A friend of mine who normally isn’t particularly opinionated and has responded very passively to my comments around feminism has been chiming in more about this in the last couple of years. It’s likely because she’s finally noticing that she’s not getting treated fairly as a female person of color, so she’s feeling the pain directly. At her office, she participates in a book club where they read Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. After she mentioned it, I put it on my NYPL Libby app request list and got to digitally borrow it this weekend.
Here’s an interesting fact that I learned from this book: For most of the 20th century, the New York Philharmonic was nearly 100% men. Then, in the 1970s, the numbers of female players started to go up… due to blind auditions. The hiring committee would not be able to see who was playing in the audition because there would be a screen between them and the player. The screens had an immediate impact: by the early 1980s, women began to make up 50% of the share of new hires. And today, the proportion of female musicians in the New York Philharmonic stands at over 45%.
So, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do this for all job interviews?! It’s hard in practice given you cannot really give a presentation or even a phone call screen without hearing the person’s voice/seeing the person’s face, but it really brings into question all the biases, whether conscious or subconscious, that we have when evaluating candidates and defining “meritocracy.” The concept of meritocracy is a complete myth in the workplace no matter what any Human Resources team tells you, as anyone who has half a brain knows that women do not get treated the same way that men do at work. We get criticized for our behaviors, emotions, personality at a far higher rate than men do. And the situation only gets worse when it’s a female person of color, not a white woman.
I’m not completely sure this was the best time to be reading this book given that during the day, I’m angry about the failure of our federal government in acknowledging the gravity of the Coronavirus sooner, for de-funding the CDC, and for calling this “Chinese virus” a hoax; I’m also angry about the level of racism/violence against Asians as a result of this global pandemic (I do not recall anyone getting angry and having racist fits at white Americans when swine flu happened?!). So, in other words, during the day, I’m angry about politics and racism against my own kind, and during the evening, I’m angry while reading this book to think that something as basic as the design of restrooms and cars, office temperature settings, and even city infrastructure planning are biased against women (I actually once asked my driving instructor about the design of air bags and whether they would really protect women given that on average, they are smaller in stature than men, and therefore the airbags are not designed for that smaller sized person…), and that the ‘norm’ has and will always be considered “male” and women, as Aristotle once famously said, are just “mutilated men.” To this day, our medical communities across the world do not think there’s a reason to spend more money and time on research to ensure that both men AND women are included in clinical trials… because how on earth can women’s bodies respond differently to drugs and treatments than men’s?
Yep, women are screwed. And women of color are even more screwed in the world. And this is 2020.