Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez chronicles in detail the many ways our world is designed by, and for, men.

A simple illustration: have you ever been to the loo during interval at the theatre? Inevitably, men simply wander in for instant relief, while women queue for ages across the foyer. Why is this? In their wisdom, designers and architects allocate equal toilet floor space to men and women. What could be fairer than that? Except…

  • many more men can relieve themselves in their ‘half’ of the space because of urinals
  • men are much less likely to be
    • caring for young children
    • caring for elderly parents
    • pregnant
    • suffering from bladder infections
    • menstruating

…all of which means a fair allocation would give much more space to women. Can you think of a public venue that does this?

In every sphere, from the world of work to home life to health, women and their needs are frequently overlooked, often with serious real-world consequences. Medications are often tested only or primarily on men; car crash-test dummies have been modelled on men; PPE (personal protective equipment) is designed chiefly for men. Women have worse outcomes following heart surgery, in part because when they go home there’s no-one to look after them, and they pick up where they left off: doing most of the housework, child-minding and caring for elderly relatives.

All of this should not be surprising. The default human, after all, is male. And not just humans: if you’re driving along and see a goanna, does anyone in the car ever say, “Did you see her?”. A 2007 international study of 25,439 children’s TV characters found that only 13% of non-human characters were female.

It seems this has been the case for a long time:

This male-default bias goes back at least to the ancient Greeks, who kicked off the trend of seeing the female body as a ‘mutilated male’ body (thanks, Aristotle). The female “was the male ‘turned outside in’. Ovaries were female testicles (they were not given their own name until the seventeenth century) and the uterus was the female scrotum. The reason they were inside the body rather than dropped out (as in typical humans) is because of a female deficiency in ‘vital heat’. The male body was an ideal women failed to live up to.

Invisible Women is packed with example after example of how men are the default and data are simply not gathered (or if gathered, unheeded) when it comes to half the human race.

What is perhaps surprising is that this male-default, male-designed world is not even good for men.