is silent, not least about itself as a tradition’. Whiteness and maleness are silent because they do not need to be vocalised. Whiteness and maleness are implicit. They are unquestioned. They are the default.”

“[The myth of male universality] leads to the positioning of women, half the global population, as a minority. With a niche identity and a subjective point of view. In such a framing women are set up to be forgettable. Dispensable — from culture, from history, from data. And so, women become invisible.”

“It’s time for a change in perspective. It’s time for women to be seen.”

Women and Work

“[‘Working woman’ is] a tautology. There is no such thing as a woman who doesn’t work. There is only a woman who isn’t paid for her work.”

“[Is] women’s unpaid work under valued because we don’t see it — or is it invisible because we don’t value it?”

“[Giving] birth is not a gender-neutral event.”

“He — and it implicitly is a he — doesn’t need to concern himself with taking care of children and elderly relatives, of cooking, of cleaning, of doctor’s appointments, and grocery shopping, and grazed ness, and bullies, and homework, and bath-time and bedtime, and starting it all again tomorrow. His life is simply and easily decided into two parts: work and leisure.”

“The truth is that around the world, women continue to be disadvantaged by a working culture that is based on the ideological belief that male needs are universal.”

“Ideological male bias doesn’t simply arise at a workplace level: it is woven into the laws that govern how employment works.”

“Workplaces that are either male-dominated or have a male-dominated leadership are often the worst for sexual harassment.”

“Women have always worked. They have worked unpaid, underpaid, under appreciated, and invisibly, but they have always worked. But the modern workplace does not work for women.”

“We have to start recognising that the work women do is not an added extra, a bonus that we could do without: women’s work, paid and unpaid, is the backbone of our society and our economy. It’s about time we started valuing it.”

Meritocracy and Institutional White Male Bias

“[For] the vast majority of hiring decisions in the world, meritocracy is an insidious myth. It is a myth that provides cover to institutional white male bias.”

“The face that meritocracy is a myth is not a popular one.”

“[Women] receive negative personality criticism that men simply don’t. Women are told to watch their tone, to step back. They are called bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional and irrational.”

“The upper ranks of academia […] are dominated by white, middle- and upper-class men. It is a perfect Petri dish for the myth of meritocracy to flourish in.”

“Male-default thinking may also be behind the finding that research perceived to have been done by men is associated with ‘greater scientific quality’: this could be a product of pure sexism, but it could also be the result of the mode of thinking that sees male as universal and female as niche. It would certainly go some way to explaining why women are less likely to appear on course syllabuses.”

“Female professors are penalised if they aren’t deemed sufficiently warm and accessible. But if they are warm and accessible they can be penalised for not appearing authoritative or professional.”

“[When] ‘brilliance’ is considered a requirement for a job, what is really meant is ‘a penis’.”

“Brilliance bias is one hell of a drug. And it doesn’t only to students mis-evaluating their teachers or each other: there is also evidence that teachers are mis-evaluating their students.”

“Recent research has emerged showing that while women tend to assess their intelligence accurately, men of average intelligence think they are more intelligent than two-thirds of people.”

Female Bodies, Pain and ‘Reference Man’

“[Pain] systems function differently among women and men. Meanwhile we’ve only just noticed that nearly all pain studies have been done exclusively in male mice.”

“Over the past fifty years, breast-cancer rates in the industrial world have risen significantly — but a failure to research female bodies, occupations and environments means that the data for exactly what is behind this rise is lacking.”

“[We] continue to rely on data from studies done on men as if they apply to women. Specifically, Caucasian men aged twenty-five to thirty, who weigh 70 kg. This is the ‘Reference Man’ and his superpower is being able to represent humanity as a whole. Of course, he does not.”

“Our current approach to product design is disadvantaging women. It’s affecting our ability to do our jobs effectively — and sometimes even get jobs in the first place. It’s affecting our health, and it’s affecting our safety. And perhaps worst of all, the evidence suggests that when it comes to algorithm-driven products, it’s making our world even more unequal.”

“Female bodies (both the human and animal variety) are, it is argued, too complex, too variable, too costly to be tested on. Integrating sex and gender into research is seen as ‘burdensome’. it is seen as possible for there to be ‘too much gender’, and for its exclusion to be acceptable on the basis of ‘simplification’.”

“[Females] aren’t even included in animal studies on female-prevalent diseases.”

“The specific effect on women of a huge number of existing medication is simply unknown.”

“And although [endometriosis] is thought to affect one in ten women (176 million worldwide) it took until 2017  for England’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to release its first ever guidance to doctors for dealing with it. The main recommendation? ‘Listen to women.'”

“[Failing] to listen to female expression of pain runs deep, and it starts early.”

“Instead of believing women when they day they’re in pain, we tend to label them as mad.”

“[While] men who reported pain tended to receive pain medication, women were more likely to receive sedatives or antidepressants.”

“PMS [premenstrual syndrome] affects 90% of women, but is chronically under-studied: one research round-up found five times as many studies on erectile dysfunction than on PMS.”

“[Reseacrhers] are still being turned down for research grants on the basis that ‘PMS does not actually exist’. Period pan — dysmenorrhea — similarly affects up to 90% of women, […] it affects the daily life of around one in five women. The level of pain women experience on a monthly basis has been described as ‘almost as bad as a heart attack’. But despite how common it is and how bad the pain can be, there is precious little that doctors can or will do for you.”

Institutionalised Sexism: Patriarchy

“[There] are substantial gender data gaps in government thinking, and the result is that governments produce male-biased policy that is harming women.”

“[Decades] of evidence demonstrate that the presence of women in politics makes a tangible difference to the laws that get passed.”

“[Democracy] is not a level playing field: it is biased against electing women.”

“[Playing] along with patriarchy is of short-term, individual benefit to women. There’s just the minor issue of being on borrowed time.”

“Women lead different lives to men because of both their sex and gender. They are treated differently. They experience the world differently, and this leads to different needs and different priorities.”

“[Evidence] from around the world shows that political gender quotas don’t lead to the monstrous regiment of incompetent women. […] studies on political quotes have found that if anything, they ‘increase the competence of the political class in general’. This being the case, gender quotas are nothing more than a corrective to a hidden male bias, and it is the current system that is anti-democratic.”

“[Sexism], harassment and violence against female politicians [is] a ‘phenomenon that ‘knows] no boundaries and exists to different degrees in every country’.”

“Political abuse is a distinctly gendered phenomenon.”

“[Framing] human rights issues as women’s rights issues makes male politicians less likely to support legislation, and if a rights bill is mainly supported by women, it ends up being watered down and states are less likely to invest resources. It seems that democracy — in so far it pertains to women — is broken.”

“The evidence is clear: politics as it is practised today is not a female-friendly environment.”

Women’s Perspectives and Men’s Excuses

“When we exclude half of humanity from the production of knowledge we lose out on potentially transformative insights.”

“[We] continue to treat too many of the world’s problems as insoluble. […].ut what if, […], these problems aren’t insoluble? What if. […], all they are missing is a female perspective?”

“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.”

“Theres is one more trend I kept coming across while writing this book: the excuses. Chief amongst these is that women are just too complicated to measure.”

“Female bodies are too unharmonious, too menstrual and too hormonal. Women’s travel patterns are too messy, their work schedules are too aberrant, their voices are too high.”

“The consensus is clear: woman are abnormal, atypical, just plain wrong. Why can’t a women be more like a man? Well, apologies on behalf of the female sex for being so mysterious, but no, we aren’t and no we can’t.”

“Yes, simple is easier. Simple is cheaper. But simple doesn’t reflect reality.”

“[When] you’re missing out half the global population in the numbers you feed your statistical algorithms, what you’re actually creating is just a big mess.”

“And so, to return to Freud’s ‘riddle of femininity’, it turns out that the answer was staring at us in the face all along. All ‘people’ needed to do was to ask women.”

“For the women who persist: keep on being bloody difficult.”


 

Footnotes

  1. Perez, Caroline Criado. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed by Men. Random House UK, 2019. Print.
  2. Beauvoir, Simone De, and H. M. Parshley. The Second Sex. South Yarra, Vic.: Louis Braille Productions, 1989. Print.
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