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The world is built for men and it’s literally killing women

(Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

Back in March, NASA canceled what would have been the first all-female spacewalk because there was only one medium-sized spacesuit in the International Space Station that fit a female frame. They needed two. It turns out, most uniforms in most professions are designed for a the average man’s body. Not to mention medicine, cars, smartphones; the list goes on and on.

Caroline Criado-Perez is author of the new book Invisible Women, Data Bias in a World Designed For Men. In many cases, that bias is a matter of life and death. She says the heart attack symptoms we’ve all been taught to look for are actually just male heart attack symptoms.

“Pain in the chest and down the left arm,” said Criado-Perez. “Discovering that those are actually typical male heart attack symptoms. Women are more likely to experience breathlessness, fatigue, nausea, what feels like indigestion. In fact, only one in eight women will experience chest pain. As a result, women don’t realize they’re having a heart attack. In the UK, women are fifty percent more likely to be misdiagnosed if they have a heart attack. So woman are more likely than men to die if they have a heart attack.”

Criado-Perez says the data she found on crash test dummies was the most shocking. They only use dummies with trim, male bodies.

“For decades, we have been designing car safety around the fiftieth percentile male body. Which is incredibly common when it comes to pretty much everything we design. The result is cars just don’t fit women very well. For example, women sit further forward than what is called the standard seating position because we have to to reach the pedals and see over the dashboard. That puts us at much higher risk in a frontal collision. Seatbelts haven’t been designed to account for the female form, particularly when it comes to our boobs. For pregnant women this is a particular problem, and in fact the number one cause of fetal death from trauma is car crashes. That’s partially because we haven’t designed a seatbelt that’s safe for pregnant women. It’s not safe for all women. Women are 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured and 17 percent more likely to die if they’re in a car crash. This is basically because of us not having tested and designed for women.”

So how do you solve this problem? Should there be cars for women and cars for men? Specific cars built for tall people, short people, slim people and larger people?

“I think that’s for the designer to answer. I’m not here to create solutions. Go back to the drawing board. It’s about having an adaptable car, I guess. I don’t think it is beyond the wit of humanity to solve this problem. We can’t design a car that’s safe for 50 percent of the population?”

So why aren’t cars designed with women in mind? Why is medication only tested on men even though women’s bodies often process drugs differently? Criado-Perez says it all comes down to cost. They’d have to do double the research and testing, which is more expensive.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the default male is a 5’9,” 154 pound white man between 25 and 30 years old, officially referred to as Reference Man. Whether companies are testing how radiation affects a body, designing backpacking packs or protective body armor worn by police officers, it’s usually designed for the Reference Man. Clothes and gear are just scaled down to fit women, not taking body shape into consideration.

The Journal says research is largely funded by men who hire male designers who sell products to men and women. But they market the products differently to each gender, using different language and colors. Women get pink gear and descriptive words like soft, sensitive, and beautiful. Men’s products are often darker colors marketed with words like ultimate, classic, and professional.

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