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Data Bias in a World Tainted by Androcentrism


When I chose an award-winning feminist novel for my project in 11th grade language class, the book seemed to be an unorganized collection of random studies at first. As I made my way through the pages, the voice of the author became more and more clear and resonated with the everyday lives of women and girls. As a reader, I am immensely thankful to Caroline Criado Perez for connecting the dots that could shed new light through her outstanding work, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed by Men


With the backbone of this novel being studies based in the US, UK, and other countries, one message Perez communicates is clear: women are nothing but a gender-specific unit, while men are the gender-neutral standard that represents millions and millions of scientific data. In other words, you could look at a bar graph study, and what you will find is that the male population is the default setting until specified. So what about the women? How do these million-dollar studies funded by the government or any other institute represent accurate information for women? The lack of representation may not always be noticeable, but the impact it has on women’s everyday lives is certainly drastic.


If this lack of representation is present everywhere, from the design of a city’s sidewalks to the statistics of diseases worldwide, it may not be that simple. Then again, never in history has androcentrism been simple. Androcentrism can be defined as the “male-pov” of everything.  Examples include the use of “he” or other masculine terms, the use of male-dominated data samples, and even the use of “man” for both men and women collectively. I remember reading Perez’s introduction to this book and being shocked when she mentioned the bias in healthcare systems. The author stated, “Not like having your heart attack go undiagnosed because your symptoms are deemed ‘atypical’ for women (Perez 4). Furthermore, the author also mentions that even the safety measures in a car crash situation account for men, not women. The fact that this has grown to a level where women’s lives are at risk is evidence that the issue is getting worse by day. And indeed, it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.


It may not sound convincing, but most of these data biases are unintentional. The history of humankind has always trivialized women’s interests and experiences, and this can be easily identified as an unintentional continuation. Perez also characterizes this as inadvertent. She states, “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” (Perez 3). The standardization system for many of these statistical pulls simply never thought of changing it from the way it has always been. 


Fortunately, unintentional in this case also means resolvable. The issue can be fixed and made aware of. Until women speak up and demand a system with no bias, the issue will not be given attention. It is our right to have access to accurate information regarding our health, safety, and well-being. It is our right to be considered equal to men and to be given the same consideration to our everyday experiences. It is our right to be represented as human and important rather than marginalized by the statement “male unless specified.”


Sources

Perez, Caroline Criado. Invisible Women. Random House UK, 2020. 


Vismaya Praveen Nair

Bentonville, AR

Instagram: @vismayaaa_nair


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