It’s a sobering statistic. Women are 47 per cent more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident. What is more shocking, however, is the reason behind it – quite simply: crash-test dummies are all modelled on the male body.
That is just one of the many disturbing facts and figures that award-winning feminist campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez has uncovered for her latest book, Invisible Women – Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men which this week won the Royal Society Science Book Prize.
Opening with a provocative quote from the legendary Simone de Beauvoir writing in her seminal 1949 work The Second Sex – “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth” – Criado Perez delivers a powerful treatise on the outrageous fact that even now, well in to the 21st century, women are struggling to ‘fit’ into a world that in many ways fails to take their existence into account.
She was prompted to start writing, she says, when she discovered that in the medical field, data on women was not being collected.
“Drugs were not being tested on female humans and as a result women were receiving sub-standard healthcare. I was so shocked that this was happening, that researchers knew this would have a damaging impact but were nevertheless doing it. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about this and that other people didn’t know either, so I felt I had to write about it.”
Initially she had planned to write a feature or a series of features, but as she embarked on further research she discovered more and more evidence of a harmful approach across many sectors.
“This attitude has seeped into so many areas. so I thought ‘this needs to be a book,” she says. “My main aim was to get across how widespread this was, so I had to look at a range of sectors. I wanted to make the case really strongly that this is a systemic problem. It comes out of the way we look at the world, thinking of men as the default human.”
It was not actually the pervasive nature of this way of thinking that she found the most upsetting, she says. “What ended up shocking me most were the excuses people would give – these issues can be fixed fairly easily.
"Once you have got to the stage where you are giving excuses for not including women you are not just forgetting that women exist, you are making a conscious choice that women don’t matter. This is particularly true of the medical field where they are making a conscious decision to save money rather than save lives.”
Never afraid of speaking her mind, Criado Perez regularly puts her head above the parapet when it comes to causes she believes in and is passionate about. She famously campaigned to get a female historical figure on the back of Bank of England banknotes and for her efforts received horrific online harassment and abuse.
She has refused to allow this to curtail her activities, and while she admits it is not easy, she is driven by a strong sense of justice. “It is difficult, but these are things I really care about and I am just incapable of leaving things alone if I feel they are not right. I guess it is a kind of compulsion.”
She mentions that one of her friends recently joked that if she ever wrote her autobiography, the title would have to be ‘Could Not Leave Well Enough Alone’.
And thank goodness she can’t because with this book she has brought to light a searing injustice that needs to be addressed; it is a work that could well end up being as significant this century as de Beauvoir’s was in the last.
“I wrote it because I want things to change. And I have heard from men who have read it and said they have understood for the first time what feminism means; that is so satisfying.”
Caroline Criado Perez is at Ilkley Literature Festival on October 7.