Author profile picture

Hold on to your hats. A few weeks ago, a group of students presented me with a brand persona that they had designed whereby they visualized that brand as a human being. The core value of the brand was ‘caring‘. The students visualized this brand as a woman who was cooking food for her children. I kept calm. Breathe in, breathe out. I cautiously asked the students if it wasn’t a bit cliché to immediately think of a woman when they hear the word ‘caring’, and then a woman behind a kitchen sink at that? There was no response. Then when I joked that it was really my husband who was cooking lasagne for the children that night, there was some laughter, though it did not lead to a change in the brand persona. Apparently even young, free spirits cannot escape stereotypical images. A feminine visualization of “caring” was perhaps not the most shocking, but the standard image of the woman behind the kitchen sink made every hair on the back of my neck stand up. Since when is Aletta Jacobs no longer an example for young female students?

Just a girl

The theme of emancipation is one that occasionally bubbles to the surface in my mind. Maybe it was triggered by a presentation I gave on the subject in high school (entitled ‘Just a Girl’, after a song by No Doubt) and in which I put my heart and soul. Or maybe I was influenced by an emancipated mother who wasn’t behind the kitchen sink, but instead had her head stuck in her study books? The theme of emancipation is not one that keeps me awake at night (maybe it should ?), but simply one that is more actively present in my thoughts from time to time. As it is at this very moment. What triggered this was the fact that men were treated as the ‘standard’ in research into corona vaccines, as was recently revealed. An Investico investigation found that the gender element was ignored in vaccine research and that the male response was seen as the standard. I found that absolutely bewildering.

Triggered by the concept of how women’s perspective had been neglected, I went and bought the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. Now I see kitchen cabinets that are hanging too high everywhere and other examples of a world that is essentially designed for men.n Not for nothing, Perez writes in her book “when we say mankind, we tend to mean man”.

Man as the standard population

This gender bias is also prevalent in science. You would be justified in calling this surprising. For example, in an article published in Translational Psychiatry, part of the journal Nature, the authors ask the question “Why are some of the people who describe themselves as being fair and objective still so vulnerable to making biased decisions when it comes to the evaluation of female scientists and scientific results produced and/or presented by a woman?

Unfortunately, it does not just end with a different attitude towards female scientists than towards male scientists. The problem is even more fundamental: Those people subject to research by scientists are also mostly masculine in nature. Research participants are routinely exclusively male, which means that the scientific insights found are actually only valid for men. The authors of the article in Translational Psychiatry write:“The misinterpretation of female subjects in basic research can be “historically” explained, in part founded on incorrect perceptions, such as that experiments conducted in female animals are inherently more variable than those relying on males. One may argue that this sex mismatch additionally constitutes the reflection of the biased perception that males constitute “the norm” and relevant “standard population”.

It is time that we stopped seeing by definition men as the standard, both in science and in real-world practice.

Everything turns to liquid under pressure

This change will not happen by itself; it takes pressure. Under pressure, everything turns to liquid, even gender bias. An important first step is to record the issues in procedures. You have to find a way to compel people to do what they don’t do of their own accord. Procedures, no matter how boring and laborious, command a different perspective. This makes it possible to stipulate that a female perspective be taken into account in everything that can be designed. Whether you are designing a kitchen cabinet or a scientific research proposal, you have to insist that it is designed for the entire world population and not just half of it.

About this column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Bert Overlack, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way to find solutions to the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous articles.