This book presents stories, data, research, and case studies showing how women are left out of the data that drives our world, resulting in products, policies, and environments suited to men.
Content Warnings: sexual assault, violence against women
When I read nonfiction, I normally read memoirs, so this is quite a different book for me, but an acquaintance of mine recommended it to me.
The book revolves around the fact that women are consistently left out of studies and research, whether it is intentional or not, that is used to represent all people. Each section highlights a different part of life, from transportation and work to health and wellness, where women are consistently left out of data meant to represent humans.
As I was reading, I was kind of fascinated at first, but then I just got angrier and sadder. Some examples, like how offices are set to the optimal temperature for men, so women are usually cold, are just mildly obnoxious, but others highlight situations where women are dying because the data we have represents men, not people. One situation that showed this was heart attacks. The major symptoms of heart attacks are chest pain, pain in the left arm, and shortness of breath. However, these are just the typical symptoms for men, so when a woman has a heart attack and receives medical care, it takes longer for doctors to identify it (if they even do), wasting time because the symptoms are “abnormal”. Even now, I was just Googling heart attack symptoms and this is what I found: “Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms than men”. Why should an entire half of the population have “atypical” symptoms?
There was also a lot of emphasis on how women should be a part of making decisions that effect them. One kind of funny, yet also really sad, example was of somewhere that had to rebuild due to a natural disaster (I can’t remember the specifics). There were many house rebuilt, yet none of them had kitchens, because in whatever culture this example was in, only women cooked, but no women were included on the team of people designing these houses.
Some other topics this book talked about that I thought were interesting were how women do much more of the unpaid work (childcare, housework, cooking, ect.) and health hazards to women (including safety gear that doesn’t fit properly and lack of studies on chemicals primarily women are exposed to).
The author makes a point to say that these gaps in the data are not caused by sexism. I had a hard time agreeing with this statement. I can’t see a reason why women being left out of data that affects everyone isn’t sexist. Maybe it isn’t intentional, though there are many cases where a bias is highlighted, then promptly ignored, but I don’t think that means it isn’t wrong.
One thing that bothered me about this book was that there wasn’t any sort of content warning. The last section of the book is about sexual assault and it was honestly very hard for me to get through. It’s not that hearing about fictional sexual assault is easy, but hearing specific events that really happened is so much harder. One specific example was about the Superdome sheltering people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Although there are no “confirmed” cases of sexual assault, the people who were there had a different story. I wished I had known about this going in because it took me by surprise and went into more detail than I felt like I could handle.
The author occasionally mentions how the gender bias intersects with race, but there wasn’t a huge focus on it. She did use examples from all over the globe though, so it wasn’t centered on one part of the world.
I am definitely grateful that I read this book. Being a woman, none of this was particularly surprising, I just needed someone to say it in order for me to realize that it’s been in the back of my mind all along. I went through a wide range of emotions reading this book and I think it is definitely broad enough that anyone could read it without prior knowledge.