Okay, fundamentally, this is an incredibly difficult book to read. It starts with a smack upside the head with how women are historically dismissed, ignored, not believed, undercounted, gaslit, and written out of history. It continues with the data to support the claims, then examines the various areas and ways women are invisible through out history, today, and likely for a long time.
Despite being roughly half the population, women do not have the representation in government, access to opportunities, power, or resources that men do. Accomplishments by women are often ascribed to men, or dismissed as luck.
Worse, women are considered "inferior men," who should "just be more like men." Instead of recognizing that women are fundamentally different, we are dismissed as "too messy," told to "be less emotional," instructed to "not be a bitch" after asserting ourselves.
Truly, being a woman is a no-win situation.
This book should be required reading for any researcher, hard or soft sciences, that deals even remotely with people. This book should be required reading for EVERY machine learning researcher.
I want you to read this book. Buy one at your bookstore. Check your library. If they don't have a copy, let me know. I will buy you a copy I want for much for you to read this book
At the turn of the twentieth century, award-winning British engineer, physicist and inventor Hertha Ayrton remarked that while errors overall are ‘notoriously hard to kill [. . .] an error that ascribes to a man what was actually the work of a woman has more lives than a cat’. She was right. Textbooks still routinely name Thomas Hunt Morgan as the person who discovered that sex was determined by chromosomes rather than environment, despite the fact that it was Nettie Stevens’ experiments on mealworms that established this – and despite the existence of correspondence between them where Morgan writes to ask Stevens for details of her experiment.75
Starkey’s position rests on the assumption that what takes place in the private realm is unimportant. But is that a fact? The private life of Agnes Huntingdon (born after 1320) is revealed through snippets in public documents from the court cases concerning her two marriages.82 We discover that she was a victim of domestic abuse, and that her first marriage was disputed because her family disapproved of her choice. On the evening of 25 July 1345 she ran away from her second husband after he attacked her; later that night he turned up at her brother’s house with a knife. Is the abuse (and lack of freedom of choice) of a fourteenth-century woman private irrelevancies, or part of the history of female subjugation?
We lack consistent, sex-disaggregated data from every country, but the data we do have makes it clear that women are invariably more likely than men to walk and take public transport.1 In France, two-thirds of public transport passengers are women; in Philadelphia and Chicago in the US, the figure is 64%2 and 62%3 respectively. Meanwhile, men around the world are more likely to drive4 and if a household owns a car, it is the men who dominate access to it5 – even in the feminist utopia that is Sweden.
And the differences don’t stop at the mode of transport: it’s also about why men and women are travelling. Men are most likely to have a fairly simple travel pattern: a twice-daily commute in and out of town. But women’s travel patterns tend to be more complicated. Women do 75% of the world’s unpaid care work and this affects their travel needs.
But women don’t report these behaviours, because who could they report them to? Until the emergence of groups like ‘EverydaySexism’ and ‘Hollaback’, which give women a space in which they can talk about the intimidating-but-just-short-of-criminal behaviours they face in public spaces on a daily basis, public awareness of this behaviour was more or less non-existent. When police in Nottingham started recording misogynistic behaviour (everything from indecent exposure, to groping, to upskirting) as a hate crime (or if the behaviour was not strictly criminal, a hate incident), they found reports shot up – not because men had suddenly got much worse, but because women felt that they would be taken seriously.
The invisibility of the threatening behaviour women face in public is compounded by the reality that men don’t do this to women who are accompanied by other men – who are in any case also much less likely to experience this kind of behaviour.
So men who didn’t do it and didn’t experience it simply didn’t know it was going on. And they all too often dismissed women who told them about it with an airy ‘Well I’ve never seen it.’
The type of security transport agencies install also matters – and there is also a mismatch here. Transit agencies, possibly for cost reasons, vastly prefer technological solutions to hiring security officers. There is little available data on what impact CCTV has on harassment, but certainly repeated studies have found that women are deeply sceptical of its use, vastly preferring the presence of a conductor or security guard (that is, a preventative solution) as opposed to a blinking light in the corner which may or may not be monitored miles away.72 Interestingly, men prefer technological solutions to the presence of guards – perhaps because the types of crime they are more likely to experience are less personally violating.
When planners fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default. The reality is that half the global population has a female body. Half the global population has to deal on a daily basis with the sexualised menace that is visited on that body. The entire global population needs the care that, currently, is mainly carried out, unpaid, by women. These are not niche concerns, and if public spaces are truly to be for everyone, we have to start accounting for the lives of the other half of the world. And, as we’ve seen, this isn’t just a matter of justice: it’s also a matter of simple economics.
Iceland has also been named by The Economist as the best country to be a working woman.6 And while this is of course something to celebrate, there is also reason to take issue with The Economist’s phrasing, because if Iceland’s strike does anything it is surely to expose the term ‘working woman’ as a tautology. There is no such thing as a woman who doesn’t work. There is only a woman who isn’t paid for her work.
And as women have increasingly joined the paid labour force men have not matched this shift with a comparative increase in their unpaid work: women have simply increased their total work time, with numerous studies over the past twenty years finding that women do the majority of unpaid work irrespective of the proportion of household income they bring in.
This observation may go some way to explaining why a Finnish study26 found that single women recovered better from heart attacks than married women – particularly when put alongside a University of Michigan study27 which found that husbands create an extra seven hours of housework a week for women. An Australian study similarly found that housework time is most equal by gender for single men and women; when women start to cohabit, ‘their housework time goes up while men’s goes down, regardless of their employment status’.
In any case, fifty year’s worth of US census data46 has proven that when women join an industry in high numbers, that industry attracts lower pay and loses ‘prestige’,47 suggesting that low-paid work chooses women rather than the other way around.
A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study found that the gender pay gap in hourly wages is substantially higher in countries where women spend a large amount of time on unpaid care compared to men.
Women are also asked to do more undervalued admin work than their male colleagues
and they say yes, because they are penalised for being ‘unlikeable’ if they say no. (This is a problem across a range of workplaces: women, and in particular ethnic minority women, do the ‘housekeeping’ – taking notes, getting the coffee, cleaning up after everyone – in the office as well as at home.33) Women’s ability to publish is also impacted by their being more likely than their male colleagues to get loaded with extra teaching hours,34 and, like ‘honorary’ admin posts, teaching is viewed as less important, less serious, less valuable, than research. And we run into another vicious circle here: women’s teaching load prevents them from publishing enough, which results in more teaching hours, and so on.
The inequity of women being loaded with less valued work is compounded by the system for evaluating this work, because it is itself systematically biased against women.
Unless search committees specifically asked department heads for names of outstanding female candidates, they may not put women forward. Many women who were eventually hired when special efforts were made to specifically find female candidates would not have applied for the job without encouragement. In line with the LSE findings, the paper also found that standards were not lowered during periods when special effort was made to hire women: in fact, if anything, the women that were hired ‘are somewhat more successful than their male peers
Worker health should be a public health priority if only because ‘workers are acting as a canary for society as a whole’. If women’s breast-cancer rates in the plastics industry were documented and recognised, ‘if we cared enough to look at what’s going on in the health of workers that use these substances every day’, it would have a ‘tremendous effect on these substances being allowed to enter into the mainstream commerce’. It would have a ‘tremendous effect on public health’.
But the disparity in the relative female-friendliness of plough versus shifting agriculture is also a result of gendered social roles. Hoeing can be easily started and stopped, meaning that it can be combined with childcare. The same cannot be said for a heavy tool drawn by a powerful animal. Hoeing is also labour intensive, whereas ploughing is capital intensive,10 and women are more likely to have access to time rather than money as a resource. As result, argued Boserup, where the plough was used, men dominated agriculture and this resulted in unequal societies in which men had the power and the privilege.
Despite what academics, NGOs and expatriate technicians seem to think, the problem is not the women. It is the stoves: developers have consistently prioritised technical parameters such as fuel efficiency over the needs of the stove user, frequently leading users to reject them, explains Crewe.49 And although the low adoption rate is a problem going back decades, development agencies have yet to crack the problem,50 for the very simple reason that they still haven’t got the hang of consulting women and then designing a product rather than enforcing a centralised design on them from above.
Speaking to people informally, he said, the ‘standard response’ was that phones were no longer designed for one-handed use. He’s also been told that actually many women opt for larger phones, a trend that was ‘usually attributed to handbags’. And look, handbags are all well and good, but one of the reasons women carry them in the first place is because our clothes lack adequate pockets.
it’s rather odd to claim that phones are designed for women to carry in their handbags when so many passive-tracking apps clearly assume your phone will be either in your hands or in your pockets at all times, rather than sitting in your handbag on your office desk.
What women need, he said, was ‘lengthy training’ – if only women ‘were willing’ to submit to it. Which, sighs Schalk, they just aren’t. Just like the wilful women buying the wrong stoves in Bangladesh, women buying cars are unreasonably expecting voice-recognition software developers to design a product that works for them when it’s obvious that the problem needing fixing is the women themselves. Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
studies have found that women have ‘significantly higher speech intelligibility’,27 perhaps because women tend to produce longer vowel sounds28 and tend to speak slightly more slowly than men.29 Meanwhile, men have ‘higher rates of disfluency, produce words with slightly shorter durations, and use more alternate (‘sloppy’) pronunciations’.30 With all this in mind, voice-recognition technology should, if anything, find it easier to recognise female rather than male voices – and indeed, Tatman writes that she has ‘trained classifiers on speech data from women and they worked just fine, thank you very much
Speech-recognition technology is trained on large databases of voice recordings, called corpora. And these corpora are dominated by recordings of male voices. As far as we can tell, anyway: most don’t provide a sex breakdown on the voices contained in their corpus, which in itself is a data gap of course.
Human eyes use two basic cues to determine depth: ‘motion parallax’ and ‘shape-from-shading’. Motion parallax refers to how an object seems bigger or smaller depending on how close you are to it, while shape-from-shading refers to the way the shading of a point changes as you move. And while 3D VR is pretty good at rendering motion parallax, it still does ‘a terrible job’ of emulating shape-from-shading. This discrepancy creates sex differences in how well VR works, because, as boyd discovered, men are ‘significantly more likely’ to rely on motion parallax for depth perception, while women rely on shape-from-shading. 3D environments are literally sending out information signals that benefit male over female depth perception. The question is: would we be so behind on recreating shape-from-shading if we had been testing 3D VR on equal numbers of men and women from the start?
Medical practice that doesn’t account for female socialisation is a widespread issue in preventative efforts as well. The traditional advice of using condoms to avoid HIV infection is simply not practicable for many women who lack the social power to insist on their use. This also goes for Ebola, which can remain present in semen for up to six months. And although a gel has been developed to address this problem,43 it fails to account for the practice of ‘dry sex’ in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa.44 A gel which also acts as a lubricant will not be acceptable in areas where women de-lubricate their vaginas with herbs in order to indicate that they are chaste. Failing to account for female socialisation can also lead to women living for decades with undiagnosed behavioural disorders. For years we have thought that autism is four times more common in boys than in girls, and that when girls have it, they are more seriously affected.45 But new research suggests that in fact female socialisation may help girls mask their symptoms better than boys and that there are far more girls living with autism than we previously realised.46 This historical failure is partly a result of the criteria for diagnosing autism having been based on data ‘derived almost entirely’ from studies of boys,47 with a 2016 Maltese study concluding that a significant cause of misdiagnosis in girls was ‘a general male-bias in diagnostic methods and clinical expectations
And excluding women does warp the figures. Coyle points to the post-war period up to about the mid-1970s. This ‘now looks like a kind of golden era of productivity growth’, Coyle says, but this was to some extent a chimera. A large aspect of what was actually happening was that women were going out to work, and the things that they used to do in the home – which weren’t counted – were now being substituted by market goods and services. ‘For example buying pre-prepared food from the supermarket rather than making it from scratch at home. Buying clothes rather than making clothes at home.’ Productivity hadn’t actually gone up. It had just shifted, from the invisibility of the feminised private sphere, to the sphere that counts: the male-dominated public sphere.
There is an easy fix to this problem. One study found that, with consistent childcare, mothers are twice as likely to keep their jobs. Another found that ‘government-funded preschool programs could increase the employment rate of mothers by 10 percent’.
Transferring childcare from a mainly unpaid feminised and invisible form of labour to the formal paid workplace is a virtuous circle: an increase of 300,000 more women with children under five working full-time would raise an estimated additional £1.5 billion in tax.
We like to think that the unpaid work women do is just about individual women caring for their individual family members to their own individual benefit. It isn’t. Women’s unpaid work is work that society depends on, and it is work from which society as a whole benefits. When the government cuts public services that we all pay for with our taxes, demand for those services doesn’t suddenly cease. The work is simply transferred onto women, with all the attendant negative impacts on female paid labour-participation rates, and GDP. And so the unpaid work that women do isn’t simply a matter of ‘choice’. It is built into the system we have created – and it could just as easily be built out of it. We just need the will to start collecting the data, and then designing our economy around reality rather than a male-biased confection.
Three of the recommendations in the Women and Equalities report concerned the implementation of quotas, and
it was not surprising that these were rejected: British governments have traditionally been opposed to such measures, seeing them as anti-democratic. But evidence from around the world shows that political gender quotas don’t lead to the monstrous regiment of incompetent women.28 In fact, in line with the LSE study on workplace quotas, studies on political quotas have found that if anything, they ‘increase the competence of the political class in general’. This being the case, gender quotas are nothing more than a corrective to a hidden male bias, and it is the current system that is anti-democratic.
But male politicians don’t have to escape to all-male safe spaces to sideline women. There are a variety of
manoeuvres they can and do employ to undercut their female colleagues in mixed-gender settings. Interrupting is one: ‘females are the more interrupted gender,’ concluded a 2015 study that found that men were on average more than twice as likely to interrupt women as women were to interrupt men.43 During a televised ninety-minute debate in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton fifty-one times, while she interrupted him seventeen times.44And it wasn’t just Trump: journalist Matt Lauer (since sacked after multiple allegations of sexual harassment45) was also found to have interrupted Clinton more often than he interrupted Trump. He also ‘questioned her statements more often’,46 although Clinton was found to be the most honest candidate running in the 2018 election.
Analysis of 182 peace agreements signed between 1989 and 2011 demonstrated that when women are included in peace processes there is a 20% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least two years, and a 35% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least fifteen years.14
This isn’t necessarily a matter of women being better at negotiating: it’s at least in part what they negotiate for. Clare Castillejo, the specialist in governance and rights in fragile states, points out that ‘women frequently bring important issues to the peace-building agenda that male elites tend to overlook’, such as the inclusivity and accessibility of processes and institutions and the importance of local and informal spheres.15 In other words, as ever, the presence of women fills in a data gap – and an important one: recent quantitive data analysis has found ‘compelling evidence’ that countries where women are kept out of positions of power and treated as second-class citizens are less likely to be peaceful.16 In other words: closing the gender data gap really is better for everyone.
We didn’t have firm data on the sex disparity in natural-disaster mortality until 2007, when the first systematic, quantitative analysis was published.34 This examination of the data from 141 countries between 1981 to 2002 revealed that women are considerably more likely to die than men in natural disasters, and that the greater the number of people killed relative to population size, the greater the sex disparity in life expectancy. Significantly, the higher the socio-economic status of women in a country, the lower the sex gap in deaths.
It’s not the disaster that kills them, explains Maureen Fordham. It’s gender – and a society that fails to account for how it restricts women’s lives. Indian men have been found to be more likely to survive earthquakes that hit at night ‘because they would sleep outside and on rooftops during warm nights, a behavior impossible for most women’.35 In Sri Lanka, swimming and tree climbing are ‘predominantly’ taught to men and boys; as a result, when the December 2004 tsunami hit (which killed up to four times as many women as men36) they were better able to survive the floodwaters.37 There is also a social prejudice against women learning to swim in Bangladesh, ‘drastically’ reducing their chances of surviving flooding,38 and this socially created vulnerability is compounded by women not being allowed to leave their home without a male relative.39 As a result, when cyclones hit, women lose precious evacuation time waiting for a male relative to come and take them to a safe place.
They also lose time waiting for a man to come and tell them there’s a cyclone coming in the first place. Cyclone warnings are broadcast in public spaces like the market, or in the mosque, explains Fordham. But women don’t go to these public spaces. ‘They’re at home. So they’re totally reliant on a male coming back to tell them they need to evacuate.’ Many women simply never get the message.