Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez review by Denise Hobart

Written by: Denise Hobart

Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Criado Perez’s ‘Invisible Women’ is one of the few books that I have raced through, banged on about and bought for other people in 2019.  Sheffield Hallam University Chancellor, Helena Kennedy, is quoted on the back cover, ‘Press this into the hands of everyone you know.  It is utterly brilliant’.  She’s not wrong.

We’re not the only ones inspired by Criado Perez’s book and campaigning work this year.  I don’t think I have seen the Octagon this full of people for something that doesn’t involve a spot of bad dancing.  The event had to be relocated to the larger venue to cope with the demand for tickets.  There is clearly an appetite, largely female admittedly, to hear this award-winning campaigner talk about her book that challenges a world ‘systematically ignoring half the population’ in favour of the average man.

Criado Perez is an engaging, witty, warm and knowledgeable speaker.  Her conversation is frank, funny and focused, touching on the lack of data in some of the areas of design, work and health to affect women’s lives, that are explored in more detail in the book:  car sickness, seat belts & accident fatality rates; toilet provision; HIV drugs – all prescribed drugs actually; misdirected assertiveness training nonsense; shared parental leave; Alexa, algorithms, health apps; more toilets; politics; periods.  That’s a barely scratching the surface list of the topics touched on tonight that reaffirm we are far behind where we should be as a society, in terms of representing, understanding and providing for the basic needs of more than half of the population.  And ignoring this gap in data is routinely putting lives at risk.

Key messages from the event to challenge the default male world we live in:

  • look at where you are in the world and what you can challenge
  • if you are collecting data, include women and disaggregate the data
  • the world is not homogeneous!

All pretty obvious messages you would think.  As Criado Perez asked herself when she first became aware of the extent of data bias, ‘How do we not know this already?’.  As well as ‘That’s obvious, why didn’t I see that before?’ for the impacts staring me in the face my whole life, that was my response to this book.  ‘Invisible Women’ meticulously brings together fascinating, frustrating and frightening examples of how women are failed and put at risk by data bias in an interesting and accessible way.  It urges us to challenge and close the gap, and above all was truly inspiring.

I’d taken along my copy of Invisible Women for the signing.  The queue was huge.  I estimated that if even a fraction of the people waiting had as much to talk about as I had, I’d be lucky to reach the front in an hour.  I tootled off for a chat over a pint with some friends instead.  Inevitably, we ended up talking about toilets.


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