Invisible Women

By Caroline Criado Perez

Invisible Women: The Hermunculus


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Invisible Women
Invisible Women: The Hermunculus
By Caroline Criado Perez • Issue #90 • View online
Helloooo GFPs! And welcome to your default female oasis in a default male world. I am your host, CCP The Generally Quite Annoyed. This week I am annoyed by data gaps in the genitals (read on!) and sexist AI, but cheered by men queuing for the toilet (truly, one of life’s greatest pleasures, second only to pockets) and confused by some gardening trousers. Lots to get through – let’s dive right in…

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
Where Are Genitals Represented in the Brain? - Scientific American
This week I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, shared with me by GFP Dina. It’s all about the historical search for genitals in the brain and yes by genitals we mean the pen1s because why would anyone care about atypical lady genitals???
(incidentally, while we had MRId the full internal structure of the p3nis in the 1970s, no one bothered to do the same for the clitoris until the 90s, and in fact it wasn’t until TWO THOUSAND AND NINE that we did a 3-D sonograph of a stimulated clitoris.)
Anyway I enjoyed reading this article for several reasons, not least the 1950s picture of a “homonculus” wrapped around the brain’s “somatosensory cortex”, showing which bits of the brain process touch for specific body parts…
This picture appeared in Wilder Penfield’s 1950s publication The cerebral cortex of man, whose title which kind of reminded me of Sally Slocum. You remember Slocum, I quoted her sassing the Man-the-Hunter anthro-bros in the introduction to Invisible Women:
The extent to which male-unless-otherwise-indicated permeates our thinking may seem less surprising when you realise that it is also embedded in one of the most basic building blocks of society: language itself. Indeed, when Slocum criticised male bias in anthropology, she pointed out that this bias appeared ‘not only in the ways in which the scanty data are interpreted, but in the very language used’. The word ‘man’, she wrote, ‘is used in such an ambiguous fashion that it is impossible to decide whether it refers to males or to the human species in general’. This collapse in meaning led Slocum to suspect that ‘in the minds of many anthropologists, ‘man’, supposedly meaning the human species, is actually exactly synonymous with ‘males’. (IW, p.4)
Anyway I have similar suspicions about Wilder Penfield’s use of “man”, given that not only was the clitoris ignored, so were the vulva and the breasts. This may well be because out of the 400 people involved in Penfield’s study, only 9 were women, which is a totally normal and fine representation of the default male race.
Anyway, the main issue scientists seemed to take with Penfield’s little dude was not the rather large female-shaped data gap in his drawings, but rather that they did not like where he placed the pen1s: according to Penfield’s findings, it did not follow the logic of the rest of the body, which basically went in order from head to toe, but weirdly appeared…under the foot???
Brave scientists decided to take on this myth and in 2005, armed with a toothbrush (to stimulate the pen1s OBVS, gawd how do you do it actually don’t answer that) and an fMRI machine, a group of researchers did it: they found that the pen1s (I’ve really said that too many times now) is more where you’d expect, in the middle of the body. Since then, their findings have confirmed by a bunch of other studies.
“Notably absent from this conversation,” says the article, “were distinguishing features of female anatomy.”
“Penfield really didn’t study very many women, and so the assumption has always been that what is the case for men will be the case for women,” says Gillian Einstein, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, who coined the term hermunculus. 
Again, this is unprecedented.
Anyway, this data gap is being filled, hurrah!
A paper published this year commented that the “precise location of the female genital representation field in the primary somatosensory cortex is still a matter of contention,” noting that
The only study using a focal sensory-tactile nonarousing stimulation paradigm in the form of soft brushing of the penile shaft was limited to men and does not inform about female genital field location (Kell et al., 2005). Indeed, no study to date has functionally mapped the female genital field in humans using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-compatible focal sensory-tactile nonarousing stimulation paradigm, contrasting neural response to sensory stimulation of the clitoris against sensory stimulation of a control region.
So, a lot to cover then. And they do!
This paper has confirmed the area of the brain responsible for processing clitoral stimulation (not under the feet) and also found that “the thickness of the relevant area of the cortex correlated with how often the women in the study had sex in the past year,” which is pretty wild. The researchers think this finding could be helpful in the treatment of women who have experienced sexual trauma.
Default male of the week
Banger for you this week, GFPs, in the shape of the GPT-3 AI system. This system, which has been trained on squillions of texts, has learned to write like a human. It is meant to be an improvement on its predecessor, GPT-2, which, according to a paper I read this week, “has shown to generate unpleasant stereotypical text when prompted with context containing certain races such as African-Americans.” As I said, like a human.
Anyway GPT-3 is meant to be better, a claim which writer Jenny Nicholson decided to test a few weeks back. GFPs, it’s pretty sexist. (Like a human.)
I recommend reading her post for the full details, I’m just going to highlight the one thing that made me laugh (the bold is Jenny’s input, the rest of the sentence was all the work of GPT-3):
So…like a human.
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Toilet queue of the week
Oh yes, it’s BACK baby! Did ya miss it?? And do we have a corker for you this week (although no picture sadly, soz)
Nicolle Anderson
There are two unisex toilets at the awards ceremony I am at. There are 200 people here so there is a significant queue. Many men are walking to the front of the queue to see if there’s a men’s toilet. Welcome to our world! 🚻 #invisiblewomen @CCriadoPerez
I think we can all agree that the hilarity of imagining the disappointment on said men’s faces when they discovered the true horror of their position: relegated to QUEUING LIKE A WOMAN 😱, more than makes the lack of the picture worth it. And also, unisex toilets, I take it all back: perhaps by making this a men’s problem too you ARE the best way to get the powers that be to fix the queue for the ladies…
I just don’t like sharing with men though 😬 sorry, male GFPs, but my experience of the cleanliness and general smelliness of men’s/unisex versus women-only toilets speaks for itself 😷 and YES some women are gross / some men are paragons of cleanliness blah blah blah, but we’re talking averages here, because averages make up the state of the toilet.
Product of the week
First of all, this made me laugh quite a lot. But then, I googled the company in question and…I really quite want a pair of their gardening trousers??? So conflicted…
Poppy pic of the week
me writing this newsletter with my incredibly unhelpful companion who truly believes my lap belongs to her
me writing this newsletter with my incredibly unhelpful companion who truly believes my lap belongs to her
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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