View profile

Invisible Women: wilfully insisting on being female

Invisible Women
Invisible Women: wilfully insisting on being female
By Caroline Criado Perez • Issue #80 • View online
Well hello there my dear GFPs!
First up this week I have a little request for you. This past year I’ve taken a mental health break from thinking about my next book, but as we settle into 2022, I am finding myself thinking about it again. I won’t lie: I’m nervous. The last time I was working directly on the book I suffered a breakdown. So I’m approaching it this time as if it were a skittish horse. Or as if I am a skittish horse. Maybe as if we both, I and the book, are skittish horses, liable to bolt at any sudden movement. So I’m approaching it sideways, never looking at it directly. I’m reaching out, very gently, very cautiously, hoping that if I move slowly enough, maybe The Book, because that’s what it has become in my head, simply won’t notice that I’m trying again. Maybe *I* won’t even notice.
And what I’ve found myself thinking about recently is change: changing minds, and making change happen. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the former ever since I had my own mind changed so radically about feminism back in my mid-20s: what was it about that moment that made it possible for me to have my mind changed? How can I replicate that for other people (writing Invisible Women was part of my answer to that question, but of course it’s not a full answer).
As for the latter, well, that’s what I’ve been in the business of doing for the past decade or so, and it’s the question I’m asked most commonly by readers: how do we take action with the knowledge we now have? How do we make the changes we now know we need?
And so, GFPs, here comes what I’m asking of you. What I’d like to know is: did reading Invisible Women change your mind? Or did it change the mind of someone you know? If so, I want to hear from you! (One woman told me her partner actually APOLOGISED to her after reading IW as he realised that he hadn’t been pulling his weight in the unpaid care work department 😯)
And as well as telling me if your mind was changed, I’d love to know, if you know yourself, how your mind was changed. What was it in the book that convinced you? Do you think there was anything unusual about your personal circumstances that made you more open to having your mind changed? For example did someone you trust give you Invisible Women as a present; were you in an environment where curiosity was rewarded (ie not on twitter 🤪)?
For example, for me, I was at university as a mature student, I was THIRSTY for having my mind opened. The book I read was on my university reading list, so it came on good authority. And the example that sparked my lightbulb moment had personal resonance for me. After analysing my moment of having my mind changed I feel pretty sure I can narrow it down to those 3 key points.
But what were yours? I’m really interested to hear the GFP community’s experiences – can’t wait to see what you have to say!

This week’s newsletter is kindly sponsored by Elvie.
Elvie was born out of the frustration of one woman: Tania Boler. After Tania had her first child, she quickly became fed up with the lack of innovation in tech solutions for women who have been pregnant and/or given birth. She also felt frustrated with the cultural norms that stop women from talking openly about their bodies. And so, in true GFP fashion, she decided to do something about it. That thing was founding Elvie, a company that produces tech that women actually need and want by doing that revolutionary thing: asking women what they want and need. 
Elvie’s product design process always starts by listening to women, finding more about the challenges they face - and then applying world-class design and engineering technology to create better solutions that work with women’s bodies.
Check out their smarter technology for women here.
Gender data gap of the week
Women’s Periods May Be Late After Coronavirus Vaccination, Study Suggests - The New York Times
A study published on Thursday found that women’s menstrual cycles did indeed change following vaccination against the coronavirus. The authors reported that women who were inoculated had slightly longer menstrual cycles after receiving the vaccine than those who were not vaccinated.
Well, well well. It’s almost as if women aren’t crazy and actually can be reliable narrators of their own bodies isn’t it? WHO COULD EVER HAVE PREDICTED SUCH AN UNLIKELY OUTCOME?
“It validates that there is something real here,” said Dr. Taylor, who has heard about irregular cycles from his own patients.
At the same time, he added, the changes seen in the study were not significant and appeared to be transient.
“I want to make sure we dissuade people from those untrue myths out there about fertility effects,” Dr. [Hugh] Taylor [the chair of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine] said. “A cycle or two where periods are thrown off may be annoying, but it’s not going to be harmful in a medical way.”
I’m very glad this research has been done, but, inevitably – this is me after all – I have some quibbles.
So the headline finding is that women’s periods were on average delayed by “almost a day”. But that’s not the full story, because actually many women didn’t experience much of an effect at all (as I didn’t after my first jab) with much of the delay driven by “a small group of 380 vaccinated women who experienced a change of at least two days in their cycle.”
Some women who were vaccinated had cycles that were eight days longer than usual which is considered clinically significant, Dr. Edelman said.
It feels to me that reporting this as an average is therefore not very useful, and it would perhaps be more useful to consider what it was about those women that meant they experienced an effect when so many other women didn’t.
To take me as an example, after my second jab I had a cycle that was 20 days longer than usual; my cycle was not affected after my first jab and so far not by my booster jab either. So what was the difference?
I mentioned in a previous newsletter that it might be worth investigating if the timing of someone receiving a jab in relation to their menstrual cycle might have an effect – and I keep coming back to this. My first and third jab came in the middle of my cycle but my second jab was on the first day of my period, and obviously my experience is a single data point so it doesn’t tell us anything more broadly, but: I can’t help wondering.
We know after all that sex hormones affect the immune system, and that during the first phase of your menstrual cycle you tend to have an increased inflammatory response. We also know that the menstrual cycle does have an impact on certain drug interactions. From Invisible Women:
So far, menstrual-cycle impacts have been found for antipsychotics, antihistamines and antibiotic treatments as well as heart medication. Some antidepressants have been found to affect women differently at different times of their cycle, meaning that dosage may be too high at some points and too low at others. Women are also more likely to experience drug-induced heart-rhythm abnormalities and the risk is highest during the first half of a woman’s cycle. This can, of course, be fatal. (IW, pp.204-5)
It therefore certainly seems at least worth investigating if the timing of the jab could affect your menstrual cycle, and I hope that future research will take this up, because a “cycle or two where periods are thrown off” may well not be “harmful in a medical way” but any woman who is trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid pregnancy – ie nearly all premenopausal women – will have good reason to want to avoid menstrual cycle disruption. If there is a simple way to avoid this disruption that feels like information women deserve to have.
In any case, GFPs, I don’t mind saying I’m feeling pretty vindicated here: as many of you may recall, I’ve been banging this particular data gap drum for a while (and being screamed at and patronised for it). I’m not going to go into the reasons why this link should have been investigated from the start, since I already did that pretty exhaustively here. Instead, I’m going to give the final word to Drs Bianchi and Edelman, respectively the director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the lead author of the paper itself:
“We’re hoping this experience will encourage vaccine manufacturers and clinical trials of therapeutics to ask questions about the menstrual cycle, the same way you’d include other vital signs,” Dr. Bianchi said.
The information is important, just like knowing that one may experience a headache or develop a fever after vaccination, Dr. Edelman said.
Amen, sisters. Amen.
Default male of the week
Well, it turns out that her employer Go North West has a solution to her problem of being too short to see the mirrors in their new buses: she just needs to TRY HARDER to not be so short.
Caroline Criado Perez
“All our other drivers of similar height to Tracey are able to view [the mirrors] safely.” I feel like @gnwbus doesn’t understand how height works. If something is literally out of your line of sight it’s not like you just need to try harder to be taller https://t.co/K93saPp1ur
All those times we couldn’t reach the top shelf / see the screen at the cinema / reach the handles on public transport / safely drive a car: we just needed to stop being so female! Why didn’t we think of that???
Although if I may just introduce a minor quibble, I feel I should point out that similar ≠ the same, and as several people have pointed out on social media, due to differences in torso to leg ratio it is possible to be the same height as someone standing up, but shorter than them sitting down and it’s just about possible that rather than being wilfully short, this is in fact what is going on with Tracey. Just thought, lads
Tracey had her final appeal against being sacked last Tuesday. She will find out whether or not she is in fact being fired for having been designed out of her job by the end of this week. It’s not too late to sign the petition calling on her employer, Go North West, to do the right thing and not fire a woman for, to all intents and purposes, having the audacity to be female while driving, and to instead revisit the design of their buses which are clearly not fit for purpose.
Bonus Default Male
After reading about the Covid manels in last week’s newsletter, GFP Catarina got in touch with this offering from the front page of a “respectable newspaper about business”. The headline, Catarina tells me, says “What to change in our country? Ideas to think about for the economy and society.”
And now, we turn to our expert manel….
🤪
🤪
If you are enjoying this newsletter, consider becoming a member! Members get access to member-only events, a members-only area, plus the warm glow that comes from supporting the work that goes into producing this weekly blast 😍
GFPs fixing it
Here at IW Towers we spend a fair amount of our time ruthlessly mocking researchers who think men represent a default, gender-neutral human; who fail to sex disaggregate their data; or in some other way forget that women make up 50% of the global population. So it’s only fair that when researchers get it right, we ruthlessly, er, praise them or whatever.
And do I have some ruthless praise for this paper that I had the pleasure of reading this week. Yes that’s right: it was actively pleasurable to read this paper, not because of the findings, which are, inevitably, not great news for women, but because of HOW BLOODY NICE (and I’m aware of how tragic that is) it was to read some proper intersectional research. It is just such a relief (again, tragic) when a researcher hasn’t just assumed that what holds for men will hold for women – and in this case, as in so many, it very much doesn’t.
The paper in question is “the first ever analysis of the class and gender composition of the Civil Service” – in part because the last time any data was collected on the class origins of Civil Servants was 1967 hang on just pausing right there to
Anyway, the author, Sam Friedman, makes use of this data to look at how, and more importantly why, working-class women face a “multiplicative earnings penalty in Britain’s elite occupations”. Multiplicative, meaning that the pay gap faced by working-class women isn’t just the class pay gap plus the gender pay gap (which would be an “additive” gap), but is in fact MORE than the gender and class pay gap combined. Which is precisely the point of doing intersectional analysis.
Working-class women, for example, earn on average £7500 a year less than women from professional/managerial backgrounds, who in turn earn £11,500 less than men from professional/managerial backgrounds. And strikingly this “double disadvantage” pay gap is £2000 a year higher than simply adding the gender and class pay gap together. 
Anyway, this specific analysis of the Civil Service indicates that while “the class origins of male and female civil servants are largely similar, there is tentative evidence that women from working-class backgrounds are more under-represented in senior grades.”
Following 104 interviews with top-grade civil servants, the paper’s author, Sam Friedman, concludes that this is likely partly due to differences in how working-class men versus women feel able to identify with a positive working-class identity: men are able to draw on a “working-class boy done good” narrative in a way that enables them to resist the Civil Service’s middle-class norms and even “‘brand’ themselves as senior leaders with a unique perspective.”
Working-class women, however, for whom there is no equivalent aspirational narrative, feel compelled to hide their origins. As a result, even though the numbers of working-class men and women in the Civil Service are fairly similar, men are more likely to subjectively identify as being from a “low socio-economic background.“
Significantly, many women addressed this in spontaneous comparisons they drew with male colleagues. Becca, for example, explained that whilst “even after 20 years” in the Civil Service there wasn’t “a single women” she would “identify as having a working-class background,” she is “surrounded by men of a working-class nature.” This is partly about what is valued in her area of [the Department of Transport] – a certain “macho hands-on knowledge of working on the railways” – but also more generally about the ability of working-class men to “trade” on a certain “salt-of-the-earth authenticity” that “everyone seems to respond well to.” Some male managers from privileged backgrounds, she joked, even try and emulate this, putting on “mockney accents” to appear more ordinary and down to earth. Others like Jackie similarly grappled with this relational sense that men are able to derive greater value from displaying a working-class identity: 
There’s something I think about being a bit laddish working class that is almost quite a nice thing for middle class men to be, like a lads-will-be-lads bantery way of dealing with people. Whereas women, that doesn’t seem to happen…I mean there is no benefit to being a working class girl, like a bit of a rogue, is there? You get on by looking good, by behaving in the right way, and as much as we’d all like to think that’s all moved on, in lots of ways it hasn’t…I mean there are no traits that I can display as a positive demonstration…like there isn’t a working class woman’s banter, is there, that I could kind of bond with other women with 
This results in working-class women coming across as more awkward, less confident, and less visible than their male counterparts and may, Friedman argues, account for their relative lack of seniority in the ranks of the British Civil Service. And the lack of awareness of the gendered nature of class, means it is being incorporated into diversity agendas in a largely gender insensitive way:
This “social mobility” discourse arguably constructs an ideal practitioner unfettered by ascribed class privilege, and in so doing, arguably demands that employees find a way to articulate a meritocratically “worthy” or “deserving” story of career success. This may be further contributing to a partial revaluation of markers of working-class identity, especially those that signal humble origins or agentic achievement against the odds. Here again, though, our findings echo the work of Loveday (2014, 2016) in stressing that it is largely symbols, markers, and expressions of white male working-classness that appear to effectively signal this romantic ascension from humble origins.
Naturally, in a move readers of Invisible Women will recognise, the solutions to these problems as reported by working-class female civil servants tend to be of your classic "fix the women” variety as opposed to fixing a system that does not account for them and therefore, however unintentionally, discriminates against them.
So that’s nice isn’t it.
Product of the week
Well, thank you very much to the GFPs who wrote in with solutions to my jeggings problem, we have a winner! And the prize goes to Acai Outdoorwear whose jeggings I am literally wearing as I type.
ACAI co-founder and Creative Director Kasia Bromley got her start in fashion working at Alexander McQueen where “she was selected to be part of the team that would go on to create the famous Butterfly dress.”
GFPs, I know nothing at all about high fashion but I’ve googled this butterfly dress and it’s an impressive sight, although I would definitely never wear it because I’m pretty sure it has no pockets.
Anyway, Kasia says that she had a blast, but ultimately didn’t want to be designing museum pieces: “I am passionate about designing clothes that are functional, serve a purpose and can be enjoyed by thousands of women”. So she joined a cycling brand where she began designing men’s mountain biking clothes…and this got her thinking about designing activewear for women.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, GFPs?
Anyway she decided to change all that with ACAI, by “providing women with stylish, well fitted and functional outdoor clothing designed with their body in mind”
it GFPs
it GFPs
Anyway, this all being music to my ears I decided to order some of their thermal jeggings and omg, GFPs, did they hit the spot. Super comfy, super warm, super soft and ADEQUATELY POCKETED.
Poppy's like "ok but where are my treats"
Poppy's like "ok but where are my treats"
You may notice that I am sporting a particularly smug expression in this pic – THAT’S BECAUSE I CAN FIT MY PHONE IN THE FRONT POCKET
ZIPPED POCKET THAT FITS MY PHONE ON MY BUM ALERT. say bye bye to toilet bowl incidents
ZIPPED POCKET THAT FITS MY PHONE ON MY BUM ALERT. say bye bye to toilet bowl incidents
Poppy pic of the week
AAAAAAAAHHHH I CANNOT
AAAAAAAAHHHH I CANNOT
I literally can’t follow that from Poppy so, my dear GFPs, I shall leave you here! Until next time, could you just STOP being so female? Goddddddd xoxoxo
Did you enjoy this issue?
Become a member for £3 per month
Don’t miss out on the other issues by Caroline Criado Perez
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.

You can manage your subscription here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue