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Ergonomics?

Popular sheet music publisher E. T. Paull had published a book on songs, titled Dawn of the Century, in 1900. The cover illustration of the book was a consonantal one. There was a goddess-like figure at the centre of the illustration. The figure was of an angel of progress, bearing the flag of the new century. She was gently perched on a wheel with wings, which symbolised time. It also showed that her flight was taking her into the future. Also, there were railways, cameras, machines, printing machines and other symbols of progress floating around her.

The illustration portrayed a surprising contrast. It may be noted that every family was involved in the production process before the Era of Industrialisation, which is also called Proto-Industrialisation. And, Women were at the centre of this process. During the early days of civilisation, women, apart from being engaged in farming and other production processes, invented small machines or objects, such as needle, yarn, etc., for their own benefit. Ever since the emergence of Mass-Production, Profit and Capitalism, the role of women has been systematically reduced in the production process. The Technology, too, became Masculine in its appearance and strength!

Interestingly, the male figure and needs of men played an important role in designing the machines. In her latest publication Invisible Women, English feminist author, journalist and activist Caroline Criado-Perez has claimed that everything – from seatbelts to voice recognition software to air conditioners to public restrooms, are made for men. In fact, any device or gadget is designed for men by men, she mentioned. Hence, women feel uncomfortable while using those items. Those are also dangerous for them, as far as safety and security of women are concerned.

Criado-Perez started writing this book after receiving a strange information. She suddenly came to know that the symptoms of heart attack, like chest pain and pain in the left arm, are actually symptoms of heart disease in men! In case of women, the symptoms are breathing problem, nausea, fatigue, and indigestion. Unfortunately, the Public Health Department (of various countries) does not sensitise people about this. After receiving this piece of information, the author observed that designs of all the devices or gadgets were made for men!

Criado-Perez has mentioned in her book that the size of a public restroom is the same for both women and men. Apparently, it is normal. However, women need a lot more space to serve their special needs. For example, one can mention menstruation or taking care of their children.

Interestingly, snow-cleaning activities, too, are male-oriented! Officials of the Swedish city of Karlskoga have admitted that mainly men are benefiting from the activities of the local Municipality. Usually, women use small streets or narrow lanes for daily commutes, public transport, feeding the baby, having parents’ meetings, caring for elderly parents, shopping, etc. in Örebro County. Still, women are involved in 75% unpaid care works across the globe. Hence, the snow on the streets, used by women, is cleared much later in Sweden and other European countries.

There is a common excuse for excluding women from any gadget or info system. It is heard that women are complex, their bodies are complex, and their minds are even more complex! The Voice Recognition Software does not recognise female voices, because the data-set on which the algorithm is based is male-biased. The same is applicable for Translation Software. Image Labeling Software considers anyone, standing next to an oven, a woman! This stereotype is a terrible thing. One can find an image of a lady covering her face outside the women’s toilet (especially in Middle East)! As if, women cannot wear trousers or jeans. In the same way, seatbelts, airbag protection, waist-mounted microphone sets… all are male-biased. In other words, the default body type on the basis of which the data-set is made is actually a male body.

Women’s Toilet

Swiss-French architect, designer, painter, urban planner, writer, and one of the pioneers of what is now regarded as modern architecture Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965), popularly known as Le Corbusier, had introduced the concept of Human Scale in architecture in 1930. He developed the Modulor in the long tradition of Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the work of Leon Battista Alberti, and other attempts to discover mathematical proportions in the human body, and then to use that knowledge to improve both the appearance and function of architecture. The Modulor arised from Le Corbusier’s obsession with establishing harmony between spaces and the human body, symbolising a step towards binding the body and the architectural world. Le Corbusier’s Human was basically a 6ft-tall man. When the car crash test dummy was conducted for the first time in 1950, it was actually the dummy of a male figure. Later, the car manufacturers started female crash test. However, the female dummy that they used was actually a scale down male body or a smaller form of a male dummy.

Le Corbusier’s Human Scale

This situation shall change only when women, in more numbers, get involved in product designing. Till then, as mentioned in Aesop’s fable: the stork may be forced to have meals in a wide, but shallow dish!

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