Invisible Women

By Caroline Criado Perez

Invisible Women: default male buses

#77・

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Invisible Women
Invisible Women: default male buses
By Caroline Criado Perez • Issue #77 • View online
My dear GFPs, this week I’m starting with something a little bit different, a little bit personal, which is scary because, well this is the internet after all. I hope you’ll indulge me. Usual service resumes after the line break – and excuse the extreme tone shift: I had written the bulk of this newsletter much earlier in the week, before things started looking so bleak on the Omicron front. What comes next is nevertheless something that has been brewing for a while, and that I now feel I must say.
GFPs, this week has been hard. Really hard. I’m sure it has for many of you too.
Doom-laden headlines that seem to throw us all the way back to square one, and make us feel like the world as we know it truly is over, forever. That we will always be playing catch-up with this wretched virus. That all the things that make life worth living will be forever on the edge of being snatched away from us. It feels like we are being asked to live without hope – and how can anyone live like that?
Like a lot of people, I really struggled last winter. I went to a very dark and scary place over those long, cold dark months. (Was it really colder and for longer than usual? It felt like it, but perhaps that was just a function of the long lockdown.)
I was unable to work. I struggled a lot with suicidal thoughts. I struggled with panic attacks. I felt scared of my own mind: I felt scared of its black emptiness, and I felt scared of my inability to think, which after all is literally my job.
I went back on antidepressants. I started to claw my way out of this deep dark scary hole I found myself in. The days got longer, warmer. And with the weather, we started unlocking. Most of us did our societal duty and got our vaccines. I stopped feeling so scared. It felt like I was crawling out of the darkness, in tandem with society. As the country unlocked, so I was able to climb another rung up out of the hole. I stopped looking down.
But this week has threatened that recovery, both of society and of my mind. And I feel scared again, so scared. I had no idea how much this misanthropic introvert needed human contact and the ability to move freely until this pandemic took it away from us. And I’m terrified that it’s going to be taken away again.
After too long reading up on the growing threat of Omicron I spent most of Saturday afternoon crying. Crying for the life that I felt was being taken away from me. Crying for the almost two years I feel I have already lost – years which feel like they should have been important creative productive years but which I have instead merely survived. Crying for the future that I am scared I may not get back. Crying out of fear that I will never be able to get back my ability to work, to think, to create properly because my well keeps being sucked dry just by existing in this fearful new world. I can sense that black hole, squatting like a vulture at the edge of my consciousness, and I’m so scared of falling back into it.
And I am someone who is, comparatively speaking, lucky. I may have lost my mental health, but I haven’t lost anyone I love. The members of my family I nursed through Covid both got scarily ill, but both ultimately survived. So you may call me weak for breaking down like this – and well, yes, I admit that I am. I am not resilient. Not anymore.
And so GFPs, I have a heartfelt plea to end on. Please, PLEASE, if you haven’t yet got your vaccine, just go out and get it right now. We have to stop giving this virus the bodies in which it can spread, mutate, and keep taking our freedoms away. And yes I am aware that if you haven’t got the vaccine by now you have probably made an active choice not to get vaccinated based on what you want to put in your own body.
But I am not asking you to do this for yourself. For most of us, the vaccine isn’t for ourselves. It’s for our parents, our grandparents. It’s for the world at large – so it can stop having to periodically grind to a halt.
This isn’t about you: to tell the truth if it were just about me, I wouldn’t be getting my next dose.
I’m young enough that Covid doesn’t pose a particular risk to me. Plus, I’m trying to get pregnant and the second jab threw my cycle out of whack. As a 37-year-old struggling to get pregnant with one miscarriage under her belt, losing those months while your cycle gets back on track is no tiny thing, and trust me, I have railed at the unfairness of trying to get pregnant in the middle of a pandemic where I have to make these kinds of decisions. I have railed at pharmaceutical companies that didn’t bother to investigate menstrual cycle impacts, and a medical community that isn’t interested in finding out if there is an optimal time in her cycle a woman who wants to avoid menstrual cycle irregularities should get jabbed.
So I’m not saying it’s nothing. It is hard. It may even feel unfair. But today I am still going to get my booster because we as a society cannot carry on living like this and that is more important than my ability to have a baby this month. (Also to be clear, all the research shows there is NO long term impact on fertility as my very pregnant double jabbed friend can confirm and pregnant women with covid are at extremely elevated risk of death, so there’s another reason to get the jab if you’re a woman planning to get pregnant any time soon).
You may feel that to ask you to get a vaccine is to impinge on your freedom. To that I say: by refusing to get vaccinated you are impinging on the freedoms of the whole world. It’s time to stop putting yourself first. It’s time to get your vaccine.

MAKES THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS PRESENT 😍
MAKES THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS PRESENT 😍
Gender data gap of the week
GFPs, I regret to inform you that vehicle manufacturers are at it again. In the hot seat this week: Go North West who have approved the order of the buses that are too big for a real-life woman to drive.
The woman in question is Tracey Scholes, who has been driving buses in Manchester for 34 years. When she started at the Queens Road Depot in 1987 she was the only female driver and she received “a very frosty reception.”
GFPs, there were no female toilets.
GFPs be like
GFPs be like
But Tracey was not put off. She stuck it out. She inspired other female drivers to join. And everyone lived happily ever after!
Two years ago though, something changed. Specifically, the wing mirrors, which have been repositioned in such a way that make it impossible for Tracey to use them at the same time as using the pedals.
When Tracey brought this problem to the attention of her bosses, they reassigned her to routes that used buses with the old-style mirrors. Which is fine – except despite this issue having been brought to their attention, THEY CONTINUED TO PHASE IN THE NEW MIRRORS. This meant that Tracey kept turning up to work, even on her new routes, only to find that the bus she was meant to drive was impossible for her to in fact drive.
“[The side mirror is] one of the most important pieces of equipment on the bus. You need it to turn a corner or pull into a bus stop. When you turn you need to watch that mirror to see the angles on the back wheel so you don’t clip a curb,” said Tracey[…]
“For years I could drive everything in the garage. But I was running out of buses I could drive.”
Last month, having literally designed her out of her job, Go North West offered Tracey an alternative role at the company – for fewer hours and less pay. When Tracey turned them down, she was sacked and given 12 months notice.
Tracey, 57, from Heywood, said: “This is heartbreaking. I’m a widow with three children, a house and a mortgage and it’s nearly Christmas.
“I’ve never had to involve the union before, I’ve never had a disciplinary, never been suspended.
NEVERTHELESS SHE IS PERSISTING because she is a badass and no one messes with Tracey. With the help of her union, she has appealed the decision. They have also started a petition and yes signing it is this week’s homework. ✊
it Tracey
it Tracey
Anyway, as you can imagine, all this got me super curious about safety regulations for buses, because while at 5 foot Tracey is slightly shorter than the UK average for women (5 foot 3), she is still taller than the 5th percentile female crash test dummy that is mandated in one out of the five EU car crash regulations. So how is it that a bus could be built in such a way that someone who is taller than the 5th percentile female crash test dummy is designed out of being able to drive it?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s because they didn’t actually use any sex-disaggregated data in the design of this bus.
It has proven quite difficult to find much on human factor regulations for bus design in the UK, but what does seem clear is that, around the world, regulations for buses are far less stringent than they are for cars (and as GFPs know, cars are hardly going to be winning any inclusive design awards any time soon).
In Canada, city buses are not required to undergo any crash testing whatsoever, so that doesn’t really tell us much about ex-inclusive design. This lack of testing also seems to be the case in Europe, according to this 2017 paper which bemoaned the lack of “passive safety regulatory requirements for passengers of urban buses” and then proceeded to try to fill the resulting data gap by running some tests using a 95th percentile male, a 50th percentile male, and 3 child impact dummies. Spot the gendered data gap!
I also found this 2018 report from Transport for London, which confirms that the “regulatory requirements for indirect vision are much less demanding for buses than for HGVs and some blind spots remain.”
TFL will deal with these problems via their new Bus Safety Standard, which will
…incorporate requirements to minimise direct vision obstructions from pillars and improve indirect vision via the use of mirrors, or blind spot information systems and Camera Monitor Systems (CMS) in the future. 
And that interested me because obstruction from a pillar is exactly the problem Tracey faced:
When Tracey tried to drive these buses, she’d have to lean around a pillar on the cab assault screen to see the mirror, meaning her feet lifted off the pedals. (Source)
So it’s good that TFL is going to be addressing this. That said, will they be using sex-disaggregated data to ensure blind spots are eliminated on a sex equal basis? Well, the jury’s out on that, but I can present you with these images from the passenger safety section:
Exhibit A
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit B
So…maybe not then.
Default male of the week
The name of the book, and I swear I am not making this up, is Surrounded By Idiots, by Thomas Erikson. It’s a book about, and again, I am not making this up, effective communication.
And you see, I find that funny because of his claim that he has used the generic masculine for “simplicity.”
Ah, the simplicity gambit. Perhaps my favourite of all the gambits. People who use the generic masculine are always very clear about this, if nothing else.
And no, it’s definitely not for any sexist reasons, I am DEEPLY OFFENDED that you would stoop so low as to impugn the honour of such a fine gentleman who is simply trying to keep things simple FOR YOUR OWN BENEFIT you ingrate. And sure I guess he could have used the generic feminine as is actually the case in most economics papers, but as you can see he chose not to for very good manly reasons and it’s all in the service of simplicity NOT MALE SUPREMACY I REPEAT NOTHING TO SEE HERE.
Hmm, let’s just do a little Invisible Women fact check on that entirely neutral simplicity claim that only an unimaginative idiot would have a problem with, shall we?
In Muriel Rukeyser’s poem ‘Myth’, an old, blind Oedipus asks the Sphinx, ‘Why didn’t I recognize my mother?’ The Sphinx replies that Oedipus answered her question (what walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three in the evening) incorrectly. ‘[Y]ou answered, Man. You didn’t say anything about woman.’ But, replies Oedipus, when you say man, ‘you include women too. Everyone knows that.’
But in fact the Sphinx was right and Oedipus is wrong. When you say man you don’t ‘include women too’, even if everyone does technically ‘know that’. Numerous studies in a variety of languages over the past forty years have consistently found that what is called the ‘generic masculine’ (using words like ‘he’ in a gender-neutral way) is not in fact read generically. It is read overwhelmingly as male.
When the generic masculine is used people are more likely to recall famous men than famous women;21 to estimate a profession as male-dominated; to suggest male candidates for jobs and political appointments. Women are also less likely to apply, and less likely to perform well in interviews, for jobs that are advertised using the generic masculine. In fact the generic masculine is read so overwhelmingly as male that it even overrides otherwise powerful stereotypes, so that professions such as ‘beautician’, which are usually stereotyped female, are suddenly seen as male. It even distorts scientific studies, creating a kind of meta gender data gap: a 2015 paper looking at self-report bias in psychological studies found that the use of the generic masculine in questionnaires affected women’s responses, potentially distorting ‘the meaning of test scores’. The authors concluded that its use ‘may portray unreal differences between women and men, which would not appear in the gender-neutral form or in natural gender language versions of the same questionnaire’.
And yet in the face of decades of evidence that the generic masculine is anything but clear, official language policy in many countries continues to insist that it is purely a formality whose use must continue for the sake of … clarity.  
You will forgive me if I decline Mr Erikson’s further thoughts on effective communication.
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GFPs fixing it
It’s not all bad in Manchester though, as last Wednesday the city got a new leader for the first time in 25 years, who also happens to be the first female leader, and also happens to understand the importance of urban design when it comes to the safety of women and girls.
The first female leader of Manchester city council has pledged to put the safety of women and girls at the heart of her administration, and believes too much urban planning is “male-led”, which has created public spaces that do not feel safe for everyone else.
Bev Craig, who takes office on Wednesday, said she previously had to explain to male colleagues that “as a woman, I’ve been taught if you want to go for a run in winter, it’s probably best to go to the gym. Don’t go near the Fallowfield loop [an off road cycling and walking route that has been plagued by muggings]. And sure as hell don’t go near a park.” (The Guardian)
This makes a pleasant change from Manchester’s previous leader, Sir Richard Leese, who in response to safety concerns around Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens, said: “I just don’t get it. I’m a 68-year-old bloke, I’m the sort of person who is supposed to be petrified of spaces like that and I just am not.”
Well, he’s right that he just doesn’t get it…
Homework
Sign the petition!
Support the 1st female Bus Driver at Queens Road - She deserves better! | Megaphone UK
Poppy pic of the week
That’s it! Until next time, my dear GFPs…and GET YOUR JAB xoxoxo
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Caroline Criado Perez

Keeping up with the gender data gap (and whatever else takes my fancy). Like the Kardashians, but with more feminist rage. Plus, toilet queue of the week.

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