Women in Public Life

Part V of Invisible Women is titled “Public Life”, and chapter 12, A Costless Resource covers the genesis of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as well as how and why women were largely left out of its calculation. Plainly put, “GDP has a woman problem.”

To begin with, GDP is not a very precise figure. It is a combination of a lot of other measures that are themselves largely imprecise. The author quotes Diane Coyle, a professor of economics at Manchester University, when she writes

When you see headlines proclaiming that ‘GDP went up 0.3% this quarter’, she cautions, you should remember that that 0.3% ‘is dwarfed by the amount of uncertainty in the figures’.

Chapter 12, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

World War II solidified the definition of GDP around the capacity of the economy to wage war. The calculation of unpaid housework was purposely left out as it did not directly affect war fighting efforts. On top of this was the difficulty in measuring it. So it was decided to leave it out.

Like so many of the decisions to exclude women in the interests of simplicity, from architecture to medical research, this conclusion could only be reached in a culture that conceives of men as the default human and women as a niche aberration. To distort a reality you are supposedly trying to measure makes sense only if you don’t see women as essential. It makes sense only if you see women as an added extra, a complicating factor. It doesn’t make sense if you’re talking about half of the human race. It doesn’t make sense if you care about accurate data.

Chapter 12, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Then after the war, there was a tremendous boom in productivity. Or was there? Since women working at home did not count toward GDP, when they started to do so after the war, their new work showed up as an increase in productivity. But instead of an increase in productivity, it simply started counting women’s previously uncounted contributions since they moved their efforts into industries that were counted toward GDP. As the author puts it, “The failure to measure unpaid household services is perhaps the greatest gender data gap of all.”

With the advent of the internet and digital collaboration in projects like the Linux operating system and Wikipedia, economists started to rethink their position on including unpaid work in GDP. Why? What changed?

And what’s the difference between cooking a meal in the home and producing software in the home? The former has largely been done by women, and the latter is largely done by men.

Chapter 12, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Perez spends the latter portion of the chapter discussing what is called “social infrastructure”. She explains

The term infrastructure is generally understood to mean the physical structures that underpin the functioning of a modern society: roads, railways, water pipes, power supplies. It doesn’t tend to include the public services that similarly underpin the functioning of a modern society like child and elder care.

Chapter 12, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Those public services are social infrastructure. These are things like early childhood education, child care, and elder care. Two studies the author cites “concluded that investing in [early childhood education] had a greater positive impact on long-term economic growth than business subsidies”. But then men aren’t as involved with early childhood education as they are in business, right? But this exclusion isn’t simply ingrained misogyny. Much of it is due to the gender data gap. Without enough data to show the benefits of changes in policy like these, how are we supposed to justify and implement them?

We just need the will to start collecting the data, and then designing our economy around reality rather than a male-biased confection.

Chapter 12, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Chapter 13 is called From Purse to Wallet and covers how public policy often moves money from the hands of women to those of men. The main example of this is jointly filed tax returns. Because of the way most income tax is calculated and the fact that women often make less than their husbands, their smaller income is taxed at a much higher rate. Lack of data is again the main reason for this.

There’s a fairly simple reason why so many tax systems discriminate against women, and that is that we don’t systematically collect data on how tax systems affect them. In other words, it’s because of the gender data gap.

Chapter 13, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

When austerity measures are taken in countries, women are more often the ones to take the hit in income. Theirs is generally lower, so they become the ones to have to take up the unpaid care work that the couple can no longer afford. And this further contributes to the gender pay gap. Perhaps without meaning to, men continue to perpetuate inequality for women simply by being ignorant of the problem. This can be resolved by closing the gender data gap by talking to women and separating study data by sex. Then the issues can become visible.

The final chapter in this part is Women’s Rights are Human Rights. In addition to failing to collect data, the gender data gap is also responsible for “the male dominance of governments around the world.” When women are in government, they have a voice that brings women’s issues to the attention of the public and government in a way that just doesn’t happen in male-dominated legislative bodies.

One of the biggest obstacles to women in government is that many women who aspire to positions in government are simply seen as too ambitious. This is despite the fact that men in similar positions do not face this criticism. Many leveled this criticism toward Hilary Clinton when she ran for president in 2016.

Being the first woman to occupy the most powerful role in the world does take an extraordinary level of ambition. But you could also argue that it’s fairly ambitious for a failed businessman and TV celebrity who has no prior political experience to run for the top political job in the world – and yet ambition is not a dirty word when it comes to Trump.

Chapter 14, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Because she was a woman forging her way into traditionally male territory, it was seen as a norm violation. Such violations turn people off. “There’s a very simple reason that a powerful woman is experienced as a norm violation: it’s because of the gender data gap.”

Because there are no or few women in government, we don’t expect them there. This creates a very challenging bind for women. Some are going to need to brave the name-calling and negative attention it will take to get more women into government. Only then will it start to feel more normal to have women there, only then will it no longer seem a norm violation. An ambitious woman will then be acceptable and perhaps even common.

What seems a little crazy is how a male-dominated world can feel normal, even to women, making male-default thinking the “norm” while ignoring half the population. When those making the rules are all men, maleness is the norm.

If the majority of people in power are men – and they are – the majority of people in power just don’t see it. Male bias just looks like common sense to them. But ‘common sense’ is in fact a product of the gender data gap….

Like a male-dominated product-development team, a male-dominated legislature will … suffer from a gender data gap that will lead it to serve its female citizens inadequately. And most of the world’s governments are male-dominated.

Chapter 14, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Much of this chapter outlines some practical ways to address this imbalance alongside how these methods have been and are being applied in countries around the world. There are ways to level the playing field to get the level of representation of women in government closer to that of the population as a whole.

One challenge once women are part of legislatures and governments is that they are treated differently, by men and women. The best example of this may be that women are interrupted far more than men. The biggest issue here is that women are penalized if they interrupt while for men this behavior is perceived as normal and acceptable. Many governmental bodies have addressed this by allocating time for everyone to speak and not allowing any interruptions. The example from the book of where this was used is in the writers room of the FX TV drama The Shield where it made the entire team more effective.

Simply put, government is not setup to serve men and women equally. As the author says toward the end of this chapter, “We have to stop wilfully closing our eyes to the positive discrimination that currently works in favour of men.”

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