Rebekah (She Seeks Nonfiction) invites you to celebrate Nonfiction November. In Week 4, the prompt is:
- Dates: 11/20-11/24
- Title: Worldview Shapers
- Description: One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books have impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Is there one book that made you rethink everything? Do you think there is a book that should be required reading for everyone?
My Worldview Shaper this week is a book which firmly comes under the ‘appalling’ category. Not the book of course, but the thing that it reveals. I make no apology for banging on about this work because I firmly believe that everyone should read it, while at the same time not being convinced that enough people have. Google says over half a million copies sold. Well that’s great but not enough.
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
Caroline Criado Perez
I have reviewed this book before.
The epigram Perez chose for this book is a quote from Simone 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.
I always knew that as a women – especially one born in the 1950s – I was a second class citizen but I had vague notions that, hey it was the 60s, you know, Beatles, Stones etc., with better educational and job opportunities, the pill, Germaine Greer, feminisim. Everything would be cool. But it wasn’t. It still isn’t. I have to keep reminding myself that this book was written as recently as 2019!
Most of recorded human history is one big data gap. Starting with the theory of Man the Hunter, chroniclers of the past have left little space for women’s role in the evolution of humanity, whether cultural or biological. Instead the lives of men have been taken to represent those overall.
Thus we have ‘mankind’. The idea that humanity is male unless otherwise stated. It’s not just a matter of language although language doesn’t help. The conditioning starts from day one, and has done for centuries.
This is a book full of statistics which need to be known – by everyone.
- ‘draw-a-scientist’ data shows that the drawings are invariably male.
- In London women are three times more likely to take a child to school than a man. This is 2019.
- Women still have less toilet provision in cinemas, theatres and public buildings than men. Yes folks – this is 2019! And no ‘gender neutral’ doesn’t work for anyone – except men – because women er.. cannot use urinals so just changing the signage might be cheap but its cheap in all senses of the word and doesn’t work!
- Unfortunately there is evidence, Perez tells us, that using gender neutral language does nothing to alleviate the problems which are so deeply embedded in our psyche by centuries of conditioning.
- For example, a study from human-computer interaction papers published in 2014 found much use of gender neutral terms like researcher, designer, participant, person, etc. Great! But the catch was that human beings, when asked to consider who or what was depicted by these terms, were most likely to interpret a male as depicted
- Research published in 2018 by Boston Consulting Group says Female business owners receive less than half the level of investment their male counterparts get, but produce more than twice the revenue.
There’s a lot more of this scary, depressing stuff. But the worst and scariest aspect of all this – for women – is health and pharmaceuticals testing.
When I reviewed Invisible Women I quoted:
Accurate data is vital for research and appropriate solutions. Yet accurate data is not available if half the human race is excluded from its gathering simply because no-one has thought to consider whether one size really does fit all. If you base your research on skewed data, you get a skewed result. This is obvious, perhaps, when it is baldly stated but not at all obvious in the accepted course of knowledge production which has been going on for millennia.
This term ‘gender data gap’ is something I barely understood before reading Perez; now I understand it, it is frighteningly omniscient, and it is costing female lives.
As we move into goodness knows what sort of AI dominated future, the prejudices we have seen replicated time and time again will be perpetuated because that is how. ‘mankind’ thinks. There are already complaints about police facial recognition software not being sufficiently colour blind and no doubt women as servants will be right there in the mix.
Next week is the final week of Nonfiction November when we will be talking about the books that we have added to our TBR as a result of this month’s challenge.