Sunday, October 11, 2020

Review: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

 Rating: 4/5 stars

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men  is a great overview of systemic biases that harm women. It's a little like a cultural version of the more biological Delusions of Gender; it's a well-organized, well-referenced, approachable/conversational synthesis of a broad range of sexist beliefs/sexist structures. Criado Perez did a fantastic job in tracing how small biases or assumptions, power imbalances in who makes decisions, individual choices, etc, translate into much broader social injustices. I also appreciated that she would highlight positive efforts and the benefits they've already brought; it's easy to criticize something, and harder to fix it.

This book was not without it's own biases. European languages were the emphasis of studies like how language shapes perception of gender. Western countries, or charities/NGOs based in western countries, made up nearly all the examples of pro-women initiatives; many of the examples of injustices in western countries were very much "white collar" sexism, while examples of sexism in developing countries were very much centered around sanitation issues. Despite being the home for one seventh of the world's women, China was virtually ignored. Despite housing another seventh of the world's women, discussion of women's issues in India was largely limited to the availability of public toilets - certainly a very, very, very crucial issue... but in contrast, the life of a woman in the UK was sliced and diced in pretty much every way imaginable.

The chapter on politics was, I thought, a little disappointing. The author advocates for women taking up a broader proportion of parliamentary bodies, citing, as far as I can tell, as single study that found that governments with more women pass legislation that promotes education and healthcare. Her summary of this study doesn't describe whether these women are from progressive/left wing parties, but later the author indeed describes how in many countries, the conservative/right wing parties have poorer representation of women. One might imagine that it is not the balance of women, but the overall political persuasion of the government that is the causal factor in both a pro-education/pro-healthcare policy as well as a more gender-balanced governing body. The author translates this into a shakily-founded critique of Bernie Sanders/ advocacy for Hillary Clinton (c. 2016 democratic primary). According to the author, Clinton would, by virtue of her gender, be a better leader for women - with no investigation of the two leaders' policies, nor even a glance at the gender make-up of their aides, assistants and advisors (the people who typically write the legislation proposed by the leaders and interpret the legislation voted on by the leaders). I'm a little bit exhausted of reading liberal feminists working through their 2016 Democratic Primaries grief, but at least this section wasn't as bad as Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. Still, this type of bias makes me question the author's interpretation of some of the fields she discusses that I am less familiar with - and that's a shame!

Despite these flaws, I think it is a book worth recommending and worth reading, and even those familiar with literature on how medicine, technology, law, etc propagate injustice against women will probably come away with something new.

I read the audiobook, which was narrated by the author, and her reading was enjoyable.

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