Trying to survive in a world designed for men

In 2010, 18-year-old Michelle Pfleger died due to the medication she was on. In 1997, a British female police officer was stabbed to death after removing her protective vest, as she was unable to move with it on. Women are 17% more likely to die from a car crash than men, and 47% more likely to suffer a serious injury. Out of all the people that die due to being administered the wrong type or amount of medication, 67% of them are women. A seatbelt still hasn’t been developed for pregnant women. How are women expected to survive in a world designed for men? From different hormones, immune systems, average heights and weights, there is more than one difference that separates men and women. In a world where there is an equal amount of each, how can it be that just about anything ranging from medicine to cars is based on only 50% of the population? 

Michelle Pfleger, a champion equestrian and a freshman at college, died on her way to class. Her cause of death? A blood clot. But how could a blood clot cause such a young and active person to die? The truth is, Michelle Pfleger had no risk other than the birth control she was currently taking. A pill called Yaz, made by the manufacturer Bayer, was what caused the young woman to die so suddenly. Yaz was known to have a high level of drospirenone, which increases the risk of blood clots, but that didn’t stop it from being used by tens of millions of women all around the world. Pfleger’s mother sued Bayer in one of the 11’000 lawsuits filed over Yaz in 2012. How can so many women be put at risk in modern day society? It is simply due to the lack of research in female medicine, when all the attention is focused on men. 

Unfortunately, Michelle Pfleger is not the only victim when it comes to living in a world designed for someone that is not herself. Many workers are required to wear PPE (Personal protective equipment), anything from goggles to protective vests. Although a large number of women use PPE, it is nearly solely based on the characteristics of males. People seem to believe that when it comes to female workers, all they need to do is to buy smaller sizes of PPE. They seem to move past the difference in hips, chests, and legs that can largely affect the efficiency of protective equipment. A report done by the TUC in 2017 states that only 5% of women said that their PPE did not interfere with their work. So 95% of women find themselves not being able to perform their work as well as men, simply because they are forced to function with something that they cannot work with. 

PPE, as mentioned earlier, is used in all sorts of different work categories. In more scientific and construction areas of work, goggles are often required. In the United States, the standard goggles used to protect one’s eyes from chemicals or dust is based on the average male face shape. This means that they do not fit most women. As for frontline workers, such as police officers, the lack of correct protective equipment can prove to be fatal. A drastic case in 1997 caused a police officer to be stabbed to death. She had removed her protective vest after realizing that she could not move around with it on. This specific woman had gotten a breast reduction surgery two years before the accident. She was forced to do so due to the health effects that her body armour was causing her. Despite getting a surgery, the PPE remained uncomfortable, later forcing her to take it off and thus die; this was all because there was no equipment made for her, or any other women at the time. Once her story began to be heard, 700 female police officers in the same force stepped up to complain about their PPE. Today, it has been nearly 25 years since this woman passed away and all of these women came forward, but hardly anything has changed. To this day, protective equipment STILL does not fit women. Complaints are being filed constantly, and women are forced to get physiotherapy and breast reductions simply due to the fact that protective vests do not have space for their breasts. How many more women have to die at the hands of this problem for people to wake up? 

Nonetheless, this is still not the most shocking issue. Cars, in which men and women alike spend hours upon hours of their weeks getting from point to point, are specifically designed for the male body. When building a car, a company is required to use a dummy to test whether or not the car is safe. The dummy that is most commonly used by a vast majority of car manufacturers stands 1.77 m tall and weighs 76 kg, being significantly taller and heavier than the average woman. The average height for a woman in the US is 1.63 m, nearly 15cm shorter than the dummy. Regardless, most companies still do not test their cars with a smaller and lighter dummy; when they do, it is often only in the passenger seat. Not surprisingly, the dummy also has the same spinal column and muscle-mass proportion as a male. Women are 17% more likely to die in a car crash, 71% more likely to be moderately injured, and 47% more likely to be severely injured. Are these stats not enough to realise that the system is flawed? 

This issue also applies to pregnant women who, like women in general, are completely looked over. Testing with a pregnant crash-test dummy is still, in 2021, not a legal requirement in either the EU or the US. What is most shocking is that car crashes are the No. 1 cause for foetal death, yet appropriate dummy testing is still not a legal requirement and a seat belt that fits pregnant women has yet to be created. 

Products are constantly being made to suit only 50% of the population while expecting the other half to make do with it. It is far beyond time to start designing women into these products. Too many women die of things that could have been avoided; this can be solved simply by acknowledging that women also play a role in society and that they need to be accommodated for. Buying smaller sizes and ignoring statistics is not going to save the unnecessary female lives lost. We need to do better and understand that “one-size fits men” simply does not work. It is 2021. We have had more than enough time to learn from our mistakes. Now is the time to fix them.

-Tess Barbey

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