Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story

From intelligence to emotion, for centuries science has told us that men and women are fundamentally different. But this is not the whole story.Shedding light on controversial research and investigating the ferocious gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology, Angela Saini takes readers on an eye-opening journey to uncover how women are being rediscovered. She exp...

Title:Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story
Author:
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ISBN:0807071706
Number of Pages:200 pages

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story Reviews

  • Faith Justice

    I love science and history and truly enjoy it when they overlap in books such as

    . As a feminist, I keep up with gender-based research and have for several decades. Disproving bad science that stated women's minds, bodies, and emotions were inferior to men's was a key element of my job when I worked with school systems to implement Title IX in the 70's. Title IX a.k.a "the law that will destroy boys sports" in f

    I love science and history and truly enjoy it when they overlap in books such as

    . As a feminist, I keep up with gender-based research and have for several decades. Disproving bad science that stated women's minds, bodies, and emotions were inferior to men's was a key element of my job when I worked with school systems to implement Title IX in the 70's. Title IX a.k.a "the law that will destroy boys sports" in football-crazy Ohio and basketball-obsessed Indiana where I did most of my work. Maybe those coaches and teachers were right. Look who took home most of the medals on the US team from the Rio Olympics. But Title IX was about so much more than sports--equal access for girls and women to all aspects of education.

    I knew about many of the studies described in this book, but it was still educational seeing them all pulled together and analysis of their techniques and possible biases hashed out. One of my favorite chapters dealt with brain science. Try as they might, neurologists and endocrinologists cannot find differences between the brains of males and females. There is far more variation within each sex than between them. Another favorite chapter was on women's sexuality which explored in depth the myth that women were naturally more modest, choosy, and had lower sex drives than men (only in those societies that demand it of women and punish the non-conformers). In all the chapters Saini comes to some conclusions based on the evidence, but her final chapter is ambiguous and (as a woman of a "certain age") my favorite of all--"The Old Women Who Wouldn't Die"--that looked at the evolution of women living after menopause.

    There are only a handful of species, including killer whales, where the females continue to live and thrive after their childbearing years are over. She discusses the "grandmother theory" which posits that a few long-lived females way back in the mists of time were able to contribute additional resources and important knowledge that favored their daughters and grandchildren. This set up a virtuous cycle that resulted in human females living well-past child bearing years. The opposite is the "rich old man" theory that said a few long-lived high status males had access to many females and passed on their long-life proclivity to their offspring including daughters. You can imagine which theory I favor, but there isn't enough evidence or ways of studying to come to any provable conclusion. We'll just have to live with all of us old broads continuing to positively contribute to society long past the time when we're "useful" as incubators.

    I found the book quite readable, but I like this kind of thing. Saini does a great job of putting the science in historical and social context. She is NOT "male bashing." Individual men who did poor science or let a male agenda color their conclusions, might feel pinched. But this is not a "women are better in every way" book. It shows how science was used to marginalize women, as the basis for laws and societal norms. By updating that science, Saini demolishes those arguments for keeping women from having equal access to all the advantages of modern life. She writes plainly and gives lots of background for the studies, so you don't have to read them yourself. This was an ARC and I missed the index which will be in the final version. Highly recommended for casual science geeks and people who like women. Misogynists and fundamentalists of all stripes should give it a pass. I learned long ago before the current post-fact fad, that people with biases can't be persuaded with facts. However, sometimes--just sometimes--they can be persuaded with stories and personal connections.

    Note: I received this book through an Early Reader program in exchange for an honest review.

  • Carling

    One day in high school I was discussing with someone the possibility of getting certified in first aid. While they were encouraging, they also recommended doing some reading outside of the classroom. When I ask why, their reply was simple: "They didn't tell me that a woman's symptoms of a heart attack are different than a man's." At the time I remember being shocked that something so deadly and so important to know wasn't a part of the very lifesaving course I and many others rely on. It was the

    One day in high school I was discussing with someone the possibility of getting certified in first aid. While they were encouraging, they also recommended doing some reading outside of the classroom. When I ask why, their reply was simple: "They didn't tell me that a woman's symptoms of a heart attack are different than a man's." At the time I remember being shocked that something so deadly and so important to know wasn't a part of the very lifesaving course I and many others rely on. It was the first time I felt like science maybe wasn't as equal as I imagined.

    Fast forward four years and I'm diagnosed with a chronic illness that mostly impacts women. I can list to you maybe five facts that we know for sure about it and the research is scarce. Again, I find myself thinking back to those high school days and wondering why erectile dysfunction is more studied than my own very real disease.

    Inferior discusses ways in which science has historically suppressed women. Part feminist analysis and part scientific overview of certain aspects of gender-based and evolutionary scientific fields, Inferior is incredibly well researched with equal balance given to both sides. I can't remember the last time I felt so empowered by a book and validated for feelings I never knew I had. In an age where we question science for all the wrong reasons, Inferior sheds a light on questions that we should be asking.

    5 stars

  • Amy Neftzger

    This is one of those books that needed to be written in order to explain the gaps in research as well as real life. There are differences between men and women that research has identified that don't actually exist, while at the same time missing some of the true differences. This is a study in bias as much (or more) as it is a study in gender differences. Science is a quest for truth, and while the truth may ultimately be revealed, our biases can mislead us down some dark alleys along that ques

    This is one of those books that needed to be written in order to explain the gaps in research as well as real life. There are differences between men and women that research has identified that don't actually exist, while at the same time missing some of the true differences. This is a study in bias as much (or more) as it is a study in gender differences. Science is a quest for truth, and while the truth may ultimately be revealed, our biases can mislead us down some dark alleys along that quest. What is interesting is how these biases manifest in different cultures and how much truth can be ignored by so many highly educated individuals. A very interesting read.

  • Emma

    The overarching point of this book, that the imbalance between men and women is socially and culturally, rather than biologically or scientifically, defined seems to me to be self evident. Of course, being female might have something to do with that outlook since i'd be on the losing side otherwise. I have never seen or believed in any inferiority in my sex or gender, neither do I believe in male/female characteristics, assigned gender roles, specific colours for boys and girls...etc etc. If any

    The overarching point of this book, that the imbalance between men and women is socially and culturally, rather than biologically or scientifically, defined seems to me to be self evident. Of course, being female might have something to do with that outlook since i'd be on the losing side otherwise. I have never seen or believed in any inferiority in my sex or gender, neither do I believe in male/female characteristics, assigned gender roles, specific colours for boys and girls...etc etc. If anything, the most surprising thing about the book and wider contemporary society is that we're still coming up against these outdated and increasingly unsupported ideas now.

    That is one of the main aims of the book, to underline the essential bias of societal and cultural norms that formed the basis for the apparently impartial scientific studies of the past. As a historian, one of the most important things you learn is the time specific nature of research: the type of questions asked, how the questions are framed, what seems important, methodology, desired outcomes- all these elements are determined by the current social, cultural, religious, economic, and political themes of the time. Scientific investigation is far from free of these biases and Saini suggests that only now are we starting to develop new ways of thinking.

    Of course, there may be some biological differences between men and women, but they need to be considered without linked ideas of superiority or inferiority. For example, Saini notes that in the case of heart attacks, men and women tend to have different symptoms and reactions, yet studies, and therefore medication, have been focused on the male experience, thus potentially being less effective for women. If that is true for the pathways of disease on a wider scale, how often are women not receiving the kind of care they need? It's a perfect example of the kind of assumptions that need to be addressed- what works for one does not necessary work as well for the other.

    There's a lot of research here, which Saini systematically explains, evaluating both strengths and weaknesses. Importantly, the author is positive overall; while she spends time exploding some of the scientific myths of the past, she also highlights the way changes have already been put in place and the increasingly expanded and essential role of women in, and as subjects of, scientific research. A timely and worthy read.

    ARC via Netgalley.

  • Kelly McCoy

    The is the BEST book I have ever read on this subject. I have learned so much and I highly recommend it to everyone!

  • Brian Clegg

    There are times when a book comes along that is perfectly timed for the zeitgeist - and that's true of Angela Saini's Inferior. Most of the educational and scientific community would, I'm sure, protest their absolute lack of gender bias - but the fact remains that the scientific establishment is still predominantly run by men, even if in some disciplines there are more female students and postgrads than male. And some scientists tell us that there is evidence to underline why this is the natural

    There are times when a book comes along that is perfectly timed for the zeitgeist - and that's true of Angela Saini's Inferior. Most of the educational and scientific community would, I'm sure, protest their absolute lack of gender bias - but the fact remains that the scientific establishment is still predominantly run by men, even if in some disciplines there are more female students and postgrads than male. And some scientists tell us that there is evidence to underline why this is the natural order, due to brain differences between males and females.

    Saini systematically pulls this assertion apart, showing how many of the apparent brain differences (and even physical modification of the brain) can be the result of cultural influences. It's not that there are absolutely no male/female differences in the brain, but they are small - in fact significantly smaller than the differences from individual to individual, a comparison that should mean that they are considered insignificant.

    After a shocking opening, demonstrating just how recently women's brains were genuinely considered inferior - Saini is able to quote Darwin in a letter making it clear that he believed this to be the case - it's not surprising that we get a lot of material showing how unfair this is. The only danger when this is done is of using the same type of dodgy data to make the counter argument. So, for example, a couple of times we are told that girls are, in fact, better at certain intellectual activities at some ages than boys - but clearly, given the lack of difference in brains, this too is presumably not a real distinction, but a cultural imposition.

    We also see some remarkable bias in the development of anthropological ideas, pushing through to evolutionary ones. Saini shows us how a 1960s symposium put across the idea that 'man as hunter' was the driver for civilisation, while totally ignoring the arguably more significant roles of women that went in parallel with this and would have to have been at least equally important in any shaping of our evolution and civilisation. It does seem shocking that scientists could get it so wrong in the modern era - and its hard not to see these errors pushing through into a sustained gender bias that should be incomprehensible with a proper, object scientific viewpoint.

    This is strong and thought-provoking stuff. If anything, Saini holds back in certain areas. While she points out the horrors of female genital mutilation, she only mentions in passing the way that some cultures, often driven by religion, still impose strictures on women that are accepted in the West because we don't like to be seen as racist or intolerant. Whether we talking about the culturally imposed wearing of a headscarf or large scale restriction of female independence, as long as these are tolerated it's hard to see that opinions can be universally changed.

    There were a couple of small scientific issues. Those who insist on a strong distinction between the male and female brain often using evolutionary arguments. As Saini begins to pull this apart she makes the statement 'For every difference or similarity we see, there must be some evolutionary purpose to it.' But this suggests a non-existent directed nature for evolution. And while natural selection makes it more likely that many changes will stay in a species if they have a benefit, it's entirely possible for changes that don't have a benefit to be kept, because no better alternative displaces them. There are plenty of oddities in the human body which, frankly, could be designed better - they don't have a purpose. Similarly there was significant focus on other primates to make observations on human evolutionary biology. But these are species that have changed as much genetically from our common ancestors as we have. I'm not sure how much we can learn about human evolutionary gender differences from a species we split from millions of years before Homo sapiens existed. But in both these cases, the impact is relatively small on the argument.

    I can imagine some readers will say that surely it is no longer necessary to make these points - we're all aware of them. You only have to look at the kind of society portrayed in a 1960s-set drama like Mad Men to see how much we've moved on. And we do, for instance, have more major political parties led by women than men in the UK at the moment. But the reality is that there are still unnecessary distinctions being made. We do see examples of women being treated as mental and social inferiors, or being segregated because of their gender. In some areas of science, there are still strong advocates for theories that probably should have been left with the Victorians. So this is a book we certainly need.

  • Sookie

    collects information that systematically debunks, questions and provides newer researches on the ideology that exists and has propagated the imbalance between men and women. There is always social, cultural and political aspects to this large question but science has come with its own contrived objectivity which has stunted different voices. The research that do get quoted, become sounding board for many of the modern arguments, has never been repeated with same results. Scientists have

    collects information that systematically debunks, questions and provides newer researches on the ideology that exists and has propagated the imbalance between men and women. There is always social, cultural and political aspects to this large question but science has come with its own contrived objectivity which has stunted different voices. The research that do get quoted, become sounding board for many of the modern arguments, has never been repeated with same results. Scientists have left out half the species, women, in their anthropological quests as women became mere sidekicks in human history as men evolved. Its interesting to note that sexism that existing in society that was slowly recognizing evolutionary biology influenced minds like Darwin who differentiated between male and female evolution and goes as far as to say that the modern day man as well is better version of the species due to genetic advantage.

    Saini collects research from various disciplines and puts into a modern context that is most relevant. She cites research that has cemented perspectives in society (women's brain is 5 ounces less than man, for example) which in turn has influenced lawmakers and society at large. Over course of decades the research moved further and further away from investing time and resources to include women and female oriented studies, thus the myths that originated in Victorian parlors, imbibed into everyday society. It takes years to undo an ideology that is so deeply rooted in all of us, we don't realize how it has been hindering our own progress.

    Ironically, almost everything Saini says is known. Common Knowledge. Yet here we are in this century still battling issues that have existed for centuries. There has been progress, yes, but it isn't enough. In many parts of the world we see ideologies in men and women that should have been left in eighteenth century.

    shows systematic induction of these ideologies over centuries. The book makes a good tool of educating ourselves about the research that is prevalent and the gaps that exists in those research areas.

  • Vivek Tejuja

    The title of this book tells you exactly what the book is about and I urge you to read the book if you are a sexist or not. You must. Everyone must. I am recommending it of course because I loved reading this book, but more so because of the times we live in, such books and more of this nature will sadly continue to be relevant till a change is seen on the horizon. Until then, the least we can do is keep ourselves adequately informed about women who make a difference in every sphere of life and

    The title of this book tells you exactly what the book is about and I urge you to read the book if you are a sexist or not. You must. Everyone must. I am recommending it of course because I loved reading this book, but more so because of the times we live in, such books and more of this nature will sadly continue to be relevant till a change is seen on the horizon. Until then, the least we can do is keep ourselves adequately informed about women who make a difference in every sphere of life and are not given credit, in this case, science.

    “Inferior” is one of those books that defies all that you might have known about science and women (which is very few and far in between) and rightly so. I don’t think defying would be the right term, but more so challenges premises and with accurate data, research and insight. You think there is equality of sexes but you don’t know zilch about it till you live it – either through experiencing it yourself or reading about other people’s experiences.

    “Inferior” by Angela Saini is about science and women. It seems so simple when I put it this way, but it isn’t. Saini sheds light on gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology and how women and their role to science in these streams need to be rediscovered. The book is about all the experiments and research covered by Saini to prove one simple fact: Women’s research and discoveries were completely either ignored and that’s when she shows us how white men feel that the old science is still what holds true and the new science is rubbish.

    Might I also add here that just because this book is about science doesn’t make it a tough read. It is a very easy read with terms that easy to comprehend and at no point did I get lost and I am one of those people who cannot read books on science. Angela adopts a conversational tone to the book which does wonders – every story, anecdote and bits of research lend in seamlessly to the book. There is intelligence and a whole lot of emotion – not the kind that gets you a lump in the throat but the kind that can make you empathetic and that is what is needed the most, in my opinion.

    “Inferior” rediscovers women and makes them look as individuals contributing to society than just being sidetracked with no mind of their own. There is a lot of history and politics as well which again ties up very well with what the author wants to objectively put forth. This book will debunk so many myths surrounding men and how they stereotype women’s brains and bodies and do not give them a chance to show their true mettle. All said and done, “Inferior” is one of the most important books of our times and like I said before, every single person must read this.

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