This is my first review of the New Year and I wanted to talk about my last read of 2019, which also happens to be one I think is very important and eye opening, and something we all as citizens of the world should have knowledge about.
I have been very interested to read this book since the first time I read the author’s article in the Guardian about the kind of gender data gap that exists in our world and how it affects daily life of women. But I kept putting it off because I knew it would only make me mad and sad. But I finally got my copy from the library and it made me feel everything I expected it to.
To start off with the kind of book this is, it’s possible a casual reader will find it dry. It’s very scientific and research oriented, chock full of information about studies and loads of statistics that are important to understand the gravity of the issues that the author is trying to discuss. This can also come across as a little repetitive because ultimately, whatever the topic the author is talking about in a chapter, the conclusion is kinda inevitable.
But it’s the overall impact of these statistics and how it feels to read it as a woman that’s impactful even though I’m not a very numbers oriented person. From something as small as the average setting of the air conditioning in a workplace to highly dangerous like misdiagnosis of life threatening heart attacks, the idea that everything is designed and researched keeping an average man in mind is appalling but also not surprising. Right from how we grew up referring to our species as “mankind”, a man has always been the default and we the women, the aberration. And with men at the helm of every power structure since centuries, it’s no wonder that the whole world is designed in a way to make them safe and comfortable, and any noise made by women or institutions asking for more gender specific research and policy are dismissed because women, their bodies, their unpaid labor – everything about them is too different, too atypical. And it just boils my blood that the differences of half of the population are considered atypical and too complicated to be factored into making life impacting decisions, as if only one half of the world deserves to be represented.
The author covers a wide range of topics like how the massive amount of unpaid labor by women goes unnoticed and isn’t considered when making any policy decisions regarding social service budgets or infrastructure planning that would benefit their myriad tasks; how much of the industrial or agricultural equipment is made in a way that exacerbates the chance of injury and long term issues for women; how most of the drugs and treatments that we use have never even been tested properly to see how differently they would affect a woman or are they even effective on a female body; how every field of employment including tech and academia is structured in a way that benefits men who can work along hours but never takes into account the massive amounts of additional responsibilities women have to fulfill; how cars are never crash tested with female dummies, particularly drivers which leads to a much higher risk of injury and death. And the list just goes on.
But what scares me the most is the rise of using big data and algorithms for making any important decisions in the current day and age. And as men are still the ones in power and the majority in development of these projects, and data actually pertaining to women doesn’t exist – any algorithms developed only exacerbate their existing biases and will harm women in even more substantial ways as the usage of technology keeps increasing. It’s hardly surprising that even algorithms and AI seem to associate the terms doctor, genius and scientist with men while women are confined to nurse, nanny and secretary.
To conclude, this is a very informative book and I think everyone who is interested to know how our world works and on what basis decisions are made everyday, should give this a try. It’s not a binge reading kinda book, so it maybe easy to handle in smaller doses. And if you are a woman reading it, I promise it’ll make you very very angry and exasperated and maybe even scared. And while the author keeps mentioning that many of the issues discussed can be mitigated by gathering more gender specific data, none of what is actually happening gave me hope that it’s possible in the near future. So many of the problems could really be solved if the decision makers just listen to women, but are they really ready to?