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Manuele J Sarfatti
Manuele J Sarfatti

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Acknowledging a World Designed for Men

I've just ordered "Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men". I haven't read it yet (obviously), so here's a summary I found:

Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued.

If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you're a woman.

For example, did you know that women are more at risk in case of heart attack because they show different symptoms from the classic "left arm pain", and are therefore sent home by the doctor with the only prescription of "resting a bit"?

We work in a sector that is dominated by men, we all know it, and the causes are probably a mix of natural predisposition (to be clear: I'm NOT saying that males are in any way better or more successful; I mean that males may be generally more inclined to be interested in coding - and to be honest I'm not even sure of this) and a bunch of toxic practices that for the sake of simplicity I'll call gatekeeping.

It's not difficult to come across issues around bias in data (starting from what is collected and how) and in algorithms (think all those AI algorithms that end up reinforcing the dominant narrative). It's even easier to come across huge issues in recruiting.

I may be naïve, but up until now I thought all these were solvable problems, and that someday hopefully soon we would all be living in a more equal, fair world.

But not all is up to the hiring manager. Seeing for the first time how the whole world is basically designed to be unfit for women is shocking.

Reading a book is not a lot of work, and it may not do much to change my own biases, but understanding how deeply these issues affect half of our population is a first step towards a better self and a better future.

Our impact goes way beyond the code we write, and I'm wondering: what can we do as a community, and what can I do as a developer/freelancer/employee to not only passively support those in non-privileged positions, but to actively make an impact? I'm looking for concrete actions here.

Ps: I understand this post is concerned with only one part of the problem and it oversimplifies it in the "male vs. female" narrative. I'm aware we should also be talking about races, other genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, etc. But this book, which sparked my post, is specifically about the impact of a male-dominated society on female-body-bearers so to say. Do feel free to expand the discussion in the comments though!

Top comments (6)

nicholascloud profile image
Nicholas Cloud

There is a historical reason why medicine centered around males, and it isn't "because men hate women". It's because, in the infancy of medicine (as a science), the technology did not exist to adequately evaluate the hormonal shifts that a woman experiences over the course of her life. Men were much more predictable subjects, and so medicine focused on men. Science needs predictability. But society and culture continued to protect women by insulating them from war, giving them preference in life threatening situations (lifeboats on the Titanic), creating laws that held men accountable for the spurious actions of their wives, and transferring the tax burden from women to men. Was it a perfect system? Well no, but you are looking at history through the eyes of a 21st century human being who has luxuries and social niceties never experienced let alone anticipated by other civilizations. Let's assume a smartphone is designed for a male hand. (This is silly, have you ever held an iPhone 4? My fat male sausage fingers can't type a thing on that tiny piece of hardware!) But there are plenty of institutions and cultural norms that have historically protected and benefitted women at the expense of men, not because society was "against men", but because it was a historical balancing act, tempered by the available knowledge at the time, to preserve societies and grow cultures. Perhaps we are at a turning point. Technology is the great leveler, giving people the ability to do things that, without technology, would be impossible. But it's not moral shortcomings that plague us. It's ignorance. Western women have all the opportunity in the world. Historical barriers are a part of that, for everyone, not just women. Stop feeling guilty. Encourage creativity and productivity. There is room enough for us all to contribute.

v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

creating laws that held men accountable for the spurious actions of their wives

I've read also that this had some unfortunate side effects for the wives, too, but fair enough.

dwilmer profile image
Daan Wilmer • Edited

I think systemic bias is also a large part of the reason why there is such a large gender disparity. Long before any of the toxic gatekeeping takes place, there are (or were) tons of little nudges that drive people to different interests based on gender. Maybe you can count these nudges as gatekeeping, as they function that way all combined, but most people don't see it as toxic to give a boy building blocks to play with and give dolls to a girl, when these are already the nudges towards different interests based on gender.

What can we do? I don't know. I try to listen. I try to be open-minded. I try to seek out other people's voices. I try to keep in mind that I'm a minority (as a cis white western English-speaking temporarily able-bodied male, I'm a small minority of the world population). I try to keep in mind that I have privilege by belonging to that minority. And I try to keep in mind that I'm unaware of a lot of things. And I try to improve.
It's not easy, and I'm nowhere near perfect, but I try to keep in mind that every small step matters, and that every small step helps.

v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

I think we should be careful just how much disparity we attribute to discrimination without evidence of causation, rather than mere correlation.

mjsarfatti profile image
Manuele J Sarfatti

I also think being aware is the first fundamental step. Nothing can come without that.

jess profile image
Jess Lee

Adding it to my book list, thanks!