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Invisible Women - some nice new roads

Invisible Women
Invisible Women - some nice new roads
By Caroline Criado Perez • Issue #17 • View online
Hello GFPs, it’s me, your wayward pen pal. I’ll be honest, I’ve been having a bit of a shit time, mentally, so this is going to be short and probably not very sweet. On the other hand, if they’re all this short and not sweet maybe I will find time to do more of them..! Swings and roundabouts and all that. Anyway on with the show…

Default Male of the Week
I'll admit, I am a bit gutted that Boris Johnson clearly hasn't been reading his Invisible Women.
I'll admit, I am a bit gutted that Boris Johnson clearly hasn't been reading his Invisible Women.
Never mind that this recession has hit women’s jobs and female-dominated industries so hard that it is already being dubbed a “she-cession.” Never mind that the childcare sector (without which female employment will take an even greater hit) is on the brink of collapse. Never mind that research consistently shows investment in social infrastructure yields far greater economic returns that investment in construction (see IW pp.248-253). No, what we really need is some nice new roads and another hard hat photo opp.
PPE of the week
Frustratingly, and despite our best efforts, it seems like the PPE issue isn’t going away anytime soon, so rather than it occupying every newsletter’s default male section, I thought it could have its own special home for now – at least until toilet queue of the week returns and I know we are all super excited for that.
Anyway, this week’s PPE of the week comes in the shape of the news, announced today, that the govt is pledging 15bn to purchase PPE for frontline staff. Which would be great except as we have seen through multiple issues of this newsletter, PPE does not fit women. It does not fit women because it wasn’t designed for women. And this matters because, for the hundredth time for those at the back: women make up the majority of our health and care workforce. And £15bn spent on PPE that doesn’t protect them is £15bn wasted.
Look, I was as pissed off about Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown as anyone, but in what world is that a story that deserves weeks of blanket coverage, while the huge public health scandal that is PPE that doesn’t fit the majority of healthcare workers merits one or two standalone opinion columns?
Since I tweeted this, a couple of journalists have got in touch asking me if I want to write an opinion piece, or wanting to interview me. As if one more opinion column on this is going to do the trick. It won’t.
What is needed is for journalists to hold the people who have the power to change this to account. What is needed is for journalists who get to ask the questions at press conferences, or on high profile broadcast interviews to ASK THE QUESTIONS.
Ask the ministers who are responsible for sourcing adequate protective equipment why they aren’t doing it. Ask manufacturers what datasets and specs they are using to design their PPE. Ask NHS supply chain managers what they are going to do about their PPE failure rate and are they even tracking it by sex (no, they aren’t on the whole, I know because I FOId them).
Gender data gap of the week
Another day, another AI is found – to the great surprise of its creators – to be racist and misogynistic. This week it was the turn of researchers at MIT to be SHOCKED, I tell you, SHOCKED, that their image-labelling AI thinks women in bikinis are “whores” and described both monkeys and black people the “N-word”. I’m telling you, this is unprecedented.
When is the tech world going to wake up and smell the lack of data? Let’s hope it does soon because in the meantime they are leading us, blindfolded, into a dystopia where racism and misogyny are literally coded in. And remember, AIs don’t simply reflect our biases back at us, they amplify them:
In [a 2017 study of algorithms trained on commonly-used image datasets], pictures of cooking [in the dataset] were over 33% more likely to involve women than men, but algorithms trained on this dataset connected pictures of kitchens with women 68% of the time. The paper also found that the higher the original bias, the stronger the amplification effect, which per- haps explains how the algorithm came to label a photo of a portly balding man standing in front of a stove as female. Kitchen > male pattern baldness.  (IW, p.166)
Let’s also hope that most tech companies don’t follow the example of google, which decided to “fix” their algorithmic bias by removing labels altogether. No label, no problem, right? Wrong. The judgments are still there, they are just hidden now, making them even harder to solve than they were before.
Bits & Bobs
I wrote a very short thought about political writing for the New Statesman
And I reviewed a BRILLIANT and ENRAGING book for The Observer. For anyone who threw Invisible Women against the wall in a rage (and secretly liked it).
That’s it, chums! I will be back, hopefully in a slightly better mood. Almost certainly in a better mood, actually, because I am now cackling my way through Caitlin Moran’s More Than a Woman, which is taking longer than it should because I have to stop and read out every other paragraph to the AB. He’s a lucky man. xoxox GFPs. Until next time
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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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