Invisible Women

By Caroline Criado Perez

Invisible Women: Has Anyone Informed Jordan Peterson?

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Invisible Women
Invisible Women: Has Anyone Informed Jordan Peterson?
By Caroline Criado Perez • Issue #86 • View online
Well HELLO THERE, my dear GFPs! Happy almost International Women’s Day! Happy International Women’s MONTH! (ikr can you believe we get a whole MONTH now, does Jordan Peterson know??)
The theme for this year’s IWD is, I am reliably informed, #BreaktheBias, and this is, in my humble opinion, preferable to last year’s #ChoosetoChallenge which tbqh made me die a bit inside – honestly who comes up with these? Is there a committee? Why are we not on it?? I demand a GFP representative!
Anyway, I guess we’re ok with Break the Bias as a theme because what, if not breaking the bias, is a GFP even FOR, although I’m not sure about how much impact crossing arms into an X (the recommended accompanying action) in an instagram post will have on the state of the data gap.
Do I sound jaded? I suppose I am a bit. After a decade of seeing hashtag activism achieve little more than moral licensing I am all out of patience for words and poses that cost nothing and deliver as little. As Mariah Carey sang in an alternate universe, “All I Want For IWD Are Some Tangible Goals And The Detailed, Evidence-Based, And, Crucially, Well-Funded Plans To Realise Them” 🎶
Instant number one right there – someone get Mariah’s agent on the phone 🥸
Anyway, thankfully there ARE some women doing just that – the lovely A[merican]B[eefcake] sent me this article the other day of TIME Magazine’s 12 women of the year – GFPs may recognise a certain Tracy Chou, not only from Invisible Women The Book p.110, but also from Invisible Women The Newsletter and Invisible Women The YouTube Channel, phew!
In other #IWD-related news, my UK publisher has just got in touch to inform me that Invisible Women is on Kindle Deal throughout March at the OUTRAGEOUSLY low price of £1.99 AND that members of Audible UK can get the audiobook of Invisible Women (read by me!) for the ALSO OUTRAGEOUSLY low price of £1.99 ONLY ON International Women’s Day itself, ie TOMORROW, Tuesday 8th March. So if there’s anyone left in your life who hasn’t yet read it (and the tangible, evidence-based goals therein 😎) now is a pretty good time for them to invest in a copy 🙌

Our sponsor for March is Human Solutions. Human Solutions manages the world’s largest database of anthropometric human body scans and they are joining us throughout International Women’s Month, in support of the GFP mission of creating a world that is better designed for women 🙌
This database is made up of over 100,000 3D scanned bodies of all shapes and sizes, and from different locations around the world. This anthropometric data is used to create digital avatars which can be placed in vehicles from everyday cars to bicycles, buses and space rockets, to ensure that critical controls can be viewed and accessed by all operators. The biometric data is used to model the ergonomics of female bus drivers and fighter pilots to make sure that they can reach the pedals, controls and mirrors — someone should tell Go North West Buses…
Human Solutions got started in the automotive industry, but their avatars are now used across industrial and fashion design to ensure critical equipment, PPE, clothing, footwear and glasses are correctly sized for every body. Take a look at some of the ways they are slowly making sure women are visible in the design of all products and are never excluded from pursuing their chosen professions by virtue of structural bias in design.
Gender data gap of the week
When I was researching Invisible Women, there was one area of research that consistently came top of the class in the competitive field of forgetting-women-exist-ology: sport science. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t make my sport science data gap rant fit anywhere in the book, which I was very sad about at the time, because I really did want to say “wtaf, sport science???”
Thankfully, Anna Kessel, the editor of The Telegraph‘s then-new women’s sport pages came to my rescue when about a month after Invisible Women was published she commissioned me to write about how sport science was failing women. So I dug out my “wtaf sport science” notes and let rip:
In 2014, the European Journal of Sport Science published a paper entitled: “Where are all the female participants in Sports and Exercise Medicine research?” Well, wherever they are, they certainly are not in the research, the study concluded. A 2016 review found the same problem: 27 per cent of studies were all-male, while for the 73 per cent of studies that involved at least some women, “some” was the operative word.
The March 2016 issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences had a “dismal” female participation rate of only 12 per cent.
This leaves researchers who do take an interest in women complaining of a “limited understanding” and an “inadequate number of published studies”. There is “much less information” on female bodies and “several fundamental questions remain unanswered”. A perennial cry of the sports scientist when it comes to women is: “We just don’t know.”
A random sampling of things we do not know includes sex differences in how muscles tire; if women’s muscles respond to protein in the same way as men’s; if women’s metabolisms respond to exercise in the same way; how women respond to concussions (“even though women suffer concussions at higher rates than men and take longer to recover in comparable sports”); if women regulate their body temperature differently; the female ventilatory response to exercise.
And so on – I would just go ahead and read the whole article, I think it’s open-access and I included a number of quite gob-smacking data gaps that should set you up all nice and ragey and ready for IWD.
Anyway, as a result of my general “wtaf sport science” position, I’m always interested in hearing how those kids are getting on, and so I was delighted to see a new paper that came out last week looking at the data gap specifically in “evidence-based performance supplements.” Evidence-based for WHOM, you ask, because you are excellent and wise GFPs, and the answer is: not really women.
The authors of this study identified ran a PubMed search for papers (published up to September 2021) that studied “the six performance supplements included in Category A of the Australian Institute of Sport Sports Supplement Framework […]described as “supplements with strong scientific [default male] evidence for use in specific situations in sport using evidence-based protocols.”
They then sorted through the results, excluding duplicates or papers that otherwise didn’t fit their criteria (one of the reasons for exclusion was a "failure to explicitly state the sex or male: female ratio of the participants,” which tickled me because that, last time I checked, is most papers), ultimately identifying 1826 studies, of which women made up just 23% of the participants.
59-77% of papers studied only men versus 0-8% that studied only women. Only 34% of studies included “at least one woman,” which is much lower than the figure found in the 2016 review despite the bar of “one woman” being laughably low. (It’s worth noting here that the 2016 review was for a much wider range of topics and that when I was originally researching this I did find that performance-related studies seemed to be consistently worse for female representation).
Figure 2. (A) The total number of male and female participants included across all studies, separated per supplement, (B) the total number of studies including at least one male or female participant, per supplement, and (C) histogram displaying the total number of studies published in exclusively male or female participants between 1975 and 2021 across all performance supplements.
Figure 2. (A) The total number of male and female participants included across all studies, separated per supplement, (B) the total number of studies including at least one male or female participant, per supplement, and (C) histogram displaying the total number of studies published in exclusively male or female participants between 1975 and 2021 across all performance supplements.
But GFPs, it gets worse. Most of the studies that went to the trouble of including women did not go to the further trouble of sex disaggregating or sex analysing their data. In fact, only 0-2% of studies were specifically designed to compare sex-based responses, to which the researchers had the following to say:
Such protocols may be acceptable for themes where the absence of differing responses between men and women has been established. However, as this has not been sufficiently investigated in the performance supplement literature, a mixed-sex cohort could be considered inappropriate
Figure 3. (A) The proportion of studies published in each population, separated by performance supplement, (B) the median number of male and female participants per study, and (C) total number of male and female participants, according to the population studied. Male versus female (MvF).
Figure 3. (A) The proportion of studies published in each population, separated by performance supplement, (B) the median number of male and female participants per study, and (C) total number of male and female participants, according to the population studied. Male versus female (MvF).
Meanwhile, “99.5% of studies including female participants involved an inadequate methodological design around the categorisation and standardisation of menstrual status,” with only 14% of studies including women bothering to even try.
And the kicker? Despite attention having been drawn to this data gap for almost a decade now,
There is no evidence that the attention drawn to this inequity in research participation has yet translated to changes in practice, since the proportion of female-only studies published over the previous 5 and 10 years (0–7% and 0–8%, respectively) is similar to the overall time period.
This all sucks. As the authors note,
Multiple biological and phenotypical sex differences influence biomechanics, metabolism, hydration, thermoregulation, fatigue and, ultimately, sports performance. […] It is therefore problematic to apply conclusions from male-based studies directly to women without considering the potential influences of sexual dimorphisms or event-specific demands.
Plus, research into high-level athletes shows that “80–90% are supplement users, with women reporting a slightly higher prevalence of use when sex-specific patterns are reported,” [my emphasis] which is a glorious little data gap all of its own.
Happy International [Invisible] Women’s Day!!!!
Default male of the week
If you’ve read Invisible Women you may remember that I opened Chapter Five “One-Size-Fits-Men” by talking about how the “standard” piano keyboard discriminates against female pianists who, by virtue of being female, have on average smaller hands than male pianists.
This one-size-fits-men approach to supposedly gender-neutral products is disadvantaging women. The average female handspan is between seven and eight inches, which makes the standard forty-eight-inch keyboard something of a challenge. Octaves on a standard keyboard are 7.4 inches wide, and one study found that this keyboard disadvantages 87% of adult female pianists. Meanwhile, a 2015 study which compared the handspan of 473 adult pianists to their ‘level of acclaim’ found that all twelve of the pianists considered to be of international renown had spans of 8.8 inches or above. Of the two women who made it into this exalted group, one had a handspan of nine inches and the other had a handspan of 9.5 inches.
The research (such as it is because, you know, default male studies) also strongly indicates that this issue contributes to the disproportionate rate of injury suffered by female piano players.
Anyway it turns out that pianos are not the only musical instrument with a Reference Man problem that both injures women and prevents them from playing to the fullest extent of their abilities. This week, we’re looking (with a side-eye) at ORGANS, or more specifically, the benches that are provided to play on them.
My attention was drawn to this issue by this tweet from GFP Sue:
I mean you can see why she thought of me can’t you.
Anyway I obviously had a look at the Society of Women Organist’s Adjustable Bench Campaign. Many organ venues, it turns out “have a bench of a fixed height, suitable for the average man [5'9”] but too high for the average woman [5'3"]“.
SWO recently conducted a survey on the subject of organ benches, out of 486 responses from women and men in the UK key findings were that:​
66% of respondents do not have an adjustable bench at their usual practice venue.
Almost half of survey respondents have had their performance compromised by the lack of an adjustable bench.
Their demands are simple: a) to advance and facilitate low-cost solutions for replacing or altering a fixed-height bench and b) ultimately, to ensure that every organ in a public venue suits people of all heights – as SWO point out, this issue disproportionately affects women, but it is also a huge issue for young people.
Anyway, I was curious to hear from female organists, so I turned to twitter where obviously all the female organists hang out, and they confirmed that this is, indeed, a problem:
Annie Lydford
@CCriadoPerez Yes! It sounds silly, but when the bench is too high you have to sort of perch on the front to reach the pedals, meaning your whole balance is off and you end up compensating with really bad posture/making back pain more likely. I love the idea of this campaign.
Anita Böhm
@CCriadoPerez My cousin is not on Twitter but an organist and when I asked her about it she said the issue with not reaching the pedals is very real and annoying. With modern organs and some of the restored ones there sometimes is an option to adjust the height of the bench. But…
Anita Böhm
@CCriadoPerez …especiall when it comes to restored organs there are cases where the bench remains just as it is since historical reasons seem to be more important than practical usability reasons in the present time. So they accept shorter people will not be able to play.
Soizic Pénicaud
@CCriadoPerez Can concur! Also a very big handicap as a child (I couldn’t learn to play on the pedalboard until I was tall enough) -so it would actually benefit *all players*
Anna Lapwood
@CCriadoPerez Yes!! This is a huge problem-it's impossible to play well on a bench that is too high as you end up perched on the edge of a bench, tilting forwards. Playing anything with a complex pedal part is ruled out unless you want to risk face-planting the organ console.
Annie Lydford
@annalapwood @CCriadoPerez There’s also something psychologically tricky about not feeling centred or properly balanced if you’re performing something difficult or have any sort of performing anxiety… like you’re “off” somehow - hard to explain, but no fun!
Fionagh Bennet
@CCriadoPerez @annalapwood One female organist now following you! I have never, ever, encountered an adjustable bench anywhere. It would be bliss. Several churches/venues I play in do have fairly low benches, which is a relief. Also 5'3'', just!
And so on. This seems like such a no brainer – it’s ridiculous to have a single height bench given the wide disparity in height between human beings. So, let’s fix it!
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Event of the Week
On the subject of fixing it, a GFP got in touch last week to let me know about an event she’s organising that she thought might be of interest to me and the wider GFP community – and I happen to agree!
The event is on women and road safety, and it’s made up of two 90 minute webinars, one each on the 8th and 9th of March. Day 1 looks at how women’s needs are being considered in the formulation of road safety policies. Day 2 will focus on crash test dummies and data biases and features a name that will be familiar to readers of Invisible Women: Astrid Linder. Here’s a quick reminder in case you’ve forgotten:
In 2018, Astrid Linder, research director of traffic safety at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, presented a paper at the Road Safety on Five Continents Conference in South Korea in which she ran through EU regulatory crash-test requirements. In the EU, there are five tests a car must pass before being allowed on the market: one safety-belt test, two frontal-collision tests, and two lateral-collision tests. In no test is an anthropometrically correct female crash-test dummy required. The seat-belt test, one of the frontal-collision tests, and both lateral-collision tests all specify that a fiftieth-percentile male dummy should be used. When Linder looked at regulatory tests worldwide, she found that while there are ‘several local differences’, regulatory tests are still using the fiftieth-percentile male ‘to represent the whole adult population’. (IW,p.188)
Linder is your classic GFP, because she’s not only calling the problem out, she’s also going ahead and fixing it:
Astrid Linder has been working on what she says will be the first crash-test dummy to accurately represent female bodies. Currently, it’s just a prototype, but she is calling on the EU to make testing on anthropometrically correct female crash-test dummies a legal requirement. In fact, Linder argues that this technically already is a legal requirement. Article 8 of the legally binding Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union reads, ‘In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women.’ Clearly, women being 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash is one hell of an inequality to be overlooking. (IW, p.190-1)
Anyway, with Linder on board this promises to be an event that is definitely not just about wordy blah-blah hand-wavey b*ll*cks and well worth checking out. You’ll need to register in advance, and you can do so here.
Poppy pic of the week
Like her human, Popsy migrates from sun-spot to sun-spot around the house (excuse the grubby carpet we haven't been able to afford changing it since we moved in)
Like her human, Popsy migrates from sun-spot to sun-spot around the house (excuse the grubby carpet we haven't been able to afford changing it since we moved in)
That’s it! Until next time, my dear GFPs 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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