When you’ve written a feminist book, promoting it can feel a bit like being a recruiting sergeant for an army of angry women. Up and down the country, from Aberdeen to Bath and most places in between, I’m met with lines of women who tell me their stories, who share their anger and relief at realising that they’re not the problem. The problem is a world that was not designed to fit them.
Not that I’m complaining: I was furious for three years while writing Invisible Women, and it’s nice to have some company. I first came across the “gender data gap” while I was researching my first book, Do It Like a Woman. It was 2014 and I thought I knew how to spot if I was having a heart attack: pain in my chest and down my left arm. The classic symptoms.
I was wrong. It turns out that those “classic” symptoms are in fact typical male heart attack symptoms. Women are more likely to experience breathlessness, fatigue, nausea and what feels like indigestion. These symptoms are called “atypical” even though they are far from atypical for women – who, after all, make up half the population. The result is that doctors don’t spot women’s symptoms, leaving them 50 per cent more likely to be misdiagnosed, and more likely to die than a man if they have a heart attack.
I was horrified: how was this happening? And where else was it happening? Pretty much everywhere, it turned out.
I’m often asked what the most shocking finding is of Invisible Women, and the truth is it’s impossible to pick one. From cars being less safe for women (because crash test dummies are based on male physique) to the irony of some “personal protective equipment” being actively hazardous for women (because it’s not designed to accommodate their bodies), how can I choose?
What really stood out was the excuses – chief among these is the idea that women are just too complicated to measure. Our economic activity is too complicated, our travel patterns are too complicated, our bodies are too complicated.
And so when I came across a Kingston University Twitter account defending yet another all-male clinical trial on the basis that women have periods, I saw red. “We have to remove females because their periods do impact the findings,” I was told.
You’re damn right that periods “impact the findings”. But that is a reason to study them. There are several drugs that interact with the menstrual cycle, meaning that standard dosages may be too high at a certain point and too low at another. During the first half of a woman’s cycle certain anti-heart-arrhythmia drugs are more likely to trigger a heart attack. That feels like quite an important fact to consider.
It’s all gone barking mad
The part of my life that isn’t spent being angry over the gender data gap is spent being angry over Brexit. Last week I got angry about Brexit on Politics Live, I got angry about Brexit on Sky News, and I got angry about Brexit on Twitter. And I got to express my anger via the ballot box as well.
I set off to the polling station with my dog Poppy, but when we arrived, we were faced with my perpetual nemesis: a “no dogs allowed” sign. I’m aware there is not much sympathy for the plight of the single dog mum, but you can’t leave dogs on their own for hours on end, so Britain being dog-unfriendly does make life logistically difficult. I know there’s no point in arguing; these rules are not open to common sense workarounds such as carrying her. I hooked her lead over the fence post and nipped in to vote.
But who to vote for? There are some great Labour MEPs and MPs I would have loved to support, but while they might wish that they were part of a “remain and reform” party, their wishy-washy manifesto said otherwise. Plus, I made that mistake in 2017 and ever since my vote has been taken as an endorsement of Brexit.
I didn’t have long to think. Poppy never makes a sound when she’s with me, but she expresses her outrage if I leave her. The yapping started before I even finished telling the polling clerks my address. I panic-voted Green and legged it out of there to face Poppy’s wrath. If that was a bad choice I can only blame my returning officer. Still, my #dogsatpollingstations tweet made the Guardian politics liveblog, so it wasn’t all bad. And the results weren’t all bad either. Let’s hope Labour takes note: its voters don’t want to leave the EU.
Statues for women
The week ended with a blast from the past in the shape of my old friend Neil Thorne. I have tangled with the former Tory MP before, when I campaigned for a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to be placed in Parliament Square. He wanted a new one of Emmeline Pankhurst, even though there is already a Pankhurst statue in Victoria Tower Gardens, a location chosen specifically by the surviving suffragettes, several of whom attended its opening. Putting up a new Pankhurst statue would mean moving the original somewhere else, and for some reason he had chosen the private grounds of Regent’s University, with which Pankhurst had no connection. The alarm was raised by suffrage historian Elizabeth Crawford, and the monstrous feminist regiment rallied, resulting in Thorne dropping his plans.
Until now. The Telegraph got in touch to ask what I thought about his decision to appeal against not getting planning permission. I’m at a loss to understand why he is so set on a Pankhurst statue. There are so many brilliant women who not only don’t have a historically significant statue just round the corner, but who don’t have a statue at all. There are only 80 statues of named women in Britain, compared with 422 men, according to the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association. If you have the money to fund a statue, why not use the opportunity to rectify past wrongs? But I suppose I can’t expect everyone to be as obsessed as I am with making invisible women visible.
This article appears in the 29 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Theresa May’s toxic legacy