Living in a World Designed for Men: The Gender Data Gap

Emma Relyea - Teen Aspect - October 11, 2022
(Time, 2022)

Let’s think of some of the ways we refer to all of many - man, mankind, hu-man-ity. Our tendency to make generalizations about populations and refer to them using male-genered words is a part of the all too common gender data gap.


Vox explains that the gender data gap is the idea that “the data our society collects is typically about men’s experience, not women’s.” (i) Essentially, we live in a man’s world. This is true just in the sense that we don’t get paid the same or that men get promoted more than we do, which is obvious - but what's more subtle and arguably worse is that our roads, medications, offices, and bathrooms are designed to fit the male timetable and body - even when they are intended for women.


Take non-gendered emojis, like the runner emoji. Bustle explains that there is a runner emoji - and there’s a female runner emoji (ii). The reason why we don’t need to specify a male runner emoji is that we assume that this non-gendered emoji is male.


Our issue with the male default extends far beyond emojis and into aspects of our everyday lives - like AC temperature. The New York Times suggests that the reason why all of us ladies in the room are way too cold at school or at work is that peak performance temperature formulas were designed for men (iii). In its development, the normal body temperature and desired temperatures came from men. As a result, most office buildings, schools, hospitals, federal buildings, and more are set at 70 degrees while women prefer 75 degrees. So maybe my need to become a burrito at school isn’t my fault - it’s the male default.


While these examples may lead you to believe that the male default only creates discomfort or awkward conversations, it can also be dangerous. Automobile companies must test their cars for safety. Why? To ensure that their design keeps drivers and passengers safe. But what if the tests ignore the anatomy of half the occupants? Up until a few years ago, industry-standard crash test dummies were just male.


Stanford University explains that our new female crash test dummies are just smaller versions of the male crash test dummies (iv). Male and female anatomical differences are not easily ignored, especially when it comes to our seat belts. In government-mandated crash tests, men drive while these women sit in the passenger seat. Because of this, women are 73% more likely to be seriously injured in frontal car accidents (iv). These crash test dummies have to be designed, approved by multiple agencies, and used by companies. The fact that effective female crash test dummies are left out of the equation is likely not intentional - it’s just the male default.


Government agencies for the longest time assumed that just using a male crash test dummy would be adequate. And, our increased chance of serious injury is after they introduced our supposed female crash test dummy. Imagine how much worse those numbers were before a minuscule update to the system.


Even more than our car safety, our medications are not tested on women. According to the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health, women are 2 times more likely to develop a negative reaction to a drug simply because women are underrepresented in drug trials (v).


But the male default and gender data gap play a more intangible role in our everyday lives. Sure, my gender has to be qualified, I’m always cold, less likely to have access to effective medication, and more likely to die in a car accident, but how does that lead to stereotypes about women? We’re seen as weak, commodities, and germaphobes because of the gender data gap.


The American Psychological Association states that because of our unconscious use of the male default, women’s reactions to the uncomfort and extra survival steps we have to take are often seen as a sign of weakness (vi). When we joke that women are bad drivers, maybe the curb jumped out at us but also, maybe we just can’t see it. When women are seen in blankets, hoodies, or are just suffering in office buildings because of the temperature and their male counterparts are fine in the same conditions, it paints a picture that we can’t handle being there. When women are more likely to have relapses in illness treatments and have to take more time off of work, we’re seen as noncommittal and unprofessional. When we just don’t have the energy to stand up to male degradation, maybe it’s not our fault. Women have always had a history of being put down and not considered, but maybe there’s a reason for that and we just haven’t noticed it.


The male default is a subconscious nod to the fact that we literally live in a world designed for men. Good thing awareness is the key to change. I’m not saying that we’ve all chosen to literally cut women out of the equation, but it’s time we realize that our fight for women’s equality is so much more than our right to an abortion or equal pay. We fight undoubtedly for our freedoms. But the fight is more than just against the overtly misogynistic policy, it's just as much against the subtle misogyny.


References

1 Samuel, Sigal. “Women Suffer Needless Pain Because Almost Everything Is Designed for Men.” Vox, Vox, 17 Apr. 2019, https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/4/17/18308466/invisible-women-pain-gender-data-gap-caroline-criado-perez. Accessed 13 Sept. 2022.

2 Kelly, Erin. “The Female Runner Emoji in IOS 10 Will Inspire You to Put on Your Running Shoes.” Bustle, Bustle, 14 Sept. 2016, https://www.bustle.com/articles/183938-the-female-runner-emoji-in-ios-10-will-inspire-you-to-put-on-your-running-shoes. Accessed 13 Sept. 2022.

3 Belluck, Pam. “Chilly at Work? Office Formula Was Devised for Men.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Aug. 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/04/science/chilly-at-work-a-decades-old-formula-may-be-to-blame.html. Accessed 13 Sept. 2022.

4 “Inclusive Crash Test Dummies: Rethinking Standards and Reference Models.” Inclusive Crash Test Dummies: Analyzing Reference Models | Gendered Innovations, 2020, https://genderedinnovations.stanford.edu/case-studies/crash.html. Accessed 13 Sept. 2022.

5 Llamas, Michelle. “How the FDA Let Women Down.” Drugwatch.com, 6 June 2022, https://www.drugwatch.com/featured/fda-let-women-down/. Accessed 13 Sept. 2022.

6 Cheryan, Sapna, and Hazel Rose Markus. “Masculine Defaults: Identifying and Mitigating Hidden Cultural Biases.” Psychological Review, vol. 127, no. 6, 2020, pp. 1022–1052., https://web.stanford.edu/~hazelm/publications/2020%20Cheryan%20Markus%20Masculine%20defaults.pdf. Accessed 13 Sept. 2022.

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