Prominent activist, campaigner and best selling author, Caroline Criado Perez visited Athens for speaking in Action Aid Greece conference "Invisible Women". She talked to Generation Woman about her work, women's visibility,gender bias and discriminations.
One thing someone wouldn’t expect from Caroline Criado Perez, best selling author of the Invisible Women book is to describe herself as a misogynist. Still the woman who travels the world to campaign about women’s visibility, started her life as a young woman who believed that women are hysterical and certainly not interesting.
But from the moment she realized that her notion was biased and imposed to her she decided to put all her energy to fight this bias. From the publication of her first book «Do it like a woman and change the world» in which she featured stories of brave and interesting women that did incredible things to her campaigning for having Jane Austen on the 10 pound banknote and putting Millicent Fawcett statue on Parliament Square, the suffragette that fought for women’s right to vote and then to her recent best selling book Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez hasn’t stopped fighting the bias against women and their misrepresentation. In her latest book she asseced data from linguistics, economy, science and industry to prove that the world is designed for men without taking into consideration the anatomy, biology and needs of women that consist half of the population.
Some days ago Caroline Criado Perez visited Athens to speak in Invisible Women in The City conference in Athens held by Action Aid Hellas about women’s visibility in the city and gender budgeting. Generation Women had the chance to meet her and interviewed her about her experience in Greece, her work, feminism and the main issues concerning women today.
What was the first time in your life that you realized that women are invisible?
I know exactly when this was because until that time I was really against feminism. I found it embarrassing and I didn't really identifywith women. I believed in the stereotypes that were presented to me in films and in magazines. That women are hysterical and trivial and are not doing anything interesting. I wanted to be like men. Those who want to see the world, who make discoveries, the ones that lead in politics, the ones that work as journalists. And I thought I am just different to women. And it wasn't until my mid-20s, when I went to the university, that I read my first feminist book. It was on the list for a study in English language. It was called Feminism Linguistics. In this book the author, Deborah Cameron, wrote about the use of the generic masculine and this was something I haven't heard before. That feminists complained about the use of masculine as gender neutral, I always dismissed it as another example of how stupid feminism was. I thought “This is so trivial. A historical artifact. Everybody knows that it’s gender neutral. I am sure that historically there were sexist reasons but it doesn’t matter now”. But then she used data and she pointed to certain studies that proved that when we read these words we picture men. That was the first time I realised that women were invisible and that when I hear these words I picture a man and that really shocked me.
Can you mention two or three everyday things in which women are invisible?
It definitely led me to notice other things. I was a huge shock to recognize this default male bias that I had in my own head. This was what really got me. How could I have not noticed it? To be honest, everyday things came along later and I believe that was because we don' t question our everyday life. That is how the world is like. If I can' t reach the hold in the bus, I am just short, right? If I can't open a jar, whatever. So after my first degree, I studied economics and behavioural economics and that introduced me to the idea that economy is designed around how men are working without counting women' s unpaid work, despite it's huge contribution to the global economy. We make bad decisions due to the fact that we ignore this huge part of the economy. And that was another great shock to me. As someone who doesn’t come from a science background, I thought that science and economics were objective, based on numbers. That there were no bias there. You think of them as facts and to discover that these are not facts it’s a shock. And I realised that gender neutral affects women on how they perceive themselves, on what they can be from a psycological perspective. But it was the ecomomic argument that lead me to my first introduction about how it has a tangible impact on women’s lives.
In your opinion why women, that consist half of the population,are treated as a minority?
It's a bias. It’s the bias I discovered in while I was studying in the library at the university. I am not unique in having this bias because this is how we speak in most languages. Male is default in some language more than in others. And of course this has an impact. It’s ridiculous to believe that it will not have an impact. If you constantly present masculine as gender neutral then of course it would seem like women are a minority. To me it’s not deliberate, it's not an anti-women stance. It's just that we forget that women exist. We women do that as well. Women are less likely to forget that women exist than men and that is comforting; it would be sad if we would be as bad as men, but we are still pretty bad. Because we live in the same world that men do. In a world that male representation are hugely and massively overrepresented so we inevitably see humans as men. The medical posters that you see in your doctor' s office are men but is presented as human. That is how women end up being seen as a minority. Because humans are always represented as men.
You have included so many data in your book. I would like to ask you which struck you the most in your research.
I get asked a lot about that but it's difficult to answer. I guess that the more shocking one was the car crash statistics because is such a clear journey from representing male as gender neutral to women dying. The crash test dummy is based on the body of the average man and a woman is 47% more likely to get severely injured than a man.
Which are the feminist books that every woman should read
The second sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner by Katrine Μarcal, The vindication of the rights of women by Mary Wollstonecraft and A room of one’s own by Virginia Woolf.
You have described yourself as a misogynist. I was wondering who were your role models when you were growing up.
This is something I feel angry about when I look back. How much energy I wasted feeling that I had to prove to every new person man or boy that I was not like other women and that I wanted to be treated like as one of the guys because I was as good as them. If I have been given female role models, if a have been taught about all the amazing women in the history in history classes, I would have felt different. Unfortunately, I haven' t had access to women who have been doing great things.
But you found them on your own and you gave voice to them in your first book?
That was the reason for writing my first book. I wanted to make this point, that there are all of these women out there doing awesome things. But nobody tells us about them. I wanted to find women who were breaking boundaries, who were doing things differently, whether it was a woman in a male-dominated profession or, whether it was a woman questioning “is this the way we want to do things”. It was a book for myself when I was younger, the book I didn’t have.
What courage means to you?
It’s an important word. But I am not really a courageous person. The connotation is courage calls to courage everywhere. It' s a quote from Millicent Fawcett. I always felt very guilty because I thought I don't listen enough to courage when is calling me.