Continuing my research into women women on the frontline, I have come to centre my exploration around the work of Caroline Criado Perez; specifically her publication Invisible Women. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplace and the media, Criado's research reveals how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half of the population. 

For example, in Ancient Greece, the philosopher Aristotle wrote extensively about how the female form was a kind of mutilated male body. He, as well as other philosophical contemporaries, believed female hysteria was caused by remaining celibate too long. The womb, grown irritable with lack of impregnation, was thought to ‘wander’ around the body, causing mayhem. The cure? To conceive a baby, whose weight would cause the womb to sink back down into its correct position. The womb was thought to be an animated creature in and of itself; one that was particularly unruly, that could only be tamed by men. 

This incredible theory of ‘the wandering womb’ persisted well into the Renaissance. The female as ‘mutilated man’ theory persisted too. On anatomical drawings stemming from the period you can find medics trying to situate the female testicles. Indeed, they believed the female body was the male body turned inside out, and that females lacked ‘vital heat’ so their organs must be tucked away inside. 

Caroline highlighted how this theory makes more sense the other way around – male sex organs hanging, as they do, unprotected and vulnerable outside the body – but this never struck the Renaissance medics; they had an unshakeable, patriarchal worldview to uphold. The female couldn’t possibly have a functioning, natural, unique pelvis all to herself – and so the quest was to map the ‘mutilated’ female form onto the anatomy of the man.  

So how is this story relevant in today’s western world, where inequality is, allegedly, being squeezed out of existence? Where women can vote, work, and are entitled to the same rights as men? Caroline asserts that we still operate under a patriarchal worldview – one ‘tucked away out of sight’, like the supposed female testicles. 

She argues that this is prevalent in our modern healthcare system. It hides in our medical data – the data we collect through a lens that is systemically biased towards men. Her book powerfully unpacks the alarming medical statistics demonstrating that women are routinely under-represented in clinical trials, that periods are thought to obscure results, and that medical research proposed by women, for women, is not allotted the same funding as medical research proposed by men, for men. 

Her parting words ask us to remember that “Men are not a standard that women fail to live up to”. For example, whilst researching the book, the excuses that ‘women are simply too complicated, the menstrual cycle will influence the results’ given by medical researchers caused her great concern. This line of thinking presents female bodies as complicating factors rather than bodies which represent 50% of humanity. The sentiment echoes the theory of Aristotle in Ancient Greece; that female bodies are but mutilated male ones, and that women are too unruly to be effectively studied.

Caroline argues that it is vital that this attitude is challenged and overhauled in order to avoid misdiagnosis and dehumanising swathes of the population – ‘male’ is not a default and there is still a long way to go in accurately anatomising, researching and diagnosing ‘invisible’ women. 

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