Published in Catalogue, 2017
The widely-accepted message from evolutionary biology and psychology concerning the gender divide has consistently been one that undermines the physical strength, sexual behaviour, and natural proclivities of female-kind; that’s the message that science journalist, Angela Saini wants her audience to understand in her latest book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong.
Saini’s book is an examination of research from across the globe that aims to debunk assumptions about women that have been long-held as objective fact. Ultimately, what Saini wants her audience to comprehend is the notion that science does not exist in a vacuum: it’s the product of a cultural framework in which women are misrepresented, if they’re represented at all.
Speaking to Broadly recently, Saini explains that she was inspired to write the book in a fit of rage after reading an article published in the peer-reviewed journal, PLOS Computational Biology in which three male researchers claimed that women had evolved to undergo menopause because no males could possibly find older women sexually attractive. Saini wanted the world to understand that scientific research could be as inherently sexist as the scientists that produced it, “I wanted to understand patriarchy through the lens of science” she told Broadly.
By pawing through mountains of international research and exploring cross-cultural frameworks, Saini came to dispel myths that had been propagated by the institutions of Western science including the ‘natural’ roles of women within society, “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” she tells the Guardian. Saini also sought to bury the notion that women are naturally coy when it comes to sex as compared to their ruthlessly promiscuous male counterparts and produces an observation of history that is rather “obvious when you think of it” that if female sexuality was naturally more cautious, patriarchal society wouldn’t have to spend so much energy suppressing it.
In Inferior, Saini also indicates the widespread misconceptions about female physical strength that have only recently become disputed by scientific evidence; we may not be the “weaker sex”, after all. Speaking to Broadly, Saini states that “Women are biologically better survivors from the moment they’re born. They have stronger immune systems and are protected from certain genetic conditions that affect only men, explaining partly why women live so much longer.” Those XX chromosomes are stronger than we’ve been lead to believe. The book also discusses how perceptions of our physical strength are absolute misconceptions drawing on cultural context: “Women all over the world work as hard as men. Most women do really hard, back-breaking labour, every single day…That’s a fact of history that goes back thousands of years ago, before patriarchy existed.”