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

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What science has gotten so shamefully wrong about women, and the fight, by both female and male scientists, to rewrite what we thought we knew

For hundreds of years it was common sense: women were the inferior sex. Their bodies were weaker, their minds feebler, their role subservient. No less a scientist than Charles Darwin asserted that women were at a lower stage of evolution, and for decades, scientists—most of them male, of course—claimed to find evidence to support this.

Whether looking at intelligence or emotion, cognition, or behavior, science has continued to assert that men and women are fundamentally different. Biologists claim women are better suited to raising families or are, more gently, uniquely empathetic. Men, on the other hand, continue to be regarded as excelling at tasks that require logic, spatial reasoning, and motor skills. But a huge wave of new research reveals that women are as strong, strategic, and smart as anyone else.

In Inferior, acclaimed science writer Angela Saini weaves together a fascinating—and necessary—new science of women, investigating the gender wars in biology, psychology, and anthropology, and delving into cutting-edge studies to uncover a fascinating new portrait of women's brains, bodies, and role in human evolution. As Saini takes readers on a journey to uncover science's failure to understand women, she finds that we're still living with the legacy of an establishment that's just beginning to recover from centuries of entrenched exclusion and prejudice.

320 pages, Paperback

First published May 30, 2017

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About the author

Angela Saini

10 books505 followers
Angela Saini is an award-winning British science journalist and broadcaster. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, Wired, and New Humanist. She also presents science programmes on BBC radio. She has won awards from the Association of British Science Writers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was named European Science Writer of the Year.

Saini has a Masters degree in Engineering from Oxford University and was a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 919 reviews
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,427 reviews8,339 followers
January 20, 2018
A powerful book that pierces through the notion that women are biologically inferior to men. With great diligence, Angela Saini combs through decades and decades of research that tried to show how women are worse than men in several areas, ranging from intelligence to aptitude for work to physical health. She uses a thorough understanding of science and a fine eye for detail to reveal how many of these perceived sex differences were actually the product of biased researchers or flawed studies. Saini discusses an array of ways in which this inaccurate idea of female inferiority came to popularity: research journals favoring studies that show differences over studies that show similarities, scientific findings that fail to take into account culture and patriarchy, sexism in research labs and universities, and more. She sheds light on new research that seeks to understand gender and sex from more nuanced, feminist, and holistic perspectives.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to everyone, in particular to those interested in science, feminism, and the production of knowledge. While I do not think we necessarily need a biological argument to fight for women's advancement (i.e., cancer can be perceived as "natural" and we fight it anyway), Inferior does advance the discourse surrounding gendered discrimination in science in meaningful ways. It makes a great follow-up to Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender , which addressed similar topics with a specific focus on neurosexism. Inferior has inspired me to continue striving for more socially just and feminist approaches in my research agenda, and I hope it does the same for many other scientists.
Profile Image for Devogenes.
51 reviews20 followers
August 16, 2017
`I enjoyed this book. I particularly found the medical stuff very interesting — the differences between male and female immune systems, the set of diseases unique to people with Y chromosones, etc. Pretty neat.

But, while there was a lot of great content in the book, I often found myself a bit annoyed with the biased presentation of some of that content. Despite claiming at the beginning that she "had no axe to grind", it's very clear that she actually did.

I especially had issues with her discussion of the anthropological data. She concludes that "science" has "proven" that men and women have evolved biologically and culturally performing the SAME tasks, which is not only, I would say, highly controversial but which she provided counter-examples to in her own book! She points out that women in certain communities kill animals with their digging sticks, and therefore women are hunters, and therefore women and men are exactly alike. I don't find that argument convincing.

She includes but doesn't comment upon the very interesting fact that women almost without exception are responsible for weaving cross-culturally. And somehow she completely ignores war. That,to me, is an incredible omission. If you're going to make the argument that there are no population-wide behavioural differences between men and women, how can you leave out war? (Of course you can find examples of warrior women throughout history, but I think it's utterly disingenuous not to recognize how steeply gendered warfare is and has been). I don't see a convincing way to account for that that is based purely on socially constructed gender norms.

It would have been nice to see inclusion of the Batek people indigenous to Malaysia. They are (or were) a completely non-authoritarian society with almost no social hierarchies whatsoever. Any person could do whatever they liked, and compulsion was viewed as a crime. Women could and did hunt. Men could and did weave baskets. And yet what anthropologists found is that men were overwhelmingly the hunters, while women were overwhelmingly the weavers. Even without any overt or implicit social pressures! Highly regarded men could and did weave, but most men still didn't. No one told them they couldn't, their status wasn't threatened if they did, but most men preferred to spend their time elsewise. The same goes for women hunters. They weren't ostracized or discouraged, and yet very few women dedicated themselves to hunting. Why?

I think Saini makes the same error that so many of her opponents make in conflating difference with inferiority. So she is right to point out that women are just as important as men in the development and maintenance of human culture. I really liked her discussion of Woman the Gatherer, where the argument is made that the kinds of activities women end to be responsible for cross-culturally in small-scale societies (gathering tubors, picking fruit, etc) are just as important (if not more important) than the large-game hunting that men often pursue in terms of calories. But the behavioural differences there are very hard to ignore, and Saini didn't do a good job at all of demonstrating that those differences don't exist. In fact, she switches between presenting the argument that "women's work" provides more calories than "men's work" and the argument that men and women do the same work. That would be fine if she were simply presenting all the various theories, but she makes it clear throughout the book that women and men are functionally the same, and that "science" supports that view.

She brings up intersexed people, and talks about the ramifications, for example, of surgically assigning an intersex person with underdeveloped testes a female gender, but she doesn't seem to acknowledge the significance of those ramifications for her argument that men and women are fundamentally the same. If a person born with underdeveloped testes grows up with gender dysphoria because they were made to believe they were female, then obviously there IS something significant about the psychological differences between males and females. Indeed, the entire transgender movement now is premised upon there being fundamental differences between men and women — you can't have dysphoria if gender differences are purely social. It would have been nice if Saini had discussed transgender people more broadly.

She dismisses scientists like Baron-Cohen for not having had their experiments reproduced, but then is happy to include without qualifications untested speculation about things like whether language developed so that babies could communicate with mothers.

She also dismisses Baron-Cohen because his findings (that men are more interested in systems and women in people from birth) is sexist because it implies that women are "more suited" to low-paying jobs like teaching, childcare, and nursing.

Okay. So this is interesting. What, exactly, is wrong with those jobs? Those are perfectly fine and necessary vocations. Her problem seems to be that they aren't especially high-paying, and so I guess the implication is that only high-paying jobs are worthwhile. But this presents a problem, because the fact is that women dominate in exactly those kinds of jobs. So how do you explain the dramatic over-representation of women in those careers?

Baron-Cohen would say that this distribution is entirely consistent with his findings (women tend to prefer working with people). Saini suggests that it is purely a result of social factors. Her argument is that women have to face a lot more discrimination and hardship than men, and so they stay out of male-dominated, high-paying careers like STEM or finance (this explanation, of course, doesn't offer any account of how those careers became so gendered in the first place — saying that "women's jobs" are low status simply begs the question).

To prove her point, she gives the example of Iran and Latin America, where women make up proportionally more of the STEM field.

Okay. So. Does that mean, then, that women in IRAN are facing LESS discrimination that women in the U.K or Canada? Personally, I find that argument very hard to believe. Saini doesn't consider the fact that the economic situation in Iran is very different, and that women might be facing more pressure to take high-paying jobs that they might not actually prefer in order to survive.

She also ignores the fact that in Iran (as far as I know, and I could be wrong), the state plays a significant role in determining the post-secondary careers of students based on test scores. IE, women in Iran have LESS CHOICE in career than women in the United States, and so the social pressures in this case might very well be working to increase gender equity in STEM, rather than to diminish it, contrary to her assumption.

This is consistent with the data from Nordic countries, where increasing attempts to remove gendered barriers through things like maternity/paternity protections etc. are resulting in MORE differentiation between men and women into traditionally male and female dominated fields.

If that's true, then the situation now really isn't that different from the situation with egalitarian hunter-gatherer communities like the Batek: men and women might naturally tend to differentiate across different fields of activity, without that differentiation producing or resulting from any perceived inferiority on the part of either gender.

Saini, I'm sure, would reject that suggestion on the grounds that it is sexist and that it promotes stereotypical gender norms. But there is a difference, for example, between saying that women don't have the intelligence or the fortitude to be software engineers, and saying that women might tend to prefer other careers over software engineering. Just because someone CAN do something, doesn't mean that they WANT to do it.

Obviously women can do anything that men can do (except pee standing up). Anyone who suggests differently is sexist. But I don't see, and I was not convinced by this book to believe, that any population-wide behavioural differences or distributions between men and women must be the result of sexist attitudes.

Saini says that there are some people who "assume that there is a fundamental difference between men and women". Well, I mean, that's not really an assumption, is it? There ARE fundamental differences between men and women. We're significantly different morphologically. We differ chromosonally. But, most significantly and most obviously, only women can get pregnant. This is not a trivial difference, and it's one which you would expect would produce some variations in gendered behaviour over millions of years of evolution. Which is exactly what we see in other animals. Is the lioness inferior to the lion, simply because they have slightly different behaviours?

Profile Image for Emma.
971 reviews965 followers
June 1, 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 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.
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 185 books2,515 followers
June 29, 2017
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.
January 10, 2022
4 ☆ Case of the missing vaginas

I didn't major in science during university. Nonetheless I learned about the requirements of the scientific method, particularly that good, valid science led to results which had been duplicated by other researchers. There's been too much less than ideal science that had been presented as faultless. An university-trained engineer, Saini evaluated many scientific arguments in Inferior that have posited women's inferiority to men.
The research I examine spans neuroscience, psychology, medicine, anthropology, and evolutionary biology... The facts are often grayer than people might want them to be... For me, the struggle represents the final frontier of feminism ... the potential to knock down the greatest barrier that stands between women and full equality - the one in our minds.

Faulty scientific claims have been used to justify unequal treatment of women in all spheres of life - from being a father's or husband's chattel instead of having the right to be a person, to vote, to drive, to hold certain jobs etc. Historical unequal treatment would create a long list. But even in the present day, equivocal scientific claims support assumptions that adversely impact medical treatment of women, that buttress the glass ceiling and gender pay gap, and lead to the disproportionate killing of baby girls in many countries throughout the world.

Saini revealed how pervasive the sexist and illogical assumptions have been within the scientific communities. The exclusion of women from higher education until the past recent recent several decades have prolonged the misconceptions.
As Charles Darwin’s work in the nineteenth century proves, the narratives have often been shaped by the attitudes of the time. Even he, the father of evolutionary biology, was so affected by a culture of sexism that he believed women to be the intellectually inferior sex.

... science has failed to rid us of the gender stereotypes and dangerous myths we’ve been laboring under for centuries. Women are so grossly underrepresented in modern science because, for most of history, they were treated as intellectual inferiors and deliberately excluded from it. It should come as no surprise, then, that this same scientific establishment has also painted a distorted picture of the female sex. This, in turn again, has skewed how science looks and what it says even now.

“Science doesn’t operate in a political vacuum,” she explains. “I think there are some sciences which can be more objective than others. But we are dealing with people, we're not the Large Hadron Colder." Unlike particle physics, neuroscience is about humans and it has profound repercussions for how people see themselves.

Many decisions have already been decided just by how the questions are framed. For instance, more men die from certain diseases than women, so researchers focus on men to determine why they die instead of asking why women live longer and then choose to research women and longevity. Men have long been and remain the default mode. And then reflecting the childhood game of "telephone" in which an original message gets distorted as it becomes disseminated -
No matter how neutral the initial presentation of information, people do tend to gradually recruit the stereotypes and the associations that are prevalent in a culture and then project that.

Gender bias is so steeped in the culture, their results implied, that women were themselves discriminating against other women.

But progress in challenging the underlying assumptions and theories from neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary bioology has been made in the recent decades.
The scientific picture emerging now is that there may be very small biological differences, but that these can be so easily reinforced by society that they appear much bigger as a child grows.

From the second a girl is born, she's placed in a different box. She may be handled differently, fed differently, and treated differently.

Plasticity and entanglement imply that every single brain must be unique, for the simple fact that every person’s life experience is different. It is this, argues Daphna Joel at Tel Aviv University, that makes looking for differences between groups so fraught with error. Evidence of sex difference in the brain is statistically problematic because each brain varies from the next.

Fresh theories on sex difference, for example, suggest that the small gaps that have been found between the brains of women and men are statistical anomalies caused by the fact that we are all unique. Decades of rigorous testing of girls and boys confirm that there are few psychological differences between the sexes, and that the differences seen are heavily shaped by culture, not biology.

Study after study has shown almost all behavioral and psychological differences between the sexes to be small or nonexistent. Cambridge University psychologist Melissa Hines and others have repeatedly demonstrated that boys and girls have little, if any, noticeable gaps between them when it comes to fine motor skills, spatial visualization, mathematics ability, and verbal fluency.

Having just finished a book on neuroscience - The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us about Ourselves - that included a chapter on gender and the brain, I was very interested in reading about additional neuroscientists' research and findings. I also thoroughly enjoyed the primatologists' studies of bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees). Apparently, the decades of studying chimpanzees led to many inferences of man as the dominant and aggressive sex. However, bonobo society is characterized by strong female bonds which lead to very different, if not contradictory, hypotheses about human relationships. I couldn't help but wonder if bonobos had been studied before chimpanzees whether their "less appealing" deductions would have been dismissed or suppressed as anomalies by the scientific patriarchy.
"If you take any two brains, they are different but how they differ between any two individuals, you cannot predict, " she explains. By this logic, there can't be any such thing as an average male or average female brain. We are all, each one of us, a mix. Our brains are intersex.

The most significant contribution of Saini's book is revealing the less widely known but just as scientifically rigorous research that is available. Given the gender assumptions that men have created and that many women have also internalized, there is still a ways to go before humanity becomes truly egalitarian.
When men understand that the best way to solve their own problem is to help women solve those that men have created for women, they will have taken one of the first significant steps toward its solution. . . . The truth will make men free as well as women.
Profile Image for Carling.
227 reviews73 followers
July 9, 2017
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
Profile Image for Monica.
583 reviews611 followers
July 16, 2020
I almost classified this book incorrectly. I thought it would be more social science/feminism than it is. While there is plenty of that too, the book is ostensibly about the bias in science and scientific studies that lead to questionable findings. Indeed, the quest to maintain the patriarchy is pervasive where gender distinctions/differences are concerned. Such biases have shown up in animal studies in a sense scientifically anthropomorphize animals to fit traditional human gender roles. The assumptions that females are inferior regardless of species. Saini goes back to history and shows that even Charles Darwin started from an intractable, sexist view and also mentions that Lawrence Summers former President of Harvard declared that there were fewer women in science because they simply are not as intelligent. This by the way happened in the 21st century. Enjoyable book that on the whole really is more about physical and biological science than sociology. It's interesting and brief and not too in-depth. Recommended for anyone with an interest in unconscious bias and how it impacts everything. Even science.

4+ Stars

Listened to the audio book. Hanna Melbourn was a good, not great narrator.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,869 reviews421 followers
July 7, 2019
Edit July 7, 2019

Here is a link to an essential video on masculinity on youtube:


My review of ‘Inferior’:

Gentle readers, especially you men, if you have great expectations in raising a girl child, especially of raising a girl child who will support you in your old age, I recommend 'Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong'.

This excellent, if too brief, overview survey of the cultural history of Western science studies on women is a general reader's book, very accessible and easy to read. The author lists all of the sources for the statistics, studies, quotes, and actual science results in the back of the book in a References section, so if the reader wants more science than history, you can do more in-depth research yourself. The author, Angela Saini, has a master's in engineering from Oxford University. Currently, she is working as an award-winning science journalist.

The chapters are:

Woman's Inferiority to Man
Females Get Sicker but Males Die Quicker
A Difference at Birth
The Missing Five Ounces of the Female Brain
Women's Work
Choosy, Not Chaste
Why Men Dominate
The Old Women Who Wouldn't Die

The most fascinating and revealing takeway I had in reading 'Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong' is that most of the current research scientists are working on today in regards to female physiology and psychology is about studying, and ultimately disproving, what were commonly believed and unproven 'facts' about women from the Middle Ages which are STILL commonly believed around the world today.

Gentle reader, like me, you may have noticed most of the 'scientific studies' in the recent past century written up in magazine articles - even about actual studies which actually have included human women as laboratory test subjects, even if only as cells in Petri dishes - did not occur much until around the 1950's. It was rare even so. Women were only occasionally included in actual scientific studies. Today, it is being discovered that what works for men, or inside of men, sometimes does not work for women. Lately, people are figuring out it isn't always about hormones, but it possibly could be because women are smaller. Big shock, right? Wait! There is more!

Most so-called science articles I grew up reading about gender and sex characteristics/differences, and in some written even today, describe culturally-based opinions, not facts, but OPINIONS, promulgated first by men, and then later by women, as scientifically-based conclusions. The Truth is the vast majority of gender/sex-characteristics studies, until the last fifty years, do not include any actual science or scientific studies using the scientific method on women. Does it help to understand the situation better to learn that most universities, including the top elite colleges, forbid women from studying for a science degree, or sometimes from even enrolling in science/medical/engineering/machine-shop classes, until the mid-1970's? That most women never attended school throughout history thus they never learned to read and write? That even today, many Muslim theocracies forbid male doctors from even treating women, so their experience of women is ludicrously shallow and based on cultural folk-tales from the Middle Ages? There have been many recorded cases of women dying from easily treatable injuries or diseases because of religious and cultural beliefs and a lack of female doctors.

It still was a rarity to have real women included in scientific studies until about 2000. There was lots of ink spilled on scientific OPINIONS about women written by men dating back to the 1880's which, of course, were accepted as facts. When actual science was done, it was more along the lines of dissections of dead bodies by men noticing women's brains were smaller than men's, which led to the scientific conclusion women were dumber and more permanently immature than men (never thinking about whales' brains, obviously). Mind you, this was the same period when scientists studied the bumps on skulls and the angle of foreheads to determine the levels of male intelligence. Some scientists of these times were also experimenting with transfusing dog blood into people, and were looking at the pituitary gland, among other organs, for a sign of a soul, and were still scratching their heads about what the heart's purpose was, since most human dissections were performed on dead people.

What this means, logically speaking in my humble opinion, is that what we all 'know' about women has been pure mythology until the last fifty years or so.

Is there any correlation between the events of male scientists deciding to apply true scientific principles FINALLY to studying women, and the unfeminine unruly unladylike mass protests/marches/strikes - violent and non-violent - of the women's liberation movements - part one being the suffragette anarchy in the 1920's and part two, the women's movement in the 1970's?

I suggest, potential reader, especially male readers, that you sit with this thought a bit right now and think a little more deeply about this for a minute or two. Especially if you have young daughters, especially if they show an interest in fixing or programming your car, or building your house into a 'smart' house, or are designing a bridge or a rocketship while doodling, or even if they are figuring out how to re-program that video game console to spy on the neighbors from your livingroom but you still don't know how to turn it on, or they set the cat's broken leg after a misadventure, much less that they can run faster/bench press more reps/do higher maths than you ever could, daddy...pride in a daughter is as wonderful as in a son! I hope more and more parents discover this verity.

Meanwhile, according to the book (and I agree) it seems, perhaps, male sexual jealousy has been a primitive driving force, if not the main one, behind the creation of the segregated and lower social status of women. Men can't make children without a woman's womb, and they can't guarantee any child is actually one they helped make unless they take drastic action in making sure a woman has not been with another man (until recently, no man could know for a fact a child was from his sperm without controlling women's freedoms). In my humble opinion (not stated in the book), it may be behind the millennia of years that women have been imprisoned in some kind of a purdahed state by the many differing and accrued cultural social accretions around the world (religion, brute force, cultural customs, fear, punitive morality, no education, enforced roles of motherhood and cook). Unbiased scientific studies are proving women are much the same as men (within a few statistical deviations on the usual bell curves), in behaviors, brain talents, psychology, if raised with the same expectations and educational opportunities as men. Actual behavior differences can be put down to gender window-dressing, imho, once culture is eliminated.

I wish I could remake the world.
Profile Image for Anastasia.
71 reviews7 followers
September 21, 2017
It is profoundly disheartening that a noble task - namely, to scientifically proof biological equality of men and women - saw such disappointing a realisation in this book.

The author is extremely partial to female researches, leaving the whole idea of impartiality of science behind. I first noticed that in her lashing Simon Baron-Cohen's theories. The author, for example, quite derogatorily mentioned that one of Baron-Cohen's assistance in one of his experiments was a "life-guarding on a beach in California" (Chapter A Difference at Birth) How is that relevant to an argument? Or, when she met a fellow female researcher, she "immediately empathised with her".
Objectivity anyone?

The author clearly mixes up biological and social, choosing her evidence depending on advantage of that or another approach for her immediate argument. The social factors that we as humans developed only several thousands years ago cannot be cited to be as solid an evidence to hundreds of thousands of years of years of human evolution (Chapter The Old Women Who Wouldn't Die)

I feel this book failed feminism, portraying it as a movement that wants to silence the scientific facts and forcefully level the scientific ground. It is the more upsetting, as after reading the book, as feminist as I am, I am convinced in the biological inborn imbalance of the sexes. Baron-Cohen, with his weighted and logical argumentation communicates more gravitas that the author, who is jumping from one topic to another, catching supporting arguments on the way from everywhere, starting from evolutionary biology to the 80s feminist movements.

I do NOT recommend this book if one is looking to bolster their arguments in a scientific community when it comes to gender and science. What the book prompts one to do, is to continue the research.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews504 followers
July 9, 2018
There were (and still are) people who like to say that men and women are inherently different, as in our minds are "wired" differently. Men "naturally" are better at science, technology, engineering, and mathematical fields (STEM), women "naturally" are better at other stuff, like having babies and being pretty. For years (and still), women in the STEM fields have been largely ignored for their contributions and their efforts, and the men in the same fields have taken the credit for the work that women have done. We are learning more and more about this sort of thing everyday, but the fact that we are still learning about something that should have been public from the get-go is insane to me.

Even the women who fought for equality, the ones who challenged this backwards thinking (that men can just do all the science-y and math-y things and women can't) are still largely lost to history. Angela Saini did a good job of pointing out some of those people in this book.

So, Charles Darwin? Sort of a prick when it came to how he viewed women. Yeah, yeah, we can argue all day about how he was a product of his time, yada yada yada. But did you know someone (a WOMAN, gasp) challenged him on his viewpoints? In 1881, Caroline Kennard called Darwin out on this whole inferiority of women thing, and he responded that while women are morally superior, they will never be equal to men unless they become breadwinners, but then that's a problem too because then the children and the household would suffer. In other words, women are more stupid than men, and they should have no aspirations.

I'm just pointing out that Kennard was also a product of her time, and she didn't sit back and let Darwin call the shots. That's the thing about the historical context argument - there are always people fighting the good fight, even if everyone else wants to ignore them for disrupting the status quo.

This is an interesting, short book. The argument is that science is proving more and more that the differences between men's and women's brains are not biological. There are more social and cultural reasons for the differences between how men and women often think. Some countries outright kill their female offspring because male heirs are much more appealing.

Pretending like women never made any advancements in any fields other than baby-raisin' and house-keepin' is bananas. Saini brings up all sorts of names and their achievements, many of whom have been ignored for so long. This still happens all the time, right? Women in STEM fields are still harassed (sexually, emotionally, mentally, physically), their contributions are adopted by their male colleagues and their male colleagues receive the credit, and they still don't make the same amount of money in their lines of work as men do. And it's not just the STEM fields, but because Saini's book discusses the "science" of the matter, it's natural that the STEM fields would be the primary focus of her research.

One thing scientists seem to know for sure but don't know why this is the case, is that women tend to outlive men. We seem to handle sickness differently and survive illnesses differently. We seem to survive some crazy shit that can kill a man in no time. But this is all relatively new study because, of course, no one has really ever wanted to study women. Which leads me to believe that we women truly are witches.
It isn't that women don't get sick. They do. They just don't die from these sicknesses as easily or as quickly as men do.

One explanation for this gap is that higher levels of estrogen and progesterone in women might be protecting them in some way. These hormones don't just make the immune system stronger but also more flexible, according to Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, a researcher at the Institute of Gender in Medicine at the Charite university hospital in Berlin. "This is related to the fact that women can bear children," she explains. A pregnancy is the same as foreign tissue growing inside a woman's body that, if her immune system was in the wrong gear, would be rejected. "You need an immune system that's able to switch from proinflammatory reactions to anti-inflammatory reactions in order to avoid having an abortion pretty much every time you get pregnant. The immune system needs to have mechanisms that can, on one side, trigger all these cells to come together in one spot and attack whatever agent is making you sick. But then you also need to be able to stop this response when the agent is not there anymore, in order to prevent tissues and organs from being harmed."

But that magical lucky charms immune system can also backfire, and that can explain why some many of us women have autoimmune disorders. Basically our immune systems see us as being foreign and therefore must be destroyed. So it attacks itself. As someone who has an autoimmune disease, I found this fascinating, even if sounds like some version of baloney. All I'm saying is there's a lot that still hasn't been figured out yet because women's bodies are apparently so bizarre that no one can do the proper studies of it. Except maybe women, but no one listens to them anyway.

This is an interesting book and a quick read. I managed to read it in one day, sort of accidentally, but it reads quickly because Saini is a scientific journalist, so this is sort of her forte. She doesn't put on airs. She did her research, she shared the information, she seems to have cited her sources accurately. I appreciated the number of names provided of women who have contributed to our society that no one knows anymore, but we should because most of us wouldn't be here without them.
Profile Image for Sara.
226 reviews29 followers
July 14, 2017
I didn't really enjoy this book as much as I hoped I would.

For one, I didn't love the author's prose and style. A scientist says this positive or negative thought about women. Another scientist says 'no you're wrong!' Another scientists says 'actually I'm right!' That was the format...

Plus, there was pretty overt bias that women are basically not significantly different from men in any cognitive or behavioral area, which I don't really buy. For example, in the argument about differences in developmental having a biological vs a cultural cause, she clearly prefers the cultural explanation (as also evidenced in the beginning quote). While she does cycle to contrary evidence- namely babies of genital mutilation who are assigned different genders and then are unhappy, she neglects transgendered children- a huge omission.

I also thought she relied too heavily on cherry picking animals and tribes living hunter gatherer lifestyles to fit her hypotheses and beliefs. Actually she even used negative descriptors for scientists with beliefs she didn't ascribe to and positive ones for scientists she did like.

I did enjoy some historical segments of female discrimination and suppression. Certainly some insights into old, dated theories of women's inferiority were enlightening and I agreed with some arguments. I just didn't like much of the presentation. Too bad...
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,121 reviews1,110 followers
January 18, 2021
Too often in life where I hear people saying things like 'women are naturally coy/passive/monogamous and thus must adhere to that standard'. Or that women's place is the kitchen (and bedrooms) because that's what women have been doing since the hunting-gathering period when only men did the hunting. Or that maternal instinct will automatically pop up when a baby is born. Or that only men are allowed to be promiscuous and women need to be 'virtuous'. Or that men have better motor skills, spatial visualization, math ability, and verbal fluency.

However, studies after studies have shown that these differences between sexes to be small or nonexistent. All those myths have been debunked and this book tells me that. Women are often more aggressive (choosier yes, but not chaste), women both gathered and hunted (and thus contributed more calories), and maternal instinct is not a auto switch. Men are not always the inventors and tool users. Culture (and thus society) plays a huge if not the most important role.

This does not mean that these research are not challenged by older theories, researchers (mostly men). The book - what I liked about it - provides the story about the theory development and the debates surrounding it even when the facts weren't clear. The way research (was and still is) being done was described, i.e. when using the lens of patriarchal chimpanzees to compare with human is more popular than using the matriarchal bonobos (also share 98.7% of our DNA) as reference. The kind of 'man the hunter' model is based on chimps and everything just follows.

Some chapters in the book are guaranteed eye-opener. The still widely practiced genital mutilation (hello, my own country) as one of the many ways of men suppressing women sexually (likely the most painful), the alloparenting/cooperative breeding behavior where men actually play an active role either as fathers or family members, the story of menopause as the story of how science failed women....I could go on and on and on.

We need more science that take account half of the human population. What science tells us about women has always been shaping how society thinks - as well as myth creations, insecurities, government policy - about the sexes. Our brains are intersex, after all.

Thank you for my buddies at the Non Fiction Book Club for this buddy read discussion: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...
Profile Image for l..
491 reviews1,986 followers
September 3, 2020
“Sex differences in the brain are irresistible to those looking to explain stereotypic differences between men and women. They often make a big splash, in spite of being based on small samples. But as we explore multiple data sets (...) we find these differences often disappear or are trivial.”

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Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,815 reviews360 followers
July 13, 2022
"Research ...reinforces why lawmakers shouldn't outlaw abortion and force women to have babies they feel they cannot raise or do not want. It also highlights how important it is that governments provide better welfare and child care for mothers, especially those who don't have support at home."
(Science research shows the profound importance of cooperative breeding given the myriad pressures pregnant women experience. Society wants to influence how the pregnant woman should respond)

Oh cheesus crust! So,there is this brilliant woman neurologist blah blah lots of letters smart person researcher and she publishes her findings (right now I’m reading the size of male vs female brains and its parts) then of course the author takes her findings ( she had one maybe two scientists also female) that backed her up. THEN the author interviews a bazillion male researcher scientist blah blah bunch of letters who ALL say men are smarter. So she keeps researching and publishing and now receives misogynistic emails. And the ones who REEEAAALLYYY don’t agree with her EMAIL PICS OF their PENISES, which now that I’m over the shock is accepting this as a valid response because that’s where their brains are most of the time and they obviously have nothing else to say except what? Nanny nanny boo boo? Thats how you debate guys that’s how you prove your hypothesis. That would have made such a much more interesting college course. I would have paid attn to that

7/8 the most captivating chapter so far hands down is the investigations of the old world monkeys and great apes on several continents. Like I never go outside because fresh air is for dead people, but I would definitely sit a couple of days in the trees watching them. It’s just fascinating and so incredible how close their behaviors are to humans, yet some evolved and some did not. Oh AND female monkeys kinda do most of the work. Male monkeys run around with a weapon chasing large animals like they can kill them then somehow drag it back to camp. I’m sure the females talk across the fence separating their yards shaking their heads about their husbands.

So a male researcher published serially in the Wall Street journal quite a few years bag about the need of males to assist women with child rearing and chores about the house etc. and one of his derogatory responses started with, “ there is no way to define your kind of stupid”, and now I can’t stop thinking about all of the ways I can now use that big stupid statement, outside of using it to,describe just about every coworker I have and every serial killer I’ve read about. But I mean, really?doesn’t the word stupid in itself define the word stupid? Or are there that many hateful misogynists out there that they have developed a “stupid scale?” They are definitely in Dante’s lowest level of idiocy then.

Note: these chapters re: baby and toddler brain development remind me of my daughter when she was about two. We lived with my parents at the time. Their basement was finished and that was where my younger brother and his best friend played their video games. My daughter would stand at the gate at the top of the stairs calling quite loudly for her uncle until he retrieved her. He would NEVER leave her up there. He would then sit her between them and hand her a controller that wasn’t actually hooked up to the console. I dont know if she realizes that to this day. So she would mirror their reactions the whole time they played. Just priceless
Profile Image for Paya.
281 reviews234 followers
March 6, 2022
Byłam bardzo podekscytowana lekturą tej książki, a ostatecznie moim zdaniem jest OK. Jest napisana bardzo przystępnie, temat ważny, a jednak całość jest trochę anegdotyczna, trochę taka poskakana. Owszem, tematy, które porusza, są ciekawe, ale ostatecznie nie jest jakoś bardzo przełomowa, a przynajmniej nie była dla mnie, choć pewnie niektórych może ona sprowadzić na zupełnie nowe tory myślowe. Muszę też wspomnieć o dwóch minusach. Po pierwsze powoływanie się na testy przeprowadzane laboratoryjnie na zwierzętach. NIE AKCEPTUJĘ TEGO, NIE UZNAJĘ, dla mnie nie ma to ŻADNEJ wartości poznawczej zwłaszcza jak potem jeszcze autorzy piszą: „no ale ostatecznie to zwierzęta, u ludzi może to wyglądać kompletnie inaczej” to PO CO o tym pisać, po co się na to powoływać???? Dla mnie wielki minus numer 1. No a drugi minus: książka zbudowana jest na zasadzie binarności – kobiety i mężczyźni. Czytając rozdział o hormonach zdziwił mnie kompletny brak jakiejkolwiek wzmianki na temat osób transpłciowych. Pojawia się za to wypowiedź jednej osoby interpłciowej, bardziej przywołanej na zasadzie anegdoty, no i jakoś tak całościowo ten właśnie rozdział wydał mi się wybrakowany pod tym względem.
Profile Image for Faith Justice.
Author 11 books60 followers
May 11, 2017
I love science and history and truly enjoy it when they overlap in books such as Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story. 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.
Profile Image for Sookie.
1,134 reviews83 followers
July 22, 2017
Inferior 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. Inferior 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.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,362 reviews457 followers
July 18, 2018
I can never decide which angers me more: sloppy science or stupid science reporting. Funny how much of both one sees reinforcing prejudice. As if tiny differences in averages between two groups could possibly justify discrimination against individuals. People are just the worst.

And yet there are scientists in every field doing excellent work, publishing reproducible results, much of which is ignored by popular media and leaders in the field who get lots of research dollars for publishing stupid conclusions that can be used to justify ongoing systemic abuse and discrimination against women and girls.

The chancellor of UNC -CH is paid 3/4 of what the chancellor of State is paid. It isn't fair, it isn't just, it isn't defensible. Women could change it if we cared to. I despair every time some public figure says "I'm not a feminist but". How is it hard to sign on to the idea that women are humans and are therefore deserving of being treated equally? How can any politician be elected who won't work to acknowledge that women deserve to be recognized as legally equal citizens in the US constitution?

If people insist on treating trivial differences between men and women On Average as more significant than the enormous similarities, I can't stop them. But I will fight like hell when they try and use that crap to justify discrimination against men or women.

We should no more tolerate being denied fair wages than we should put up with other forms of sexual harassment at work. No one wants to do the housework, but no one should get stuck doing twice as much of it when she comes home from work. Surely one reason households are not fair is that work isn't either and women who are kept poorer by their jobs don't have the bargaining power in their homes, or the financial independence to leave an abusive home.

Thankfully the kids these days are less inclined to put up with it.

Library copy
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
December 15, 2017
Essential reading now that the likes of google engineers are talking about the "science" of female inferiority. This book shows exactly how solid the science of brain differences is. Spoiler: not solid at all. Moreover, it demonstrates through several clear case studies how important representation is in scientific findings. Ever since I read this book, I've been seeing study after study that says that they tested drugs only on men. Why are men assumed to be the norm physiologically and yet we claim that there are all of these differences between our brains? Both are crap. Read this book. Also the cordelia fine Testosterone Rex is good too
Profile Image for Angela.
389 reviews808 followers
January 17, 2023
Actual Rating: 4.5/5

This was an incredibly compulsively consumable read for me. I started listening to it running errands, fully intending to continue my physical read when I got home and then I decided to to just work on knitting my sweater until I was finished. For me, this was a cathartic surface level nonfiction read. As someone with a PhD in a biomedical field I am not surprised by the revelation that science has prejudice that is typically shaped by society and our views. This work in particular tackles the issue of where gender science is now, where it has come from and why its such a messy field. I appreciate that it does not hide from the mess and does a good job of laying out where research is now and the messiness that comes from looking at these studies and where bias can play a role. Biology is not a simple field, there are never simple answers and this nonfiction work highlights that in a way that I think will be beneficial to people not in the field. As someone in the field I enjoyed all the information and found it cathartic, even though some of the content is rage inducing at times. So if you want more than a surface level view of this field, this work probably won't be for you but I think it nails its project and is a great introductory level work on this topic.
Profile Image for fer.
466 reviews85 followers
October 17, 2020
Muito interessante.

Cada capitulo fala de um esteriótipo/mito, muitas vezes ultrapassados, sobre as mulheres que estao até hoje ai na boca do povo. Bem aquelas coisas que seus parentes evangelicos conservadores jogam no meio de conversas no almoço de domingo, tipo: homens sao melhores em matematica do que mulheres, ou homens precisam comer mais porque sao mais fortes fisicamente.

Cada capitulo pega um esteriotipo desses e disseca a historia de onde isso surgiu. E na maioria das vezes foram coisas que surgiram em estudos la em mil 900 e bolinha e que foram distorcidas com o passar do tempo, e que mesmo depois de ja terem sido desbancadas ainda continuam ai no imaginario popular.

Fala sobre ciencia e como nao podemos e nao devemos tirar a ciencia do ambito cultural e politico. Ja faz um tempo que venho lendo livros sobre feminismo mas esse foi o primeiro que li até agora que fala bastante sobre estudo cientificos e biologia em si.

Ps: acho que o titulo desse livro aqui no Brasil foi um puta tiro no pé. O titulo original é "Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story" e acho que é um titulo que tem muito mais haver com o teor mais sério do livro. O titulo aqui no Brasil parece nao compativel com a seriedade das paginas dentro do livro e acho que ainda limita o publico que se interessaria pelo livro pela capa e titulo. (I SAID WHAT I SAID)
Profile Image for Betsy.
536 reviews182 followers
June 22, 2018
[June 13, 2018]
This is an excellent book for those interested in gender equality in the sciences. Saini reviews the changing scientific theories about sex differences in several different disciplines, from evolutionary theory to biology to psychology. She obviously has strong personal feelings about the mistreatment of women, but that's not what this book is about. She describes how the various sexist theories were developed, and how they've been disproven. And when they haven't been fully disproven, she's honest about that. It's a pretty quick read, and well written. I found the book very illuminating, but not surprising.
Profile Image for Klinta.
333 reviews159 followers
September 22, 2019
""Science is supposed to be objective," says Crittenden."
I don't think you can find much objectivity in this book. The book featured a lot of male against female research, which would be fine if it would merit to a conclusion. Unfortunately very often the "debate" about a certain topic went on, but no real conclusion was reached, which left me confused - why was such a chapter included in the first place?

The book was very chaotic and I had a hard time understanding what is going on at first. The different opinions (!) that are thrown at you don't seem to be enough to merit for a "scientific conclusion". It appears that the author tries to show different approaches to the issues she discusses in each chapter, but at the same time without knowing the pool of research, the reader has only two choices either blindly follow the author's opinion - the direction the author tries to steer you in (!) or to conclude, that no one really knows what the fuck is going on with the humankind, what are the roles, why everything is happening as it is and really there's no safe bet how find out. I'm saying opinions because although the author talks about research, very often she uses expressions that make the reader think about scientist's and her own "beliefs", not "conclusions after lifelong research". Mixing biology with sociology seemed quite an issue here as well.

"Inferior: The true power of women and the science that shows it" - there is no such science. Most of the "science" I saw in this book wasn't conclusive, it was a biased look with scattered bits of research all over the place which was lacking evidence. The research obviously needs to be continued taking more serious approaches than discussed in this book, that is the only thing I was convinced of.

The book covered way too many topics, some serious issues were skimmed over. Why were they mentioned at all if they weren't fully explored? This book tried to do too much, obviously. So much that after reading this book I genuinely feel like the researchers (and by extension me after reading this book) know nothing.

And what was the deal with attacking Darwin so many times?
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,906 reviews1,236 followers
December 14, 2018
Sometimes it seems like smug people like to point smugly to science to justify their smug opinions about their superiority. Alas, many of these people turn out to be men declaiming the natural inferiority of women. As much as some men would like you to believe it, however, “science” doesn’t prove that women are naturally inferior to men. As Angela Saini explains in her book of the same name, “science” backs up what many of us have observed for millennia: it’s complicated, y’all.

Inferior references Delusions of Gender , which I also read recently. Whereas Cordelia Fine’s book is about the perceived differences between men and women (particularly neurologically), Saini is more interested in examining scientific explanations that have historically been used to justify the view that women are somehow the “inferior” sex. So, while there is some overlap between these two books, they by and large have different theses.

Saini takes us right back to Darwin and his theories of natural selection and sex selection. She explains how Darwin, as important as his writing was for the development of the theory of evolution, nevertheless maintained sexist views about the role of women—and people like Caroline Kennard challenged him on it. From here, Saini starts to examine certain apparent biological differences between men and women—such as the fact that “females get sicker but males die quicker.” Finally, Saini confronts outright myths and misconceptions that have propagated across science and history, and she tackles how it’s difficult to determine how much of our sexual and social mores are biological or cultural in origin.

My overall impression of this book is that much of what Saini says here won’t be, overall, that surprising if you’ve been interested in this topic for a while like I have. Nevertheless, what makes Inferior so interesting is the amount of detail. There is a wealth of knowledge here. It is, as she says in her introduction, a resource that you can refer to if you need specific evidence when you’re trying to refute someone’s annoyingly essentialist arguments (though I’m not sure I have the memory to actually remember these studies off the top of my head, sadly).

The last few chapters are fascinating in their facts about the diversity of human sexuality. I loved learning about various cultures that have matriarchal elements to them, particularly when it comes to sexual behaviour and infidelity. For example, I hadn’t heard of the Mosuo “walking marriage” before. Saini does a good job highlighting these various departures from what we consider “normal” from our stunted Western perspective without exoticizing or fetishizing them.

I do wish she had been somewhat more critical of evolutionary psychology in general…. Saini admirably criticizes specific experiments in evolutionary psychology, and she is quick to point out how various biases (cough, old white guys, cough) can taint results. Yet she doesn’t really delve into the problematic nature of evolutionary psychology in general.

Saini demonstrates that even with the amazing tools of scientific method available to us, we need to be careful about the conclusions we draw, the theories we publish, and the statements we make about so-called “differences” between sexes. We are so obsessed with creating categories and labels and putting people in boxes, when the reality is that we are complicated, and that there’s a lot more to our bodies than certain chromosomes or specific hormones might determine.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Siria.
1,752 reviews1,266 followers
June 3, 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.

Inferior 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.
Profile Image for Rhode PVD.
2,331 reviews23 followers
July 29, 2017
The publisher should sell the print edition plastic-wrapped with a highlighter tucked in. I don't ever highlight print books, but for this I would make an exception. Oooh! And also include a little card, with the most useful facts printed on it in fine print on both sides, that I could slip into my wallet for easy reference.

Honestly, this was the book I've often thought needed to be written. I follow the topic, so I'd heard about most of this science, but it's awfully handy to have gathered in one place.

Plus, it's beautifully written: she's readable. Plus professional. There were times I wanted to scream in frustration at the sexist things scientists did -- the kind of stuff that makes you get ranty -- yet the author always felt even tempered.

So now I am wondering how to get copies of this into more people's hands. As in seriously considering a bulk purchase. It's that useful.
Profile Image for Aurélien Thomas.
Author 9 books102 followers
September 25, 2021
Oh, how stubborn the old stereotypes when it comes to how men and women are 'naturally' supposed to be like! You know, the tired and tiring drill: men are 'hardwired' for violence, power, control and be sexually promiscuous, whereas women are portrayed as the weaker sex, nurturing, and sexually chaste and submissive… Now, if you are fed up of this old rubbish plaguing not only the popular psyche but, most importantly, permeating dangerously our whole societies (and disserving women as much as men) then this book will be right up your street. It was right up mine for sure!

As a scientist herself (she has a Masters in Engineering from Oxford University, and is well-known as a science journalist) Angela Saini focuses here on the science, or, rather, the place women have occupied in science and the impact this had upon entire fields, affecting our understanding of gender issues. Why oh why, indeed, have genders been portrayed so?! Haven’t we learnt anything since the Victorians and their own perspective on what manhood and womanhood are supposed to be? Well... Since it’s not until recently that women were accepted enough to make an acknowledgeable impact, you’ll be surprised by how damaging their exclusion (and so the lack of their perspective in biology, evolutionary psychology, and even anthropology) led to a very flawed and narrow view of human nature!

Are women more nurturing than men? No. Are men more promiscuous than women? No too. In fact, it’s not only the silly Martians vs Venusians paradigm, still powerful as a narrative, that she debunks in between the lines here. What she does, it's to also exposes how such rubbish has damaging consequences -from health to career and the workplace, and, even, parenting.

Now, this is not a book denying differences between the sexes. This is, on the contrary, a book which shatter the magnifying of such differences to entertain the silly idea that there is such a thing as a typical male brain as opposed to a typical female brain, and that such ‘natural’ state of affair determines our values and behaviours. We are more alike than different; and failing to recognise that can only have sexist consequences -even if unwillingly.

All in all, then, this is more than science. By exposing why science has been portraying women in such narrow views (the same applies to men, though), and the impact resulting from the hijacking of entire fields by male researchers with a male perspective on topics affecting female as much (if not more!), she is also dispelling the myths surrounding ‘gendered’ nature. This, then, is as much about empowering women than it is about a long overdue time of reckoning.

Forget the gender war! Science should reconcile us all.
Profile Image for Megan.
180 reviews8 followers
August 31, 2018
Reading the reviews of this book, I'm noticing that some people are starting their reviews with disclaimers like "I'm not a feminist but I like this book," and "This book is feminist, but it's still good." Are we serious here? Even though this book clearly argues that a more feminist science is actually more accurate and better able to avoid bias, people are still tiptoeing around the word "feminist" as if it's a pile of stinky political dog poo? The whole POINT of this book is to show that by using basic feminist frameworks, we can arrive at a MORE objective science about sex differences.

Feminist! Feminist! Feminist! Ok, there. I scared off all the folks who can't handle this word. Now can we have a more rational discussion about it?
Profile Image for Veronika Pizano.
755 reviews141 followers
February 10, 2019
Celé dobré. Lebo je to písané výborným nenudným štýlom. Lebo to nie je rozvláčnené. Lebo to má štruktúru - od histórie, počatia, narodenia, pubertu až menopauzu. Lebo sú tu zahrnuté rôzne pohľady. No a keď dočítate, mali by ste teda rozumieť, prečo sú rodové rozdiely nie biologická vec, ale je to kultúrna záležitosť.
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