Author: Caroline Criado Perez
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 🙂