If you’re a woman, there’s a risk that reading this blog post, or the original article that inspired it, by Caroline Criado Perez in The Guardian, will make your blood pressure rise dangerously. You may even experience nausea, dizziness or a feeling of indigestion. But would you even know that these symptoms can mean you’re having a heart attack?
Probably not, because the world we’re living in has been not been designed to suit us. It’s been built around the default male. If you had a crushing pain in your chest, and pain radiating down your arms, you’d probably assume ‘heart attack.’ But those are NOT the symptoms most women get when they’re having a cardiac episode. We may not get any chest pain at all. Did you know that? No? Then you may well join the 186 women a day who have a heart attack. Many of them don’t know what’s happening to them, so they don’t bother to go to hospital. And then they end up dead, without even knowing what’s hit them.
This bias towards men doesn’t just mean that we only know men’s symptoms of disease and not our own. The car you are driving has been tested solely on male crash test dummies. Seriously. This means that, in a car crash, women are 49 per cent more likely to be seriously injured, and 17 per cent more likely to die, than men. There is a ‘female’ crash test dummy, but it’s actually just a short male dummy, with the physique and muscle conformation of a man, not a woman. And it is only ever tested in the passenger seat. Yes, that’s right. Car manufacturers, when testing car safely, make the assumption that there are NO women drivers on the roads. Anywhere in the world. So when there is a crash, the interior of your car is designed to protect the male anatomy, and the anatomy of short men in the front passenger seat. If you’re a woman, the way you hit the steering wheel, and the way that crushes your chest, will mean you are 17 per cent more likely not to come out of the car alive. I’m not making this up.
A less annoying, though more familiar problem, comes when you try and programme your car, or your phone, or your Alexa or Google device, to respond to your voice. I have spent many a half-hour shouting in vain at my car, trying to get it to ‘pair’ with my phone, so that I can play music while I drive and also use the hands-free during phone calls. Often I give up in frustration. The reason I have to keep trying it is that, every time my husband gets in my car, the system responds to him and reprogrammes everything to fit with his phone. That’s right. It’s been pre-programmed to respond to male voices. It can’t hear me properly. Even though it’s my car, and a very girly vehicle to boot, a little Fiat 500, it’s been configured to suit a man. Any man.
We were at friends for lunch yesterday. They had an Amazon Alexa. Do you like it? I asked the wife. ‘Not much. It’s so hard to get it to respond,’ she shrugged. Just then, her husband said, ‘Alexa, set a timer for the chicken for 20 minutes.’ Alexa snapped to attention and did as she was told. The wife said, ‘Alexa, turn the volume on the music down.’ Nothing. She repeated the command. Nothing. Her husband said the same thing, the volume was instantly muted.
This sort of thing is VERY frustrating. Then phones – designed for male hands, too big for women’s. Office temperature – designed for the male metabolism, five degrees too cold for women. Heights of kitchen shelves, worktops, furniture, desks. Then things like the body armour the police have to wear. It doesn’t fit women.
Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias is going to be published soon. I’ll need to do a lot of deep breathing to conquer my annoyance as I read it, but read it I will.
It’s a maddening, maddening situation. A man’s world.
But the first manufacturer who dreams up a car that is really for women, a voice recognition system that doesn’t give us the cold shoulder, a chair the right height – they are going to be deluged with customers.
In some ways, I feel a bit sorry for Bic, the company that introduced the ‘female’ biro, and was roundly ridiculed by it, not least by the comedian Bridget Christie. Did they have a point after all?
Maybe they did, but curvy pens don’t seem to cut it when there are things out there which kill us through their inadequate design. A pen is unlikely to do that, unless you stab it through your eye. And they did make the bloody things pink. Please, car and chair and life manufacturers, make things for women – just don’t make it all pink.