Science has got a lot wrong about the female sex over the years. This is often because those conducting the research are more biased than I am. While this isn’t actually all the surprising – you can’t help but extrapolate your experiences and your knowledge onto the data you are working with – the sheer volume of biased research which is held to be correct is astounding. In Inferior Angela Saini explores, deconstructs, and explains how so much misguided research has been used to write ‘truths’ about women.
I first saw this book on twitter and was instantly drawn to the incredible paperback cover. Then I started reading and found myself flying through the pages. Saini charts the scientific research which has tried to explain why and how women are different from men from birth to old age. She address questions like:
- Do boys really prefer playing with cars?
- Was the patriarchal society we currently live in inevitable?
- Are women really gatherers and men hunters?
- Are women really less promiscuous than men?
There are so many stereotypes stemming from sex research which has been used to put women in their place: in the home, looking after the children. Saini methodically dismantles these stereotypes, highlighting the sexism of the scientists behind most of them. She investigates why these studies were held to show a profound truth about men and women and what studies now show.
There were times when I didn’t find this a comfortable read at all. I surround myself with feminist thinking and literature and with people who see the world as I do. What I hold as common sense (basically that there aren’t any sex differences between the brains of men and women) is a ridiculously hot topic in science. Scientists – and usually men – are determined to find difference which uphold inherent sexism. However the most uncomfortable part for me was the debate on promiscuity.
The well-established and long held form of thinking is that men are naturally promiscuous and women are not. Not only do many studies not take society into context (I as a woman am labelled a slut while he as a man is lauded for the same behaviour), nor do they take the evidence of different societies into consideration. However more than this – and this was the extremely painful part for me – if women were naturally coy and had no real interest in sex then men wouldn’t ‘mate-guard’ them. Or in other words, police them and their behaviour. Suddenly Inferior was talking about FGM, rape, domestic violence.
I loved Inferior and think it’s a book everyone should read because as Saini herself writes, “There is no biological commandment that says women are natural homemakers and unnatural hunters, or that hands-on fathers are breaking some eternal code of the sexes.”
Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini is published by 4th Estate.