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A Design Flaw That Impacts Hu(Man) Kind

My life’s purpose is to share stories that are underreported and overlooked. So for this letter, I’m turning over the keys to Jasmine Barta, my incredible website and newsletter designer.


Growing up, my family and I would take a road trip from New Mexico to Arizona to visit my grandparents at least once a year. And every year the same CDs played over the car speakers. (My parents are fond of the oldies.)

One year, when I was a teenager, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by James Brown played as it had the year before, and the year before that, during our trips. But this time the lyrics struck me differently:

“This is a man's world

This is a man's world

But it would be nothing, nothing

Without a woman or a girl”

The lyrics rang true. It did feel like a man’s world, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

And the world wouldn’t be anything without the strong, beautiful, talented women I knew and looked up to… so why did it still feel like a man’s world?

Over 10 years later a moment resurfaced that memory and made it all click into place with a startling clarity.

It was almost like a retroactive realization.

It happened when I read “Meeting Harry Styles and what it taught me about ‘gender contamination’ in business” by Katrine Marçal.

She detailed her experience attending a press junket for the film Dunkirk:

“The room was a bit chilly and most of the female journalists started putting cardigans and coats on. If you are familiar with the work of Caroline Criado Perez (which you all should be) you know that air conditioning temperature is often set based on a formula developed around the metabolic resting rate of the average forty-year old man. This is usually too cold for the average woman.

Then Harry Styles came in.”

In her story, Styles was the only man who noticed that the women looked cold and immediately asked if the heating could be turned up. He even tried to do it himself when no one acted upon it.

But that brings me back to my realization I had when I read her piece: that men are the default.

Despite all I know about sexism, ageism, and gender inequality and biases in the workforce,(and I’m still learning) it had still never truly occured to me that it extended so far beyond our careers.

We live in a world that was built for men.

The author Marçal cited earlier, Caroline Criado Perez, has collected a lot of data on this subject for her book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. And it goes way beyond the standard office temperature catering to men.

The research ranges from annoying (I can’t reach the top shelves in my kitchen or bedroom because most architecture is traditionally built to cater to a six-foot-tall man) to heartbreakingly deadly. (Women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash because cars, and car crash dummies, are built with the average man in mind.)

And it doesn’t end there.

Leslie Kern, author of Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World writes about how cities, at their core, were planned for the needs of men.

“All forms of urban planning draw on a cluster of assumptions about the ‘typical’ urban citizen: their daily travel plans, needs, desires, and values,” writes Kern. “Shockingly, this citizen is a man.”

And what makes that even more frustrating is that when men are the default and women are near-invisible, there's no room in the existing structure to design a world to include gender nonbinary individuals who so deserve to be seen.

How do we combat sexism and gender bias when it’s literally built into the infrastructure?

I think it starts with simply noticing, and starting conversations.

What are everyday things you encounter that you realize weren't built with women in mind? And who are you going to tell about it?


Jasmine Barta is a former journalist and current website designer, social media marketer, and publicist for authors, small businesses, and nonprofits around the world. She lives in Seattle with her tiny black cat and spends her free time devouring books, playing music, and planning her next adventure. You can find her here.

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