Invisible Women

Book Cover of Invisible Women by Caroline Criado PerezWhat with the snow hitting us right about now, it seems like a good time to talk about how snow removal can be sexist. Yup. Snow removal. Sexist.

Now, I wasn’t able to find Canadian data that would let me say that this is also an issue here in Canada and specifically in Ontario*, but: northern Sweden has been collecting data on hospital admissions for injuries since 1985, and found in icy or slippery conditions, pedestrians were injured three times more often than motorists, “and account for half the hospital time of all traffic-related injuries”. Furthermore:

[T]he majority of these pedestrians are women. A study of pedestrian injuries in the Swedish city of Umeå found that 79% occurred during the winter months, and that women made up 69% of those who had been injured in single-person incidents… two-thirds of injured pedestrians had slipped and fallen on icy or snowy surfaces, and 48% had moderate to serious injuries, with fractures and dislocations being the most common. Women’s injuries also tended to be more severe. (Criado Perez, c.1: Can Snow-Clearing Be Sexist?, Invisible Women).

Alright, so women are more likely to be injured in icy or slippery conditions (enough to end up in a hospital for treatment), with more severe injuries than men. But why? As it turns out, men and women tend to use different modes of transport, along with very different travel patterns, which is true worldwide to varying degrees (based on the limited sex-disaggregated data we have on the topic): whereas men are more likely to drive and “dominate access to [a household’s car]” (ibid; by which I assume Criado Perez means in man-woman households), with simple travel patterns that consist of commuting to and from town, women tend to walk and take public transport and have more complicated travel patterns, namely trip-chaining: making several interconnected trips at once. This is part of a larger discussion about unpaid labour, which is discussed throughout Invisible Women, but women’s travel patterns tend to include a cornucopia of tasks, including: dropping children off before heading to work; taking aging parents to the doctor; grocery shopping on the way home.

Seeing the data and this information about gender differences in travel patterns, Sweden changed the order of snow plowing to target sidewalks before main roads (because really, it’s a lot easier for the car to drive over snow than for a person to walk (or push a stroller) through the same amount of snow on the sidewalk). Let’s break it down. Considering that pedestrian injuries due to icy and slippery conditions account for, as stated above, “half the hospital time of all traffic-related injuries”, that’s no paltry amount of staff time and effort being devoted to women’s injuries – and this doesn’t even take into account the time this army of injured women need to take off work (paid or unpaid labour) to heal (or even just to go to the hospital in the first place). The conservative estimated cost of these pedestrian injuries throughout one winter was 36 million Kronor (approximately £3.2 million), which “was about twice the cost of winter road maintenance. In Solna, near Stockholm, it was three times the cost, and some studies reveal it’s even higher” (ibid.). All this to say, even if you don’t care at all about gender equality or women getting injured disproportionately, or you think that well in that case more women should just drive to solve this issue**… taking women and their needs into account when policy-making makes sense. I know the conclusion of that sentence was pretty self-evident, and it should be a no-brainer, but clearly, if the decision was made in the first place to plow the roads before taking care of the sidewalks, it wasn’t. It isn’t. Taking women into account doesn’t come naturally, clearly. This is why Invisible Women is such a necessary read, especially now: so that taking women and their needs into consideration will become natural.

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Because

violin player

In 2007, the Washington Post published a (now-famous) article called Pearls Before Breakfast. On January 12th of that year, a busker stood playing the violin at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, earning just over 32 dollars for a performance that was passed by nearly 1100 people. While a few people did stop to listen for at least a minute (7 in all, out of over 1000), most ignored the musician entirely—with one very noteworthy, categorical exception. According to Stinson’s wonderful book, The Man With the Violin, there was one demographic that did not behave like the rest; each time that a child passed the violinist, they tried to stop—tugging on a parent’s arm and so forth—and in every case, the adult hurried them along. What those commuters did not know was that the man playing the violin was Joshua Bell, one of the most masterful violinists in the world. They didn’t know that he had recently played a local concert—sold out—where even mediocre seats sold for over a hundred dollars a ticket. They probably wouldn’t have guessed that the music he was playing that day was one of the most difficult pieces ever written, or that the violin he was playing on was handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1713—purchased for nearly 4 million dollars and never refinished.

“He made this to perfect thickness at all parts,” Bell says, pivoting it. “If you shaved off a millimeter of wood at any point, it would totally imbalance the sound.” No violins sound as wonderful as Strads from the 1710s, still.

See the source imageChances are, the children did not know any of this either, but they did know something that the adults did not: that this humble-looking artist was eminently worthy of their time and attention, and that the music he was making was beautiful. I love this story, and I love that Kathy Stinson created the book, The Man with the Violin, inspired by this real-life social experiment. While officially targeted at younger children, it would be an excellent book to read to a group of teens or pre-teens to spark a discussion about recognizing beauty and how we ascribe value (wearing an expensive suit on a stage = worth a $100 ticket / wearing a ball cap and standing on the pavement = not worth the time). All of this is to say that after The Man With the Violin, I didn’t believe I would ever again stumble upon a picture book that so eloquently portrayed the power of music and the elevated ability of children to recognize beauty and to be inspired by it. I was wrong.

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Spotlight On: Female Directors

Related image

Greta Gerwig, ©Merie Wallace and A24

Some people might question the value of putting female directors in a spotlight, and to them I say: the fact that it’s a question at all is reason enough. Just look at the general reaction from the public whenever someone singles out female achievement. The knee-jerk response tends to be “who cares?” and “doesn’t equality mean treating everybody equally?” Well, yes and no. In a perfect world, yes. In our systemically biased world, no. Let’s break it down into numbers. 2019 has seen a record high of female directors in high-profile films, and do you know what that record high is? 12 (potentially 14!) of the 100 top-grossing films. That’s 12%. TWELVE. The fact that this number is being celebrated is both exciting and deeply, deeply sad. So while I would love to take women’s achievements in directing for granted, we’re still in a place where a woman succeeding behind the camera is a minor novelty. So yeslet’s continue to spotlight them, until it’s no longer interesting to do so!   

But why should we care about women behind the camera? Well, for the same reason that it’s important for anyone to be behind the camera: to exert some level of control over representation, to give audiences as organic experience as possible. This is true of POC directors, LGBTQ+ directors, even white male directors. We all want our stories told, and we all want our stories to be appreciated. True representation brings us closer to something resembling understanding. Allowing people to tell their own stories opens up new worlds to audiences, which they may never have been able to experience otherwise. To quote Pocahontas (a problematic movie, I know—indulge me), “you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” We all have our own unique experiences and perspectives, which allow us to interpret the world differently and in turn provide insight for others that may not come naturally to them. None of us are born omniscient; we learn through exposure. Film is a helpful, no-brainer medium for that.  

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