“We need to tear down as much as possible… redesign is revolution,” says Lucy Mangan.
For me, it’s never being able to reach and close car boots. Having to throw my entire weight behind doors of public buildings to open them. Not being able to find a work/travel bag that is not already as heavy as I am, even before I start to fill it with the things I need. I had thought I was wrong, that I didn’t fit the world. It turns out the world doesn’t fit me.
Invisible Women is a new book by Caroline Criado Perez, the feminist activist who first came to prominence in 2013 campaigning for a female figure to be depicted on the £10 note. It’s about how data and design are biased towards men and how most of the norms around which the world turns are in fact only normal for men.
It’s basically the world’s most revelatory Did You Know… collection. Did you know that cars are mostly tested using crash test dummies of male dimensions, with deleterious effects on outcomes on real women in real crashes? Did you know that most things that require manual handling, from bricks to smartphones, have been tailored to fit male hands? And – believe it or not – standard medicine doses and symptoms are based almost entirely on male bodies not female ones, which often respond quite otherwise.
A woman having a heart attack, for instance, shows almost entirely different signs from a man – she is more likely to have stomach pain than ‘standard’ chest and left-arm pain. Quite important info really, but we – and that includes doctors – are hardly aware of it.
The list goes on. Research about relocating bus stops opposite busy shops to increase women’s safety at night. Or the pay-off of putting benefits into the woman’s or mother’s account in a family rather than ‘the main earner’ to which most services default. It is about as righteous-anger-inducing as you would expect.
What you might not expect – and certainly I did not – is that although red rage may descend, a strange burden you might not even realise you have been carrying lifts. It’s a burden of guilt. It is only when you see the evidence gathered together in one place that you come to realise how much of that sense that dogs more or less all of us – that sense that we are not, cannot, be right, that we must be doing something wrong to feel as unfitted for the world as we do – can be attributed to the fact that most of it was literally designed without us in mind.
What else, you begin to think, might not be my fault? What else might I need not feel guilty about? How much of this generalised, free-floating anxiety and embarrassment could I get shot of? How much of all life’s shit might not be down to Me but Them?
I love this new feeling, this sense of liberation and possibility. I sit at the office desk that I am no longer too short for – I am simply not the Average Man. It is great to know that physical constructs are mutable – Criado Perez points out that, as with bricks, there is no reason that bags of cement could not be made in sizes easily liftable by women to open up the building industry more. But it is even better to realise that the mental constructs they support are changeable too.
All these things, all this time, and we never noticed. We just took on that burden and message of failure. We need to tear down as much as possible and, with our new, suitably sized tools and materials, start to rethink and rebuild as better suits us. Redesign is revolution.