Book review: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Ever been in a heated discussion with someone, where you’re trying desperately to explain gender inequality, and they’re just not getting it?

Or even felt like things weren’t exactly equal, but couldn’t explain why?

Cue: ‘Invisible Women’; the book that contains all the statistics (and highlights the data we are missing) you’ll ever need to understand and explain the gender gap. Through her work, Perez captures the insidious, systemic ways in which women struggle to exist in a world designed for men. In areas from urban planning, medicine, technology and infrastructure, it seems women are, for the most part, an afterthought.

Perez prefaces her book by identifying a core belief of our society- that the male body is seen as universal, and everything else is niche. Though women make up half the population, much of their lives are undocumented, unrecorded and under-researched. A common misconception is that we must focus on women’s lives; otherwise, we wouldn’t have feminist studies. But the existence of women’s and feminist schools of thought is a reflection of women as a ‘niche’ study subject in itself. If women are studied in women’s studies classes, then men are studied everywhere else.

For example, most medical testing has historically been done on male bodies. Except when studying female-specific disorders, which are under-researched as well, but let’s stay in one lane for now. Instead of investigating women and men’s bodies together, we examine men’s and push all women’s bodies off as edge cases. Perez points out that women’s menstrual cycles are often seen as ‘pesky hormones’ that get in the way of proper medical research. Because men lack menstrual cycles, they are treated as the default body from which females inconveniently deviate.

Rather than being seen as equally important to understanding the human condition, women are seen as outside the ‘norm’. This also applies to women’s needs in the workplace. Perez examines how the concepts of unconscious bias, office design and maternity leave as ones which prove to be advantageous for men’s careers.

Now, it is important to note that while Perez’s findings are overwhelmingly supported, it doesn’t mean that systems are set up to discount and disadvantage women intentionally. The invisible realities of women are more likely to be a result of a number of social and institutional forces, such as lack of female representation, GDP calculation and expectations of outdated gender roles.

The book is titled ‘Invisible Women’ because women are just that: invisible. The work that is traditionally considered women’s, such as childcare, elderly care and household domesticity, are assumed to be inherently feminine qualities. As opposed to what it really is: a lot of hard work.

So, what happens when a woman decides not to adhere to these so-called features of femininity? She is likely to be the target of unconscious biases such as backlash and evaluation bias, which are the very things Cognicity’s training works to mitigate.

When a woman behaves in a way that is not prescribed by gender roles, she is likely to be vilified. Countless times we hear of women being labelled as ‘bossy’ when leading, ‘loud’ when speaking her mind, and “aggressive” when standing up for her beliefs. Men, on the other hand, are generally rewarded and respected for these behaviours, as they are typically associated with masculinity. This is the effect of backlash and evaluation bias.

Women deserve to be seen, heard and accounted for. For this reason, Cognicity highly recommends Invisible Women. A link to the book is available here.

Behaviours that contribute to this data gap are sometimes invisible, too. This is why Cognicity has designed evidence-based training and tools which equip individuals and organisations to mitigate the influence of unconscious bias. One such tool is the Unconscious Knowledge Assessment, which provides participants with insights into where their own unconscious blindspots are. Find out more about our services here or contact us.

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