Invisible women

I had always put my discomfort or irritations with the built environment down to the fact that the world is just a slightly awkward place to navigate....

.... It is revelatory to discover that the discomforts and irritations are actually designed in!

I am not a great reader of books. Instead, when I have time on my hands, I make pots. But lockdown has given me opportunity to do both, and I have been intrigued to pick up Caroline Criado Perez’s myth-busting book ‘Invisible Women’. It is a veritable data-fest of information, demonstrating how the needs and interests of women are ignored, even in the so-called equal society that we live in: here, in the UK, today.

Times, of course, are changing, and women are succeeding in many different roles but as Criado Perez so convincingly demonstrates, we live in a male world where almost every choice we make – collectively and individually – unconsciously favours men. Women, it seems, remain isolated on the fringes, when the major decisions are being made. Decisions about our history; our successes and role models; our futures; and yes, even about our bodily needs. But also, most intriguingly, about our built environment.

And goodness me, how the built environment fails women: both socially and ergonomically.

Whether it is to do with transport planning, the design of the public realm, the workplace, or even the home, decisions are based on data that has almost no reference to the physical or mental wellbeing of 50% of the population. Without focused, but frankly unlikely, efforts to collect relevant data, it seems that things are not about to change any time soon.

Architects - male and female - should read this book. It is remarkable how little thought has been given to the way women use the spaces in which they find themselves. Two issues spring to mind:

  • the public realm and transport networks that are offered by our – primarily male – planners, city-makers and traffic engineers;
  • the design of homes and disaster relief accommodation provided for some of the most disenfranchised women on the planet.

It is shocking really.

This book should make us all - women but also men - very angry indeed. As a result, it offers tasty food for furloughed creative brains, especially those that are looking to develop a more amenable world as we come out of this crisis.

As John Donne so famously said in his solemn, 400-year-old poem against isolationism:

“No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.”

It really should be possible to say the same about women.