Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Pérez

I saw this book, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Pérez – Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, last year. I wasn’t sure I will enjoy it, because I assumed the author is very much a left-wing feminist and she will not be able to write an unbiased book. I postponed borrowing the book until I’ve resumed commuting to Oxford. As I’m spending a bit over 6 hours going to and back from University, this is a great time to read something light.

I was right about her approach and this is why I took a star off. I took another star off because she could have structured the chapters better. Jumping from US to Africa, back to UK or EU, before mentioning Brazil or India makes it a bit strange to follow. In the end I gave the book 3 stars and I would recommend it, but, with a pinch of salt.

She makes some rather fascinating points, for example the phone being too big. I agree with her. I had the smallest iPhone, SE, and it was not great. Now I have a bigger phone, but I need a phone ring so I can properly hold it, without being afraid I will break it. I was surprised to find out that drugs are not tested on women (neither on female rats) because of hormones and the fact that they influence the outcome. This seems bonkers.

Invisible women by Caroline Criado-Perez

Now I’m going to focus on the things I don’t agree with or which I think they were not properly presented in the book.

She talks about women in politics and, because she did not make a west-end divide or OECD – non-OECD divide, the chapter is all over the place. Her left-wing leaning makes her ignore important things, such as that UK had 2 women as Prime Ministers, including Theresa May when the book was published. But, these two women were not from Labour, so, apparently, it doesn’t count. Furthermore, when Theresa May was in power, Nicola Sturgeon was First Minister of Scotland (she still is) and Arlene Foster (leader of DUP, the party with most seats in Northern Ireland, at that time). Only in Wales was a man as First Minister, Mark Drakeford, so one could argue, men were under-represented at that time (I’m joking, obviously). The Green Party has a woman as a leader, and, after the book was published, a woman was elected as leader of the Lib Dem. One can’t compare UK with a highly religious Arabic country. Also, I don’t think Hillary Clinton lost the election because she is a woman, and I’m saying this after reading What Happened, by her.

Another topic covered in the book is the stupid idea of gender neutral with urinals, which I had to fact check as it seemed too crazy to be true. Is not. She went on to make the argument for segregated toilets, using evidence of women being sexually assaulted on their way to public toilets. I imagine her book is written for women in the developed countries, who can afford the time and have the means to buy/borrow books like this. For us, in UK, there is no need for segregated toilets. As long as the gender neutral toilets have cubicles, I’m all for that. I don’t agree with urinals without a modesty panel anyway, as a father might take his son or daughter to the toilet and he might want to avoid exposing them to that. In my view, a gender neutral toiled, with suitable cubicles (hooks and bins, men could use a wet wipe to freshen up too, imagine that) and urinals with modesty panels (if there is no space for more cubicles) is the best option. I like to think that we are quite civilized.

Unpaid work is a topic she feels strongly about too, as, I quote: “what’s the difference between cooking a meal in the home and producing software in the home?” Well, the answer to this is quite simple. If the software is not something only that household will use, then it has an economic value. Why doing housework is viewed as unpaid work instead of carrying for the family? I don’t understand that. I also don’t understand why feminists don’t promote the idea of gender equality as in, everybody in the house should do their bit to keep it clean. For us, in the west, is more a matter of choice and, if is not, then women should put pressure on the men and children of the house to pull their weight. Unfortunately I’ve seen, in the UK, many couples in which he is assumed not to be able to do anything. I’ve heard mothers talking about their partners’ inability to look after the children. Is that really true? They don’t seem to have any kind of independence to look after their offspring.
I live in a balanced relationship and I do some of the chores, my husband does others, according to our preference and ability. Single people can do everything on their own, with two, there should be less work, not more. If it is so, the problem is with the expectations.
The idea that women should be appreciated for their “unpaid” work is, in my view, detrimental to women empowerment and equality, as it is not a woman’s “job” to take care of the house/children/elderly, but it should be a joint effort.

This brings me to another point, the difference of poverty levels in a household. Is what she said true? I’m wondering and, again, I would stress out that the difference between us in the west and how many options we have compared with the women in the less developed countries is staggering. It feels a bit strange to read about both in the same chapter.

The last thing I’m going to talk about is the use of public transport. She talks about the dangers of public transport, giving examples from all over the world. It’s not great and it should be better. But I think her approach is a bit too harsh. Most men are not sexual predators, waiting for them to be alone in a train or bus with a woman. She mentions the gang rape from 2012, in India. It was horrific, but only because we know exactly about it is a sign that these things are rare. Of course it shouldn’t have happened. I agree that measures should be taken, such as better lighting in bus stops, not only for women, men can be victims of violent assaults too. But, in the way she presents, it seems like we are all a bus-ride away from being murdered or raped and that is wrong. It depicts the men as predators, when, in fact, most are not.

As you see in the picture, I was reading this book in the train. On my way back, at almost midnight, I discovered that I was alone in the train with a man. We’ve chatted a bit about the transport system and, when we got out, he waited for me, so I wouldn’t walk alone in an almost empty rail station. I told him I’m waiting for my husband to pick me up from the station and he looked back to see if I’m safe the minute it took for my husband to get from the car park to the station, as I called him exactly when the train arrived. Most men are protective and decent and the book does not account for that. It is very much a women vs men approach, ignoring that many of us are in loving relations with the men, and that many of our relatives are men. I don’t think segregation is the solution for equality.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Pérez

Details about the picture: I read most of the book while commuting.
My rating: 3/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Chatto & Windus
Year it was published: 2019
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): Politics and Economics
Pages: 411

About the author: Caroline Criado Perez got a degree in English language and literature from the University of Oxford, before studying behavioural and feminist economics at the LSE.
She is a broadcaster and feminist campaigner. She was involved in getting a female historical figure on Bank of England banknotes; getting Twitter to introduce a “report abuse” button on tweets; getting the first statue of a woman, Millicent Fawcett, in Parliament Square. She was named OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2015.
Books by Criado-Pérez include Do it Like a Woman and Invisible Women.
Website & Social Media Links: carolinecriadoperez

4 thoughts on “Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Pérez”

  • I’m a left-wing voter, so the author being on the left wouldn’t bother me at all. Bias is a different issue, of course. I tend to agree with some of the points which left you unconvinced. On the point of toilets, I’m in favour of segregated toilets. Vulnerable women who don’t feel safe using toilets with a man in the next cubicle should be given choice. The same for women who feel embarrassed about changing their pads/tampons in the same space as males. It’s just not psychologically conducive to do it knowing there’s a bloke next door.
    Safety on the public transport is also important. It’s not just the horrid case of rape in India. What about the lesbian couple who were beaten up by the teens recently? I was flashed on the train years ago, when I was a student (on the UK train), it was rather disconcerting. I was also touched on the public transport when I was young and very shy, not once, but on two different occasions, and I still remember how dirty it made me feel. And that’s just me. I imagine many women could share these stories. In an ideal world, yes, it should not be a problem.
    I’m not sure this is a book for me, even if it raises interesting points.

    • Her left wing bias was so strong that she “forgot” that a conservative woman was PM of UK when she was publishing the book. This makes me wonder what other things she didn’t include in the book as it didn’t fit her narrative? It is also why I said the book should be taken with a pinch of salt.
      When it comes to toilets, I don’t see any difference between a male janitor who tops up the soap or a male using the facilities. I don’t see segregation as a good thing in any situation, so that might be my personal bias.
      As for public transport, there was that case in London, one in how many bus-rides taken by women in a month or an year. I only point out that these cases are unusual, not the norm as she tends to present the situation. Just imagine if a woman was scared to share a space with a close relative of yours, like your husband or children, only because they are male. That is what I thought of and it annoyed me the most. I just don’t think women are wilting flowers and men are horrible predators.

  • I enjoyed your review of this book and, given some of the things you mentioned, I’m not sure I would want to read it. I have a feeling the left-leaning author would irritate me too much. (not that I’m a total conservative, since I think of myself as being a centrist, even leaning left, on many issues)

    As for roles for men and women in the household… I believe it doesn’t matter and couples (whether married or not) should do what works best for them. My younger daughter and her husband both work, yet his is mostly from home, allowing him to be the primary care-giver for their baby, eliminating the cost/need for daycare. My son and his girl have a total reversal of what many consider “normal”. She has the high-paying job outside the home, he stays home and does everything else (shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.) Both scenarios work for my kids and their partners.
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    • I have an issue with biased books, regardless if the topic is 21st century feminism or Elizabeth I’s entourage in the 16th century and even if I have the same leaning on that topic. I would rather have facts, presented in context, and being left to think for myself. The book has some interesting things in it, but I was too annoyed by the exaggerations or the data taken out of its context.
      I agree with you with the roles of men and women. It’s great that they found a system that works for them, especially as not everybody would mind their own business and make all sort of comments.
      The main reason I read the book was that I knew I was going to stay for 6 hours on a train, hence I had the time to read. I can’t read for Uni, as I need to take notes and sometimes it can be noisy too, so I can’t concentrate to study, but I can read a book like this one.

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