Can men live without women

Why the world is 'made' for men : "Women are simply forgotten"

Caroline Criado-Perez, 36, comes from Brazil and actually wanted to be an opera singer, but then studied English at Oxford. She lives in London and works as a journalist. Her new book "Invisible Women - How a world dominated by data ignores half the population" (btb Verlag, 15 euros) has now been published in German.

Ms. Criado-Perez, in your book “Invisible Women” you describe the permanent disadvantage of women. We are chancellors, engineers and professors - and formally have long been equal, right?
In many countries around the world, of course, men and women are theoretically equal. But the world in which we live is not neutral, it is made for men.

Because it's made by men?
Take the car, for example, which is actually a gender-neutral means of transport. When the industry wants to test how safe a car is, it works with crash test dummies that are built like an average man. Women are usually smaller, lighter and have less muscle mass. If you want to accelerate and brake in the car, you have to push your seat forward. If there is an accident, the risk of injury is therefore higher for women. The headrest absorbs the impact shock from women's bodies more poorly, while the harness does not take breasts and pregnancy bellies into account.

Carelessness or Ignorance?
Of course there is no sinister men’s body that insidiously wants to decimate women. We are not actively excluded - we are simply forgotten. Our idea of ​​a safe car is based on the assumption that the average man is also the average person. There are fundamental differences between women and men, both biologically and socially. And these differences are not taken into account.

How come
For millennia, women were not allowed to exercise certain professions and were largely excluded from public life. Men made the decisions and only brought in their perspective. This cemented their worldview as a yardstick, and treated their bodies as the norm. And this is not only evident in smartphones that are too big for women's hands or unisex police uniforms that do not fit breasts. This is also shown by the fact that medical studies are carried out with men and it is then assumed that the drugs tested have the same effect on women. There is a huge data gap when it comes to a woman's life and body.

You started a campaign in Great Britain in 2017: You wanted another woman to adorn a banknote in addition to the Queen. Now there is a ten pound note with the picture of Jane Austen on it. You were threatened with murder and rape. They had to leave London for a while.
To experience this hatred was terrible. People were so incredibly angry. Because of a bill! This experience was so fundamental to me that I wanted to share it. Because I myself am the best example of this: You can change your mind! I haven't been a feminist for a long time, thought it was all bullshit. Then I read in a book that even when we use gender-neutral terms, we think of men and never women. When we say football, we mean men's football. That made me stumble. Without knowing it or wanting to, I had made men the norm in my own head - but I'm a woman myself! When I started paying attention to it, I saw this prejudice everywhere.

Are you hoping that your readers will have the same effect?
Clear. A friend of mine who oversees medical studies noticed for the first time that men were always selected as reference points in his Alzheimer's study. Alzheimer's is more common in women.

Do you sometimes find yourself stuck with the old way of thinking?
Naturally! There is an initiative in the UK to encourage women to take up technical professions. Clearly a good idea. Until a few days ago someone said to me: We not only need more women in science - we also need more men who work in kindergarten. That caught me off guard. The same mistake is behind it here: If there is an imbalance, we assume that women have to change and adapt.

Women in management positions attend courses to increase self-confidence and assertiveness. Why do so many believe that a man's level of self-esteem leads to success?
Studies show that women can assess their intelligence and abilities more accurately than men. The male behaviors are thus treated as a gender-neutral standard for the workplace. The question is neglected whether we want an office full of people who overestimate themselves.

The "Financial Times" praised your "cool, fact-based" reasoning. How do you find that?
That hits my goal quite well. Not because I think feminism is emotional per se. But when we try to point out systemic injustices, we often fall back on our individual experiences. I was recently walking home from the subway with my boyfriend at night when two drunk men came towards us. Suddenly I was totally tense. Have they seen me yet? How do I best avoid them? Can I defend myself with my key in an emergency? My friend just kept talking about his day and cracking jokes. While the guys were invisible to him, they started a chain reaction in me. I suddenly thought of stories from friends and colleagues where two harmless men suddenly became dangerous. At such moments I suddenly realize that we live in different worlds. Just walk through the streets at night without worrying at all ...

Difficult to imagine for many women.
Yes. And it is very difficult to convey these experiences. They are seen as an individual case, not in context. With the book, I wanted to move away from that: Instead of telling stories from the perspective of individual women, I use examples to show the common thread: women students around the world are less likely to receive scholarships or mentoring. Female cleaners work with chemicals that have only been tested on men and get sick. After the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, women were not included in the reconstruction program and kitchens were missing in the new apartments. If a bill in the US is mainly supported by women, the states spend less money on it. These are not coincidences. That's a pattern.

What gender we belong to is not the only factor that affects our lives. It also makes a difference whether you go through life as a white or black woman. How did that affect your research?
Very little. Not because these factors are irrelevant, but because much less data is known about them. Again, the standard is a white man. If the data sets need to be broken down, with a little luck they can be broken down into men and women. But there is no finer sorting. I can find out how many female professors there are in the United States. I can find out how many black professors there are. But not like many black professors. Either you are black or you are a woman. And that means that there is an even larger data gap here.

And the solution? Collect even more data?
Yes and no. Not only do we need to collect more data and information, we also need to break it down properly. If women and men are simply packed into a group and examined, important findings are lost. In principle, data are not neutral. They are not an immutable material that we simply find and process in nature. Behind every data set and every statistic is a series of questions: What data do I collect? Which questions do I want to answer with it? Who do I ask about a topic? These are conscious decisions that someone makes. And maybe forgets women in the process.

With the use of apps, smartphones and ever more powerful algorithms, data is playing an increasingly important role.
You have to look at that in a differentiated way. If data is collected about our shoe buying preferences, we may be able to recommend nicer shoes. Here the motivation is clear: something should be sold to us. But what about medical data? We just don't know enough about the female body. Doctors misdiagnose women by the dozen because they learned from male bodies. In the US, publicly funded medical studies have only recently become required to include women. This does not apply to private studies - and 80 percent of the studies are only carried out with men. But our bodies are different - different hormones, different bone structure, and different muscle mass distribution. So drugs work differently and illnesses work differently.

What are the consequences if we train an algorithm without women data?
Researchers at the University of Washington fed an algorithm with a set of images in which women were 33 percent more likely to be at the stove than men. In a new set of images, the algorithm recognized a woman at the stove in 68 percent of the cases, even if a bald man was standing there. The experiment should show that algorithms do not make neutral decisions, but that they reinforce our own prejudices. If an algorithm only sorts pictures for Instagram, that's a bit annoying, but not too bad. But if an algorithm is trained only with male data and therefore does not detect breast cancer, it is fatal.

How can this be prevented?
By having women everywhere. Diversity is not just there to start a nicely illustrated advertising campaign and then pat yourself on the back with satisfaction. Diversity decides whether a product works for everyone. Apple, for example, developed a health app for the iPhone - and forgot that around half of the population gets their period once a month. Of course, that's not on purpose. But a woman would have noticed this design flaw.

Do we need a quota for women?
Absolutely and everywhere. Every study shows that quotas do not favor underqualified women. They only prevent underqualified men from being given preference. A quota forces us to observe that men are overrepresented. But it alone does not get us any further. If there is a quota for women in politics - who is able to fill it? A working class woman who does a bunch of unpaid work in addition to her job? Or a wealthy woman who can afford domestic help?

How can access be improved here?
By taking social roles into account. When we hold town meetings or political events, we have to look very carefully at who is coming. Worldwide, women do 75 percent of so-called “care work”, ie washing, cleaning, cooking, looking after children and older relatives. And that while they often still have paid work. As a result, they have less free time than men. So if mainly men are involved, it is not because women do not care about politics. You are probably busy with another task. Here we have to make an active effort to find out what prevents women from filling certain offices, jobs and roles. And then correct it.

Developing a cell phone just for women is one thing - but how far can these special designs go? What if the cars get unsafe for men?
What if we made the pedals adjustable so that women no longer have to move forward into the danger zone? Or develop a belt that can be adjusted for pregnancy bellies and breasts? That would give us a car that is safe for both men and women. With other products we simply need two versions instead of somehow squeezing women into the “unisex” version. We have to do the same for our political systems, our urban planning and our jobs: actively question many different women about what they need. This is going to be difficult because everyone is so used to putting men in the spotlight. Any concession will feel like a disadvantage. But women have been making concessions to a world that doesn't think of them for millennia. It's really not that difficult to think about other people from time to time.

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