Caroline Criado Perez is a person who likes to see clearly. A lover of data, of facts, of real-life evidence that can help her – and us all – understand the world we live in. Unfortunately, as is obvious from her new podcast, this information is often hard to come by.
The podcast, Visible Women, is a follow-up to Criado Perez’s bestselling book, 2019’s Invisible Women, where she wrote about how, under the guise of being “unisex”, much of the modern world has been designed for men and that this is dangerous for women. A classic example is cars: women are less safe in cars – twice as likely to become trapped after a crash – because the crash test dummies are modelled on male bodies.
The first episode of Visible Women, about the PPE used during Covid, brought us more of the same. PPE is supposedly unisex, but it’s not. We heard ludicrous anecdotes such as the woman doctor, performing a time-sensitive, extremely tricky tracheostomy, whose scrub trousers fall down. Or the everyday NHS situation where there are no protective gloves that fit female hands; nor, during Covid, any protective masks that actually work for women. They’re all too big.
Perhaps this might be easier to understand if the medical profession were dominated by men. But it’s not. Three-quarters of people who work in medicine are women. So how has this happened? Who told the makers of emergency PPE what they should be making? What are the standards for PPE manufacture? wonders Criado Perez. She’s so obsessed with standards that the podcast gives her a little jingle for every time she says the word. She keeps asking.
I’ve heard two episodes of Visible Women: last week’s and one that’s coming up, about heart attacks in women. In that episode, a 36-year-old woman is having a heart attack and it shows up on the ECG. Three (male) cardiologists inform her that she isn’t. Criado Perez then takes medicine’s gender data bias into the immediate future, where AI will be doing some diagnoses; if the underlying information given to the algorithm is biased towards men, then things will get even worse.
She does have some happy news at the end of that episode, about how algorithms can help indicate to medical professionals where domestic violence is taking place. And the overall feel of this podcast is positive. It’s looking for solutions, plus, unlike the book, Criado Perez has other women working with her: a data journalist and a producer. The team’s chats, folded in and out of the show, are upbeat, despite the many frustrations they encounter in just getting someone to explain what’s going on. This podcast gives us a lot to take in, but all is presented in a determined, clear manner. A must-listen.
More standards. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Podcast, one of Radio 4’s longest ever podcasts (it’s just hit episode 199), has been diligently reporting from the continuing inquiry into the terrible events of 14 June 2017. Sober and sure-footed, in each episode it takes us through the masses of evidence, cross-referencing to previous shows. Like Visible Women, nobody in authority wants to take responsibility for the inbuilt systemic unfairness (worse: negligence and money-chasing) that led to the deaths of 72 people. The (mostly) weekly podcast started in 2018, when its initial presenter, Eddie Mair, was still at PM. He stayed after he left Radio 4 for LBC, until end of phase one of the inquiry (ep 113). Since January 2020, producer Kate Lamble has presented. It’s Kafka-esque, but the BBC keeps doggedly doing its job.
The Guardian’s Today in Focus had a special report on Grenfell last week too, released on the five-year anniversary. Nosheen Iqbal spoke to locals about how best to commemorate what happened; what a memorial could or should do. “I still have my clothes from that night,” said Karim Mussilhy, who lost his uncle in the fire. “They still smell of… ” (pause)… “the stuff… ” Locals find it hard to create a memorial until someone is held responsible.
Finally, two new interview shows. Nicky Campbell, a successful broadcaster who can never quite settle, has launched a new BBC Sounds podcast, Different, in which he talks to people whose life experiences are far from his own. First up was Tonks, a Scottish hedge witch, who managed to freak Campbell out from the start when a cup jumped from a shelf by itself. A lovely talk followed. And the New York Times has a new opinion podcast, First Person. I worried that this would mean more ranting, but it doesn’t (phew). Lulu Garcia-Navarro interviewed novelist Merritt Tierce about her life and how it led to Tierce writing a recent, personal NYT piece about abortion. All the ways that people, especially women, engage with a world that’s biased against them. Always frustrating, always interesting.