A World of His Making
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Before there was soil, or sky, or any green thing, there was only the gaping abyss of Ginnungagap. This chaos of perfect silence and darkness lay between the homeland of elemental fire, Muspelheim , and the homeland of elemental ice, Niflheim. Frost from Niflheim and billowing flames from Muspelheim crept toward each other until they met in Ginnungagap. Ymir was a hermaphrodite and could reproduce asexually; when he slept, more giants leapt forth from his legs and from the sweat of his armpits.
She nourished Ymir with her milk, and she, in turn, was nourished by salt-licks in the ice.
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The half-god, half-giant children of Bor and Bestla were Odin , who became the chief of the Aesir gods, and his two brothers, Vili and Ve. Odin and his brothers slew Ymir and set about constructing the world from his corpse. They fashioned the oceans from his blood, the soil from his skin and muscles, vegetation from his hair, clouds from his brains, and the sky from his skull. The gods eventually formed the first man and woman, Ask and Embla , from two tree trunks, and built a fence around their dwelling-place, Midgard , to protect them from the giants.
Thematically, Ymir is the personification of the chaos before creation, which is also depicted as the impersonal void of Ginnungagap. It is no-thing-ness. But the giants are more than just forces of destruction. In the words of medievalist Margaret Clunies Ross:. These raw materials are of diverse kinds and include intellectual capital such as the ability to brew ale as well as the cauldron in which it is made, and abstractions made concrete like the mead of poetry and the runes of wisdom.
Not only does Ymir fit this pattern; mythologically speaking, his death and dismemberment is the paradigmatic model for this pattern. This also explains why Ymir is depicted as a hermaphrodite who can reproduce on his own asexually. The gods had to create that as part of their task of giving differentiated forms to what had previously been formless and undifferentiated.
Various other creation myths from other peoples have used a hermaphroditic being to illustrate this same concept,  so we can be confident that this is also what the Norse meant here — despite the superficial counterexample of Audhumla and her udder. After all, Norse mythology was never an airtight system.
The scream, the wordless voice, is the raw material from which words are made. The Vikings, like the other ancient Germanic peoples, were and are notorious for their eagerness for battle. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that conflict is such a central theme in their creation myth — and that conflict is itself a generative force.
When it comes to the other half of humanity, there is often nothing but silence. And these silences are everywhere. This is the gender data gap. These silences, these gaps, have consequences. The impact can be relatively minor — struggling to reach a top shelf set at a male height norm, for example.
Irritating, certainly. But not life-threatening. For these women, the consequences of living in a world built around male data can be deadly. The gender data gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male. In the musical My Fair Lady, phoneticist Henry Higgins is baffled when, after enduring months of his hectoring put-downs, his protege-cum-victim Eliza Doolittle finally bites back.
The formula to determine standard office temperature was developed in the s around the metabolic resting rate of the average man. But a recent Dutch study found that the metabolic rate of young adult females performing light office work is significantly lower than the standard values for men doing the same activity. This leads to the odd sight of female office workers wrapped in blankets in the summer, while their male colleagues wander around in shorts. Not only is this situation inequitable, it is bad business sense: an uncomfortable workforce is an unproductive workforce.
But workplace data gaps lead to a lot worse than simple discomfort and inefficiency. Over the past years, workplaces have, on the whole, got considerably safer. In the early s, about 4, people in the UK died at work every year. By , that figure had fallen to But while serious injuries at work have been decreasing for men, there is evidence that they have been increasing among women.
The gender data gap is again implicated, with occupational research traditionally focused on male-dominated industries.
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Every year, 8, people in the UK die from work-related cancers. Over the past 50 years, breast cancer rates in the industrialised world have risen significantly — but a failure to research female bodies, occupations and environments means that the data for exactly what is behind this rise is lacking. Instead, we continue to rely on data from studies done on men as if they apply to women.
Specifically, Caucasian men aged 25 to 30, who weigh 70kg. Of course, he does not. Men and women have different immune systems and hormones, which can play a role in how chemicals are absorbed. Women tend to be smaller than men and have thinner skin, both of which can lower the level of toxins they can be safely exposed to.
Chemicals are still usually tested in isolation, and on the basis of a single exposure. But this is not how women tend to encounter them. Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, miscarriages and lung diseases. If these women then go home and begin a second unpaid shift cleaning their home, they will be exposed to different chemicals that are ubiquitous in common products. The effects of these mixing together are largely unknown.
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Most of the research on chemicals has focused on their absorption through the skin. But many of the ones used in nail salons are extremely volatile, which means that they evaporate at room temperature and can be inhaled — along with the considerable amounts of dust produced when acrylic nails are filed. The research on how this may impact on workers is virtually nonexistent. Part of the failure to see the risks in traditionally female-dominated industries is because often these jobs are an extension of what women do in the home although at a more onerous scale.
Why does a brick have to be that size? In the UK, employers are legally required to provide well-maintained personal protective equipment PPE — anything from goggles to full body suits — to workers who need it, free of charge. The TUC found that employers often think that when it comes to female workers all they need to do to comply with this legal requirement is to buy smaller sizes. Differences in chests, hips and thighs can affect the way the straps fit on safety harnesses. When it comes to frontline workers, poorly fitting PPE can prove fatal.
In , a British female police officer was stabbed and killed while using a hydraulic ram to enter a flat. She had removed her body armour because it was too difficult to use the ram while wearing it. Two years later, a female police officer revealed that she had had to have breast-reduction surgery because of the health effects of wearing her body armour. After this case was reported, another officers in the same force came forward to complain about the standard-issue protective vest. But although the complaints have been coming regularly over the past 20 years, little seems to have been done.
British female police officers report being bruised by their kit belts; a number have had to have physiotherapy because of the way stab vests sit on their body; many complain there is no space for their breasts. This is not only uncomfortable, it also results in stab vests coming up too short, leaving women unprotected. Any woman who has ever been to the theatre knows what that means.
This evening, the queue was worse than usual. Far worse. The obvious happened. Rather than rendering the toilets genuinely gender neutral, they had simply increased the provision for men. However, if a male toilet has both cubicles and urinals, the number of people who can relieve themselves at once is far higher per square foot of floor space in the male bathroom than in the female bathroom.
Women make up the majority of the elderly and disabled, two groups that will tend to need more time in the toilet. Women are also more likely to be accompanied by children, as well as disabled and older people. Women may also require more trips to the bathroom: pregnancy significantly reduces bladder capacity, and women are eight times more likely to suffer from urinary-tract infections.
In the face of all these anatomical differences, it would surely take a formal equality dogmatist to continue to argue that equal floor space between men and women is fair. Donison was writing as a male pianist who, due to his smaller than average hands, had struggled for years with traditional keyboards, but he could equally have been writing as a woman. There is plenty of data showing that women have, on average, smaller hands, and yet we continue to design equipment around the average male hand as if one-size-fits-men is the same as one-size-fits-all.
The Creation of the Cosmos
The average smartphone size is now 5. This is obviously annoying — and foolish for a company like Apple, given that research shows women are more likely to own an iPhone than men. The tech journalist and author James Ball has a theory for why the big-screen fixation persists: because the received wisdom is that men drive high-end smartphone purchases. Or could it be because smartphones are designed without women in mind? Good news for men, then.
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But tough breaks for women like my friend Liz who owns a third-generation Motorola Moto G.