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IW - Default Female Leeches

Invisible Women
IW - Default Female Leeches
By Caroline Criado Perez • Issue #22 • View online
Hello GFPs! OK, so it seems some *further clarification* is needed over the vexed issue over wt and indeed f GFP is all about.
As I clarified last issue, GFP stands for Generic Female Pal, BUT! I got up in the middle of writing the intro to do something like get a cup of tea or check twitter or scratch poppy’s belly or something else equally time-sensitive and I forgot to do a tiny bit more explaining of the term for those who haven’t read Invisible Women yet.
So. The premise of Invisible Women is that the data gap is a result of male being the default:
One of the most important things to say about the gender data gap is that it is not generally malicious, or even deliberate. Quite the opposite. It is simply the product of a way of thinking that has been around for millennia and is therefore a kind of not thinking. A double not thinking, even: men go without saying, and women don’t get said at all. Because when we say human, on the whole, we mean man. (IW, xii)
This way of thinking is expressed in a myriad of different ways (for full details see IW pp.ix - 411), but one of the most basic ways is in language, via what is called the generic male. The generic male is of course an oxymoron. Male is not generic, it is male. But because male is default, we have, for generations, pretended that male can also be generic. Sexless. Gender neutral. The standard from which female deviates and becomes sexed.
In English that means using male-marked words such as “he”, and “man”, gender-neutrally. In other languages its use is more extensive, for example in Spanish using the masculine form for a group of 100 teachers because while 99 are female, one is male, and male is the gender neutral form. Clear?
Well, no, obviously not clear. Actually quite confusing. Because, as I explain in Invisible Women,
Numerous studies in a variety of languages over the past forty years have consistently found that what is called the ‘generic masculine’ (using words like ‘he’ in a gender-neutral way) is not in fact read generically.20 It is read overwhelmingly as male. 
And yet,
in the face of decades of evidence that the generic masculine is anything but clear, official language policy in many countries continues to insist that it is purely a formality whose use must continue for the sake of … clarity.  
ANYWAY. This is all a very long way of explaining that when I came to deciding on a collective term for you lovely wonderful people, I knew I wanted to play with this. Because in this newsletter, my friends, while males are, of course, very welcome, (I mean, OBVIOUSLY, because CLEARLY, male is included in female, it’s there in the word itself, also, it’s just generic, duh, god why are you so touchy!!!) female is the generic. Just my little default female oasis in a default male world. So, my Generic Female Pals, let’s get on with the show!
(In future I’m probs just going to link GFP to this explainer 😰)

Gender Data Gap of the Week
So, as every good GFP knows, we have a bit of a problem when it comes to diagnosing heart disease in women versus men. In that we are pretty terrible at it, for a whole host of reasons, pretty much all of which come back to thinking of the male heart as the generic human heart, and therefore thinking data collected on men will do the trick.
It does not do the trick.
Women in the UK are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack than men. Since 1989 women in the UK and the US have been more likely to die following a heart attack than men. Young women are particularly at risk, being almost twice as likely to die in hospital as men following a heart attack. And in case you’re thinking “ok, but men are the ones who are mostly suffering from this disease”: women from lower socio-economic backgrounds are 25% more likely than men from the same income bracket to suffer a heart attack, and heart disease is the number one killer of women in Europe and the US. So. A bit of a problem.
And this week, we discovered another potential cause of this problem. One of the ways in which your heart might go wrong is your heart valve getting gummed up by mineral deposits. This narrows the opening through which the heart has to pump blood, meaning your heart has to work much harder to do its basic job.
But until this study came out last week, we apparently had no idea that there was a sex difference in the kind of minerals that were deposited. Why does this matter, you ask? Well because it turns out that the minerals deposited by female bodies grow more slowly. And this matters, because “Valve disease progression is usually monitored with scans that allow doctors to evaluate the the extent of mineral deposition, measured as the degree of “hardness” of the valve.” Together with “another previously known factor [that] for the same degree of severity of stenosis, women have less mineral deposits than men,” this means that “women’s diseases will be detected always at later stages than men, unless we come up with new techniques for diagnosis that take this difference into consideration.”
It’s almost like, and hear me out on this, collecting sex-disaggregated data is a good idea? Who knew.
Default Male of the Week
Continuing with the theme of generic male in language this week, here are a couple of beauties for your delectation. First, it turns out the Google translation algorithm is still defaulting to male, even in an article that is *entirely about female farmers* (ironically, about how default male tools disadvantage them) and in a section that literally states that it is about a “mujer” (woman) who is “presidenta” (president, female form). I’m not sure how many more clues the algorithm could possibly need.
Spanish lady farmer
Spanish lady farmer
English default male farmer
English default male farmer
Nice one, google.
And then there was this, from the US’s main public funder of medical research:
Interesting wording in the GCP training. @NIHRresearch are women not allowed to do research?
Does this matter? Well, let’s see what Invisible Women has to say about it:
When the generic masculine is used people are more likely to recall famous men than famous women; to estimate a profession as male-dominated; to suggest male candidates for jobs and political appointments. Women are also less likely to apply, and less likely to perform well in interviews, for jobs that are advertised using the generic masculine. In fact the generic masculine is read so overwhelmingly as male that it even overrides otherwise powerful stereotypes, so that professions such as ‘beautician’, which are usually stereotyped female, are suddenly seen as male. It even distorts scientific studies, creating a kind of meta gender data gap: a 2015 paper looking at self-report bias in psychological studies found that the use of the generic masculine in questionnaires affected women’s responses, potentially distorting ‘the meaning of test scores’. The authors concluded that its use ‘may portray unreal differences between women and men, which would not appear in the gender-neutral form or in natural gender language versions of the same questionnaire’. (IW, p.5, bold added for emphasis).
Incidentally, the heart valve research I mentioned above? It was led by a female researcher. Ok, ok, that’s just one study, but actually, as I reported in Invisible Women, “analysis of 1.5 million papers published between 2008–15 found that the likelihood of a study involving gender and sex analysis ‘increases with the proportion of women among its authors’. The effect is particularly pronounced if a woman serves as a leader of the author group.” (IW, 317). Also diversity leads to better science so also there’s that. 
PPE of the week
Caroline Criado Perez
So in 2015, the US NIOSH, using new anthropometric data, proposed a new seven-size system for firefighter gloves, including "two women hand model-based sizes". Would love to speak to female US firefighters to find out if these have materialised (& if they work) #journorequest
Same question to you, GFPs! If you know any female US firefighters, please send them my way – it’s all in a good cause, aka my book research. This is the study I got that from if anyone’s interested.
I’ve been wondering when these were going to start up again….
Oh look, it's an invisible women style toilet queue at the Meadows playpark public toilets @CCriadoPerez @Edinburgh_CC
TQOTW Chaser
I think this speaks for itself.
Thanks, Tim.
Readers' Corner
This may or may not become a regular section, but I had to share with you an email I was sent by a subscriber (with her permission!) because it was just too brilliant. So, let’s start with the subject line, shall we?
You might think that an email with an opener like that couldn’t get any better. You would be wrong.
I may actually never recover from being immortalised in a leech. All the best for a swift recovery ❤️
Poppy Pic of the Week
Poppy returns from a successful trip out pillaging
Poppy returns from a successful trip out pillaging
That’s it! Until next time, GFPs xoxoxo
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Caroline Criado Perez

Keeping up with the gender data gap (and whatever else takes my fancy). Like the Kardashians, but with more feminist rage. Plus, toilet queue of the week.

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