#NotTheWellcomePrize Review: Invisible Women

April 28, 2020 Uncategorized 12 ★★★★

#NotTheWellcomePrize Review: Invisible WomenTitle: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
Author: Caroline Criado Perez
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads


I only heard about The Wellcome Prize and their mission to highlight books that ” have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness” within the last year or two. This year, I was looking forward to following along, so when the prize went on hiatus, I was thrilled to hear Rebecca of Bookish Beck would be hosting a Not the Wellcome Prize blog tour to tide us over. The books we’re reviewing will comprise the longlist for this year’s #NotTheWellcomePrize. A shortlist will be chosen by May 4th and after that, you can contribute a vote to selection of the winner on twitter, so be sure to follow along and look out for the voting announcement!

For this tour, I’ve chosen to read and review Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Pérez. It felt timely, as I’ve seen her name in the news a lot recently, highlighting gender-based issues related to Covid-19. For example, I’ve seen her cited in a NY Times article about how the US isn’t bothering to track the gender of patients with Covid-19. She’s also mentioned in The Guardian for her revelation of how difficult it is for women to get PPE that fits, even though most people in jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus are women.

Despite these recent, health-related articles, I wasn’t initially sure that Invisible Women would have strong enough health-related themes to make a good candidate for our longlist. Something shocking I learned from this book was how ubiquitous gender-related data disparities are. They touch every aspect of our lives. The book is, therefore, quite wide-ranging in the subjects it tackles. Medical themes jumped out at strongly, however, for two reasons.

First, it turns out that most aspects of our lives impact our health, so in many cases when data about women isn’t collected or is ignored, the result is that women suffer more injuries or receive sub-optimal health care. Second, I found the gender-related data gaps in science and healthcare the most shocking. As a scientist, I believe we should be trying to make life better for everyone. We should pursue that goal with passion and curiosity. To decide that handling biological differences between men and women would just be too difficult strikes me as a shocking breach of trust by people in these professions.

Given that this book describes an incredibly pervasive problem with society, one that influences everything from urban planning to health and medicine, I’d call this book a must-read. There are few books that have changed my perspective on the world the way this one did. I almost couldn’t believe how pervasive gender-related data gaps are in the world. The author did an incredible job documenting these disparities and showing their impact. For example, consider a playground that is designed such that girls are less likely to use it than boys. This may not seem like the most important gender disparity, but it turns out that it impacts the likelihood that these girls will have osteoporosis when they’re older. Shockingly easy interventions that would prevent long-term health consequences are prevalent throughout this book.

I have to admit that while I admire this book and would love for you to read it, it was not the easiest of reading experiences. I found myself angrier and more depressed than usual for the three days that I was reading this. The problems the author documents are so overwhelming and she offered no specific suggestions for solutions individuals could pursue. Unfortunately, I think the only solution to such a systemic problem is for more of us to learn about it, so that when opportunities present themselves to make a difference, we’re armed with the knowledge needed to push for change. While this was not a fun read, it was an incredibly important one and I’d love to see it make our shortlist.

Check out the other contenders being reviewed at the stops listed in the graphic below. Then I’ll share a reminder when it’s time for us to vote 🙂

12 Responses to “#NotTheWellcomePrize Review: Invisible Women”

  1. Briana @ Pages Unbound

    That’s a good point about pretty much everything circling back to health. Even the case study about the one town that plowed sidewalks instead of leaving it to individuals (AKA leaving sidewalks snowy and icy because tons of people don’t actually shovel…). It resulted in fewer accidents and hospitalizations, so a health connection!

    I am such a huge fan of this book and so glad to see it continue getting attention. I’ve also seen the author a lot in the news relating to PPE issues, and it’s disappointing how many people are insisting PPE fits women just fine. They’re…saying it doesn’t. I assume the people wearing it ought to know.
    Briana @ Pages Unbound recently posted…The Memory Keeper by Jennifer CamicciaMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      Yes, exactly with the snow thing! Reading your review of this reminded me I wanted to read it and was part of why I thought of it for this tour. I’m also happy to see it getting more attention.

      I don’t understand how people can tell women PPE fits them just fine if they say it doesn’t. It blows my mind, it really does.

  2. Rebecca Foster

    Thank you so much for your review, Katie! I agree that this book has such an important message. A first step in making society more equal is simply to make more people aware of the many aspects of the problem. I hope drawing more attention to this book can be a part of that. It has already won the 2019 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Books Prize and is on the longlist for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing – it represents a really interesting meeting of science and politics (as well as social science).
    Rebecca Foster recently posted…Library Checkout: April 2020My Profile

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks for including me in this tour! I’ve been meaning to read Invisible Women for a long time and I’m glad this gave me the impetus to finally pick it up. And it’s been a lot of fun seeing everyone else’s reviews too!

  3. Krysta @ Pages Unbound

    This book is sooo important! I’ve read it twice already and I know I need to read it again. What saddens me, however, is that I see mostly women reading and discussing it. When I bring up issues from the book, men dismiss it (and me). It makes me feel like we need women in more authority roles if change is ever going to happen. You can show people actual data and they don’t believe it because it makes them uncomfortable/they don’t see it as a real issue because it doesn’t seem to affect them.
    Krysta @ Pages Unbound recently posted…The Memory Keeper by Jennifer CamicciaMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      Agreed! I also tend to think things will only change once women have the power to make those changes, both because of who cares to make changes and because of who is aware of the problems.

  4. Shay

    The truly astonishing thing about this book was how it touched everything, big and small. Even the joke about how snow removal can’t be sexist turned out to be so very wrong. So I am not remotely surprised to find this extending to COVID-19 and impacting women who are essential workers or first responders. The only thing I think would have really improved this book for me would have been for her to address or at least acknowledge that trans women must be even more impacted by this failure to collect data.
    Shay recently posted…The Golden SpruceMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true! I found it pretty depressing while reading this to realize how much sexism or just people ignoring the differing needs of women impacts every aspect of our lives.

      I did appreciate that the author started the book by mentioning whether she was going to be talking about sex or gender and why, since I felt like that at least acknowledged the existence of trans women, but you’re that it would have been worth highlighting that data gaps might impact trans women more.

  5. Rennie

    This one sounds incredible and so important. I got a good introduction to the health and medical-related themes in The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness and the breadth of this data bias is just mind-blowing and so frustrating. I really need to get to it, your review makes it sound like it covers even more than I was expecting!

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