How well read is the average American

interview

Status: 11/19/2020 3:01 p.m.

"We have to make women visible" - that is the appeal of the British author Caroline Criado-Perez. She received the NDR Kultur Sachbuchpreis for her work "Invisible Women".

Ms. Criado-Perez that women are disadvantaged in the 21st century is not surprising - and yet I, too, was amazed by much of what you brought together in your book about the data gap that ignores women and even harms them. How did you get the idea to write the book "Invisible Women" in the first place - was there a trigger for it?

Criado-Perez: This thesis had been developing in my head for a while - after I noticed that men are treated as the standard, as the norm. As if men - without realizing it - were somehow a gender-neutral version of humanity. I have found that many things are designed with men in mind - and that this puts women at a disadvantage. And then I read about the medical findings on heart attacks: women do not have the same symptoms as men - and that's why doctors diagnose heart attacks less often than men. This realization was shocking to me - because it is one thing to see discrimination in politics; but it is the other to state that the female body is not studied in medicine in the same way as the male. It was shocking that I - a feminist activist very knowledgeable about discrimination - didn't know this before! I thought everyone should know that, it should be on the front page of every newspaper.

You once said drastically: "The data gap makes women poorer, sicker and kills them." Can you give an example?

Criado-Perez: The classic example is the design of cars. For a long time, the only crash test dummy in existence that was used was based on the body shape of the average American man. Obviously, this body is not the same as the average woman, American or any other. I find it fascinating that someone thinks that the average man is the average person. As a result, cars are designed to be more dangerous for women in accidents. For example, they usually don't sit in the standard sitting position - the standard here is again the man - but further forward. This means that a woman has a higher risk of injury from head-on collisions. The straps are also not adapted to women's breasts, not even heavily pregnant women. As a result of all of these things, women are 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured in an accident and 17 percent more likely to die than men.

While reading I felt that I sometimes nodded my head and sometimes shook my head - because I found it so striking and also frustrating that women everywhere are left behind. How did it come to this?

Criado-Perez: It has simply always been that way - and that's because men were in charge for a very long time. It is not that men hate women and therefore do things to harm them. No, it's a question of perspective: men have designed products in the way that made sense to them - from their male point of view. For a long time, there were almost only male bodies, male voices and male perspectives in power. And unfortunately this is still reflected in the way we collect and analyze data. This data does not adequately account for how women are and what they do - that is, we still do not collect data in a way that gives us accurate results.

But why is it that women are still underrepresented in many studies, in research and in the development of products? Is it because we women ourselves don't pay enough attention to our needs? Or is it because of the men’s lack of awareness of the problem - or even because of their ignorance?

Criado-Perez: It's a mixture of everything: men don't realize the problem - and they don't realize that we have little or no data about women and that we collect them. It might sound boring and academic, but we finally need to establish rules about how we collect data and how we analyze it. Somebody has to decide, and that is always a subjective decision. We think that data just exists, that it is objective, neutral. But that's not the case - data is also a product that we create. And people make subjective decisions to collect and evaluate data. And if you look at all of the examples of women being forgotten in the data, it shows that we don't hear the voices of women enough.

The NDR Kultur Sachbuchpreis is not the first prize that your book has been awarded: You have already won the Royal Society Science Book Prize and the Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award in Great Britain - and were number 1 on the non-fiction bestseller list of the "Sunday Times". Were you surprised by the response to your topic and your book?

Criado-Perez: Yes, I was surprised. I expected that some people would really like the book, but also that many would hate it. I was very nervous while writing it - because I was thinking about how people would react if they wanted to discredit my work. So I tried to make my argument as watertight as possible and to check all the facts several times. With my book I also wanted to reach people who may not understand feminism or who do not agree with it. And I wanted them not to feel on the defensive - because that's what we often deal with when debating feminist issues: that some think they are being accused of being a bad person. I wanted to make it clear that this is not my concern - but rather to draw attention to errors in the system. And that's why I'm happy that the book was perceived that way - that I reveal the weaknesses of our system.

The interview was conducted Stephanie Pieper.

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NDR culture | The conversation | 11/21/2020 | 6:00 p.m.