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:
Rating:
ISBN:0807071706
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:200 pages

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

  • Skjam!
    Mar 03, 2017

    Disclaimer: I received this Uncorrected Page Proof as a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was requested or offered. Some material may be changed in the final product, due out 5/23/17.

    Today there was a news story about a member of the European Parliament arguing against equal pay for women on the grounds that “they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent.” Unsurprisingly, this MEP was male. Equally unsurprising was the tongue-lashing

    Disclaimer: I received this Uncorrected Page Proof as a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review. No other compensation was requested or offered. Some material may be changed in the final product, due out 5/23/17.

    Today there was a news story about a member of the European Parliament arguing against equal pay for women on the grounds that “they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent.” Unsurprisingly, this MEP was male. Equally unsurprising was the tongue-lashing he got from a fellow MEP who happened to be female. But while it’s unusual for a theoretically respectable politician to say these things in public nowadays, it is a current of thought that stretches back to at least the ancient Greeks. And often science has been misused to justify such attitudes.

    This book is mostly about the science of sex differences (that is, “how are men and women different?”) and how that science has been interpreted over the years to justify sexism and resistance to social change on the subject, but also about contrary evidence and theories that paint a more egalitarian picture. The author is an award-winning British science journalist who was assigned to write a piece on menopause but found enough material for this book.

    The book begins with Charles Darwin claiming that women were less evolved than men for reasons. Then it covers multiple subjects such as brain imaging and primatology on the way to the riddle of why women don’t just die when they become infertile. (The last has two major competing hypotheses named “The Grandmother Hypothesis” and “The Patriarch Hypothesis”; all the scientists that have gone on record as supporting the latter are male.)

    There’s a reference list for each chapter, and will be an index in the final product. There may be illustrations in the published version; there were none in the proof copy.

    A repeated theme of the book is the suggestion that many sex difference researchers started from “essentialism”, the basic assumption that men and women are different in fundamental ways, and then did their research in such a way as to disproportionately focus on the ways the sexes are different, rather than similar, and sometimes even finding differences that don’t appear to actually exist. It’s also notable that several male researchers come across as dismissive of research done by scientists (particularly women) whose results contradict their own theories. One, for example, admits that he’s never studied bonobos himself, but clearly the research results found by a woman must be wrong since it’s different from what he learned by studying chimpanzees.

    The writing is clear and concise, and should be readable by bright high school students on up (although some parents may find parts of the subject matter, such as the existence of intersex people, uncomfortable.) Recommended to those interested in science, feminism and the intersection of the two.

  • Faith Justice
    Mar 11, 2017

    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.

  • Dane Cobain
    Mar 31, 2017

    Disclaimer: While I aim to be unbiased, I received a copy of this for free to review.

    Inferior is an interesting book, because it uses scientific studies, statistics and data to question the way that women have been portrayed throughout the years by scientific literature. Now, I’m not a woman, but I do believe in science, and Saini’s book opens your eyes to the fact that science isn’t always impartial.

    It’s a feminist book, then, but one that can be enjoyed whatever you call yourself. And it’s als

    Disclaimer: While I aim to be unbiased, I received a copy of this for free to review.

    Inferior is an interesting book, because it uses scientific studies, statistics and data to question the way that women have been portrayed throughout the years by scientific literature. Now, I’m not a woman, but I do believe in science, and Saini’s book opens your eyes to the fact that science isn’t always impartial.

    It’s a feminist book, then, but one that can be enjoyed whatever you call yourself. And it’s also non-fiction, which means that it’ll help to broaden your mind, in this case by challenging established wisdom by attacking the flawed science that much of it is based on. But it doesn’t come across as preachy, or even as boring – it’s a thoroughly engaging look at how science has been manipulated, without our knowledge, and it raises and then answers a whole host of questions that follow.

    And that’s how science should be – the entire field relies upon enquiring minds asking questions, and Saini doesn’t shy away from them. Some people claim that science can’t be sexist because it just presents the facts, but facts can be interpreted in different ways, such as when we try to explain why the menopause happens.

    For me, as a reader, it was a challenge – not because it was difficult to read, but because it invited my active participation and got me wondering, “What if?” And it’s as convincing on the matter of gender as The God Delusion is on religion – a much-needed triumph of free thinking. Read it!

  • Amy Neftzger
    May 23, 2017

    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.

  • Siria
    Jun 03, 2017

    A brief but interesting overview of some of the ways in which science—though presented as impartial—has in fact done much to reinforce societal and cultural norms about binary sex and gender. Angela Saini points out that biological differences between male and female bodies are still only imperfectly understood, and are not as clear-cut as are commonly thought. When it comes to male and female brains, it's not clear that there are inherent differences at all.

    is, as I said, a brief overv

    A brief but interesting overview of some of the ways in which science—though presented as impartial—has in fact done much to reinforce societal and cultural norms about binary sex and gender. Angela Saini points out that biological differences between male and female bodies are still only imperfectly understood, and are not as clear-cut as are commonly thought. When it comes to male and female brains, it's not clear that there are inherent differences at all.

    is, as I said, a brief overview, and so Saini remains focused on biological sex as opposed to gender—which is understandable, but means that her exploration is perhaps not as incisive as it could be. There is some mention of intersex people, but Saini does seem to presume heterosexuality as the historical default (I think the only mention of same-sex acts is when discussing great apes). Still, this is an interesting synthesis of an important topic, and well worth the read.

  • Ally
    May 20, 2017

    It's common, nowadays, to hear news reports proclaiming that there are too few women in STEM fields. With such a feminist consciousness-raising of women's and men's equality, being proven time and time again, how could this be? Angela Saini, in her deeply researched book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story, provides historical information, current research of sex/gender differences, and personal references to contribute to the discussion of why w

    It's common, nowadays, to hear news reports proclaiming that there are too few women in STEM fields. With such a feminist consciousness-raising of women's and men's equality, being proven time and time again, how could this be? Angela Saini, in her deeply researched book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story, provides historical information, current research of sex/gender differences, and personal references to contribute to the discussion of why women may have been excluded from the sciences.

    The book is divided into eight chapters, each of which focuses on different focuses of gender research over the years. In Chapter 1 - "Women's Inferiority to Man", the author discusses the blatant sexism of such preeminent researchers as Charles Darwin and others who laid the foundation for what would become sex/gender research. Darwin explicitly believed that women were intellectually and physically inferior to men. In his theory of evolution, he viewed men as more evolved than women. The author also explores the nascent discoveries in sex research, including the discovery of hormones and their impact on male-ness and female-ness.

    Chapter 2 - "Females Get Sicker but Males Die Quicker", looks at the differing average lifespans between men and women, why men are thought of as the stronger sex, and the longstanding preference in some cultures for male babies. The chapter opens with the personal story from a hospital administrator in India. She was pregnant with twins, thrilled to be bringing new life into the world, but her husband and his family wanted only male children. Since she refused any sex selection testing, her husband intentionally fed her something to which she was allergic, thereby forcing her to go into hospital. While she was receiving treatment, he coerced the medical staff to perform a prenatal scan to determine the sexes of the babies - without her knowledge or consent. Once it was clear that the twins were both girls, he and his family tried to coerce her to get an abortion and, when she refused, abused her horribly. She believes that her husband was acting this way and holding these ideals only because of the strong social conditioning in Indian culture. The chapter then continues, discussing preconceptions about the kinds of work that women and men do, why women typically live longer than men in most societies, and what biological and social constructs may be at play.

    Chapter 3 is titled "A Difference at Birth". The focus here is on whether males and females are born distinctly different from each other, or if the differences are learned or acquired during the course of interaction with the environment. Based on the research presented, although differing positions abound, often what is observed and intuited to be biological is in fact due to bias and preferences which are reinforced and passed down over many generations.

    Chapter 4 - "The Missing Five Ounces of the Female Brain" is externally concerned with research studies that found, on average, women's brains are 5oz smaller than men's brains. In full, it looks at cranial and structural differences between the brains of the sexes, and what (if anything) can be learned from studying them. With regard to the mass of brains, research has found that the size of a human brain is proportional to the size of the human body. Therefore, if a man is significantly larger/taller/etc. than a female, it is likely that his brain will have more mass than hers. When brain size measurements are corrected for differences in size of their human containers, the size differences truly disappear.

    In chapter 5 "Women's Work", the author looks at research surrounding the types of societal duties that humans and other animals perform, by gender, to see if there are commonalities or differences, and what those findings could illuminate about our experience. It's not always true that men were the hunters and women were the gatherers and child-carers. And in those cultures where that paradigm was active, it doesn't necessarily implicate women's work as being less valuable or worthwhile for the survival of the group.

    Chapter 6 - "Choosy Not Chaste" examines the differences in expressions of sexuality between females and males. Why are women supposed to be demure, virginal, and faithful to one partner while men are allowed be playboys, have many sexual partners, and enjoy their bodies to a great degree? Dating practices, courtship and marriage, and other partnerings are examined. The author also dives into cultural stereotypes, religious dictates, and the various double standards that exist for men and women when engaging in the same behaviors.

    Chapter 7 - "Why Men Dominate" turns its gaze to the preconception that men are superior to women because they, on the average, are stronger and more aggressive. Since the stereotype is that women are seen as having always been subjugated by men, the thinking leans toward there being some kind of evolutionary reason for it being so. In fact, there are many societies - human and animal - where the culture is a dominated by females (which I call a matriarchy), which puts holes in the common narrative.

    The final chapter, "The Old Women Who Wouldn't Die" examines what happens to women as their fertility decreases. In particular, menopause and its discovery is investigated. Why does menopause take place, and how does it impact a woman's role in society? Some historical researchers have come to the conclusion that, because a woman's role is the production of offspring and furthering the genetic line, once she is no longer able to perform that job she is essentially of no value. This has led to the vast explosion of hormone replacement therapy, which does help alleviate some of the negative symptoms associated with menopause, but puts the woman at risk for serious health conditions later. And it's interestingly noted that the symptoms that most American women experience during menopause - night sweating, hot flashes, moodiness, etc. - are not universal to all human females. Therefore, there may be some cultural constructs that go into the felt experience of such a biological process. The chapter also discusses the attitudes that societies have towards its older females, and how those attitudes may be based on stereotypes and unfounded biases.

    Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story is a fascinating read, whether you are a woman or not, and whether you are interested in STEM or not. Its focus may be science, but the book is full of tenets that are applicable everywhere - feminist generalities that encourage readers to think more critically about the way they view the world around them. Angela Saini argues, throughout, that mounting research points to human biases, not biological inferiority, as the reason for why there are so few women in STEM. The scientific process historically and current, is not perfect, but by increasing our awareness of its (and our) flaws, we can make progress as a society towards a more full and robust knowledge of ourselves and the world around us.

  • Emma
    Jun 01, 2017

    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
    Jun 08, 2017

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

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