#Book Review: Invisible Women

Author: Caroline Criado Perez

Invisible Women book was gifted to me by my dear colleague, Robert Minton-Taylor but as workload would have it I only read it now because it was recommended by a member of a #WECAN project book club so I said yes seeing an opportunity to finally read the piece.

The image is taken from Amazon

Throughout the reading process, I had several instances when I felt there is too much information in this book but that is likely because I was utterly shocked by some of its content. There are things I knew about how the world works regarding women because I do research myself, e.g., that the organisational world is still a man’s world but what a well-researched Invisible Women book shows is far greater. It shows a massive data bias and the whole world being designed for men.

I was first utterly shocked by medical stuff. For example, we are told that the symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain and the arm being wooden but actually, this is a male symptom and women often feel fatigued and nauseated for example. This has thoroughly shocked me as we are indeed bombarded with images of wooden arm and chest pain throughout the popular culture and doctors indeed ask this. I looked on the website of the National Health Service in the UK and the symptoms are what the author of Invisible Women describes as male. I then googled and found some women’s symptoms on another page, but this also starts with the male symptoms and then secondarily says that women may experience different symptoms outlining those mentioned by the author of Invisible Women. But this writing also proves what the author of Invisible Women says, there is a male norm with women being secondary, invisible and neglected, seen as not fitting, difficult to describe and understand and there is a neglect of women’s bodies, which are fundamentally different to those of men, yet under-researched. There are lots of different examples of medical issues throughout the book including the fact women’s health is far less researched or fundable than men’s health and this has been the case throughout history.

Another case that shocked me was the notion of police uniforms where women police officers either have their breasts squashed in uniforms which are too small, or they are too loose thus making them vulnerable to stabbing. I was so shocked by this that I stopped a woman police officer the other day and asked her about her uniform. She was confused by my question and stumbled around and said they changed the uniforms a few years ago and it is fine but I could tell she never thought twice about it because the norm and the expectation to fit into the world designed for men is always there. As Bourdieu teaches us in his theory of practice, many women do not question rules that are not designed for them because masculine domination is ingrained into everyday life to the point it becomes natural and invisible. The police officer I spoke to said that some things changed a few years ago and I have indeed found information on male and female sizes (see here) so I was pleased to hear things changed and find this information but yet, cannot help but wonder how many women police officers got stabbed because they wore too loose uniform or how many ended up with health issues because of their breast being squashed since women joined the police force. The author of Invisible Women also argues that many countries still do not have male and female sizes so you have to wonder, what is wrong with this world?

The book is full of these examples and guides us through an issue of the male norm and data bias and women’s invisibility and the fact they need to fit in. The author also cites Sheryll Sandberg’s Lean In book (which has been on my reading list for a while) and then argues that women can only lean in as much as possible but there are some things which are simply not possible and for as long the world is designed by men and according to the male norm, women will face under-representation and issues. The author correctly argues that when women are in power, they do tend to support other women or they support policies which are different to policies supported by men, but these policies often support women, e.g., education, human rights, safety, environment, etc. Invisible Women cited some fascinating statistics about the number of courses studying women’s history in the US when the women’s faculty numbers increased as well as peer-reviewed articles when more women joined academia. Men are fundamentally interested in men and that is fine, as it also transpires throughout this book, so long as we continue to increase women’s representation so they can be interested in women and so long as we keep working on abolishing the male norm and diversifying all policies and practices, which are deeply marked with the male norm. As the author says, men do not necessarily want to exclude or harm women, they simply do not see things in the same way and thus, we need more women to rise in ranks and make this change so that the world works for everyone. As the author says, when women are in power and have a say, there are different ideas and innovations, more jobs and GDP grows more. A world of diverse views is a better place, and we must keep working towards achieving one.

A book is definitely worth reading. If it feels it is too much information and that is because it is too much information about bias, exclusion and damage this causes to half of humanity!

Thank you for reading!

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