Women's History Month: Gender Data Gap

Last week, this essay in the Guardian UK went viral: The deadly truth about a world built for men – from stab vests to car crashes.


Here's how the essay opens:

"When broadcaster Sandi Toksvig was studying anthropology at university, one of her female professors held up a photograph of an antler bone with 28 markings on it. “This,” said the professor, “is alleged to be man’s first attempt at a calendar.” Toksvig and her fellow students looked at the bone in admiration. “Tell me,” the professor continued, “what man needs to know when 28 days have passed? I suspect that this is woman’s first attempt at a calendar.”


She continues:

For most of human history ... the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall. When it comes to the other half of humanity, there is often nothing but silence. And these silences are everywhere. Films, news, literature, science, city planning, economics, the stories we tell ourselves about our past, present and future, are all marked – disfigured – by a female-shaped 'absent presence'. This is the gender data gap."


  • Have you ever tried to use something as ubiquitous as *your phone* and found that it doesn't quite work for the size of your hands? (There is at least one iPhone SE user over here at the Women's Action Network for that very reason, and she's hopeful that small phones - flip phones anyone? - might make a comeback.)

  • Have you ever tried to use personal protective equipment on a job site and thought there was something wrong with *you* because you couldn't get them to fit?

  • And here's hoping that none of you have been in a medical situation where the guidelines or warning signs were written for men and you just didn't conform to them so a serious health issue went undiagnosed. Heart attack, anyone?

If it hasn't happened to you, you are in the lucky minority - but still at risk - because, as author Caroline Criado Perez's exposes in her new book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (buy it today!; read reviews here, here, here, and here) this world was not built for you.


And because of that, women die.


Crash test dummies do not take into account the size and structure of women (read: not the same as men). Heart attack symptoms for women are not identical to those of men, yet the symptoms we're trained to look for are those of ... wait for it ... men.


On a more banal - yet no less disturbing - level, women are just not considered at all. As Criado Perez notes, "I really found it shocking that women’s care work isn’t included in economic data, and that the workplace and economy and travel is designed around typical male lives."


Beware: You can't unring the bell.


Once you read her examples, you will start re-examining your life. It is impossible not to interrogate every aspect of your lived experience as a woman and come to the slowly dawning realization that the world simply wasn't built for you. And that, perhaps, you blamed yourself for the ways in which you felt incompatible with the world. Turns out, it is not your fault that you can't reach the top shelf of your cabinets. Or your foot to the gas pedal. Or the cleaning products stored up high in the grocery store. You will walk through your day and have numerous aha moments.


And then you will start to scream.


Because, as Criado Perez reminds us, "The gender data gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male."


We encourage you to read the article and then buy the book. And then join us in reimagining the world by designing women into it.

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