Happy International Women’s Day!

We’ve got equality now, right? We have equal pay legislation and anti-discrimination legislation. We can vote, own property and run our own businesses. And hey, it’s not like we’re in Saudi Arabia, where women have only just been allowed to drive. So why do we still need International Women’s Day?

I went to see Caroline Criado-Perez talk about her new book, Invisible Women, as part of the WOW festival. In case her name isn’t familiar, Caroline Criado-Perez is the women who campaigned to put Jane Austen on the £10 note, and received significant abuse and threats as a result of this. She’s also campaigned to have a statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square as there were no other statues of women there (and women only account for 2.7% of statues in the UK generally). She recounted that someone trolled her to complain that ‘Women are everywhere nowadays!’. Well, duh.

Anyway – the talk was amazing! As a committed non-feminist (in her early life), Caroline explained how her research as part of her degree got her looking at data and she slowly uncovered significant evidence that women are under-represented in research and data and that this is a very bad thing for a number of reasons.

For example, car safety features are not tested with women in mind, and by this I mean they don’t use a female crash test dummy in the driving seat (only in the passenger seat because, of course, women won’t be driving.) This means that whilst women are less likely to be in a car accident, they are more likely to be seriously injured.

And when you start talking about medical data it gets even worse. Studies to test the safety and effectiveness of drugs routinely don’t include women, because apparently the hormones and differences in our bodies make it too difficult. But these are drugs that are still prescribed to women and we know that male and female cells respond differently to drugs. One example given was that micro-dosing for LSD, often used to treat depression, is only tested on men, despite the fact that more women are likely to be prescribed it.

Diagnosis is also an issue. If you think about heart attacks, it’s often seen as a male issue, but it’s one of the biggest killers in women in the US and Europe. Yet women often present with different physical symptoms to men, leading to problems getting help or being taken seriously, and the drugs used to treat women are the same as the ones used to treat men (yes, those ones that aren’t tested on women). Unsurprisingly then, women have worse outcomes than men if they have a heart attack.

These are just a few of the examples discussed – I recommend you read the book for more, but it all comes down to the idea that our society is built around the premise that male is the default and women is the variation. Men speak from their experience, but this is viewed as representative of all of society, and therein lies the problem. Women’s experiences are under-represented in society, sometimes in a very dangerous way. This needs to change, and this is why we still need International Women's Day. 

I’ll leave you this with wonderful quote from the mother of modern feminism, Simone de Beauvoir herself, “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.”

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