Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men

10/24/2019 11:55:00 PM

This intensively researched book exposes a male-biased world and successfully argues that the lack of “big data” on women is equivalent to rendering half of the world’s population invisible

), Caroline Criado Perez analyzes how gender politics are affected and enhanced by gaps in big data and argues powerfully that human history is comprised of a pervasive gender data gap that effectively ‘silences’ and erases women’s accomplishments, experiences, needs and daily lives.

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This intelligent, accessible and witty book, which is Ms. Perez’s second, was recently chosen as the winner of the prestigiousRoyal Society Insight Investment science book prizefor 2019. As we the readers explore the subtle and ubiquitous nature of male-biased big data, we couldn’t find a more capable guide: Ms. Perez is a writer, broadcaster and an award-winning feminist campaigner with a number of victories to her name, including getting a woman on British banknotes, forcing Twitter to revise how it deals with abuse on its platform, and winning the battle to get a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett placed in London’s Parliament Square.

In her book, Ms. Perez contends that defining women solely by their relationships to men – as wives, daughters, sisters, or mothers – allows men to view women either as a subtype of men, or as an alien ‘Other’, rather than as autonomous human beings with their own dreams, goals, desires, and specific needs. As she provocatively notes at the beginning of the book: “[I]f ‘our intellect, interests, emotions, and basic social life – all are evolutionary products of the success of hunting adaptation’, what does that mean for women’s humanity? If human evolution is driven by men, are women even human?” (p. 2.)

Despite the fact that it is nearly impossible to read this book without experiencing a flood of potent emotions ranging from frustration to tooth-gnashing outrage, Ms. Perez is not seeking to bash male-dominated society. She freely admits she cannot prove

whythe gender gap exists. Instead, she is documenting a long-standing and seemingly inescapable problem that effectively renders half of the world’s population invisible, and she is hoping that the evidence that she has amassed in her book will convince the public that this data gap exists and that it has real and profound effects on women’s lives.

Ms. Perez illustrates her argument with a wide variety of examples – and uses what little data wedohave – that touch on every aspect of womens’ lives, ranging from the workplace, academic and other careers, medical research, to home life, and in daily and public life, all of which systematically neglect, ignore or completely overlook women. This contrasts with the abundance of big data on men, which are recognized as the universal norm. As a result, the fact that women can have needs that are different from those of men has not occurred to those who are creating these social structures.

Ms. Perez’s argument that big data gaps support the perception of women as ‘The Other’, and this means that the truths you arrive at are, at best, only half-truths. The author’s arguments also extend beyond the needs of women: she also discusses how the intersections of race, gender identity, disability and other minority identities are amplified by the lack of big data, which creates an even larger cumulative detrimental effect.

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Several chapters were particularly deeply concerning: the chapters about medical research (“The Drugs Don’t Work”), politics (“Women’s Rights Are Human Rights”), international development (“Who Will Rebuild?”), disaster relief (“It’s Not The Disaster That Kills You”), and “The Plough Hypothesis” were especially illuminating – and damning – whilst the chapter about the meritocracy myth and how sexism plays out in academia and elsewhere was so familiar and so well-documented that it had me absolutely seething with rage, for example:

“Brilliance bias is in no small part a result of a data gap: we have written so many female geniuses out of history, they just don’t come to mind as easily. The result is when Read more: Forbes »

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