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Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story
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GROUP READS > June NONFICTION selection INFERIOR: HOW SCIENCE GOT WOMEN WRONG - AND THE NEW RESEARCH THAT'S REWRITING THE STORY

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message 1: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
Our June nonfiction selection will be Angela Saini's 2017 book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story.

From Wikipedia:
...journalist Angela Saini "paints a disturbing picture of just how deeply sexist notions have been woven into the fabric of scientific research". Saini "discovers that many of society’s traditional beliefs about women are built on shaky ground". She also relaunches the critique that the studies from Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues carry on Darwin's "idea that man and woman...evolved to meet their roles of hunter and gatherer, respectively."
I have to admit I hadn't heard of this title before it was nominated as a group read. I'm looking forward to reading it, though I won't get to it until the end of the month since I will be out of the country for the first couple weeks of June for school. I look forward to getting a copy when I get back.

Anyone else planning on reading this? Has anyone already read it? Curious if anyone has any thoughts so far.


message 2: by Shomeret (new) - added it

Shomeret | 33 comments I got an ARC from Edelweiss. I kept on meaning to review it, but you know what they say about the road to hell...This thread is a good excuse for me to prioritize Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story. So I hope to get to it in June.


message 3: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) My copy is pending at the library, so I hope to have some opinions soon!


Honore | 78 comments I am next inline to get it as an audiobook on Overdrive. Can't wait to listen to it!


Cassandra (cassandrat) My library doesn't have this, so I bought it. Only 7% in. Excited to learn about the history of science of the sexes.


Paula (lunaontherun) | 31 comments I'm getting my Audible credit in a few days, so I'll get the book then. I'm looking forward to reading it!


message 7: by mis (new) - rated it 3 stars

mis | 3 comments Got my copy! Darwin was a real charmer!


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Scribd has lifted their limit and now you can read/listen all you want! I've been with them a long time. Anyhoo, Inferior is there and listening to it now. I've read the information in the book (maybe because of my education background) in other places but it is really nice to see it all gathered in one place. About halfway through and so far it is very good and thorough.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

mis wrote: "Got my copy! Darwin was a real charmer!"

lol yeah...


message 10: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) The library are chasing my copy - but it seems to have disappeared down a black hole of lost editions and uncollected reservations. :(


Paula (lunaontherun) | 31 comments I've finished the book; I practically tore through it. The audiobook version is especially good. I'll definitely share my thoughts once more people have read it (I don't want to spoil anything).


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

So this is rather personal but I am listening to this book and my daughter was doing something (prolly playing a game) in the same room with me while the book was playing.

Later we went out to dinner and she asked me a question - so what do you think about gender from the book and I tried to reiterate what I'm getting from the book and was she seeing the same thing...

My hubby (who's a wonderful man but...) jumped in with his 'opinion' and we spent a good portion of time trying to explain to him that we were discussion a book that was looking at science and not opinion. Plus he complained that my daughter was being too loud but to me she wasn't. Maybe tone of voice because I'm more placating?

Anyway two days later I'm getting around to finishing the discussion with my kid and then have another one with my hubby about what happened at dinner over this book. Whew! Being a feminist is hard! lol

The book itself seems very comprehensive in tackling the history of science around women. I don't know that it's coming to any grand conclusions but still have a ways to go before I finish.


message 13: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) Don't wait for me to start discussing the book - I'm not worried about spoilers in non-fiction!


message 14: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda (dewluca) I'll be skipping this one . . . I used to teach Psychology (including Research Methods) and Women's Studies, so to me this topic is depressingly old news (I still have a shelf full of books from the 1990s on this exact topic) . . . but I'll follow the thread in case there are questions I might be able to answer and/or to see if there's actually anything new in the book.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Nick wrote: "Don't wait for me to start discussing the book - I'm not worried about spoilers in non-fiction!"

hehe I never thought of that...


Cassandra (cassandrat) I didn't know scribd lifted their limit!! I wish I had before buying! I'm interested to hear from Lucinda about some of the studies. I had to put this book aside amidst Darwin because it's just too close to home. Working in tech is a lot more frustrating than I expected. But maybe rejoining scribd and listening to the audio book will help me get back into the book. I do want to know the data, because apparently I need to remind people of it.


message 17: by mis (new) - rated it 3 stars

mis | 3 comments Just finished Chapter 2. The author does a good job setting up this tension between the need to include more female subjects in clinical research vs. the slippery slope of accentuating biological differences between females and males. -- Also, I enjoyed all the stats on female "robustness" lol. This was refreshing to read, since I have assumed that women generally live longer due primarily to social factors (like risk-taking behavior and frequency of health care visits). I also liked the distinction between different aspects of sexual difference-- height/upper body strength in males vs. a different type of "robustness" advantage in females. Intriguing at least, since I always feel like I have to concede that males have this biological advantage over women in regards to strength-- I suppose I learned that that's not the only factor to consider.


message 18: by Shomeret (last edited Jun 11, 2018 12:47PM) (new) - added it

Shomeret | 33 comments So I was just reading in Inferior about testosterone not being related to aggression, but to risk-taking and optimism. Yet it occurs to me that these traits can also play into increased criminal behavior. Someone with more testosterone might commit more crimes (including violent ones) because they optimistically believe that they won't get caught. Of course risk-taking and optimism can also lead to great achievements. So testosterone has both a positive side and a negative one.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

mis wrote: "Just finished Chapter 2. The author does a good job setting up this tension between the need to include more female subjects in clinical research vs. the slippery slope of accentuating biological d..."

I really liked that idea too of the 'robustness' of females. I also got the impression later on in the chapters was the conclusion that all in all women and men only differentiate between each other less than one standard deviation. I think the author is trying to say keep this in mind whenever 'science' or any discipline or whoever tries to say that men and women are significantly different. That came up in the brain part.

I'm listening to the book and I feel I do much better when I read so I may be missing points or if someone reads something different please point it out to me. :-)

The psychology/brain part was really good too and long what I suspected since I had child development in school (by the way most of the research we base on education - the classic research - was all done on boys) is that the brain starts to narrow down in the early teen years (middle school). So if you practice something you're going to build new pathways, get better at it and create this specificity in your brain. That makes much more sense to me then saying women's and men's brains are different. AND to keep in mind that it can be positive OR negative.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Shomeret wrote: "So I was just reading in Inferior about testosterone not being related to aggression, but to risk-taking and optimism. Yet it occurs to me that these traits can also play into increased criminal be..."

I also heard that middle-aged women (being one myself) hormone levels change and have more testosterone and men's lower. I don't know if she'll get to discussing that in the book or not.

But yes, I always thought testosterone levels=aggression and was surprised at the revamping to risk-taking and optimism.

I am more than willing to take risks with myself but not others and taking on challenges. Fair warning younger men and women this does lead to injuries that will come back to bite you when you're older...

I was an absolute optimist in my younger years and now I consider myself a pessimistic optimist. heh

There was something in the book and I can't remember where, she talks about how it's not the differences men vs women or nature vs nurture but we're a whole bag of outcomes as individuals.


message 21: by Shomeret (new) - added it

Shomeret | 33 comments How remarkable that the ethnic group of Nnedi Okorafor's Binti got prominently mentioned in Inferior. I had never heard of the Himba until I read Binti. Okorafor doesn't expicitly mention that the Himba are one of the few peoples that has no problem with women having multiple relationships. At least I don't recall that.


message 22: by mis (new) - rated it 3 stars

mis | 3 comments Shomeret wrote: "How remarkable that the ethnic group of Nnedi Okorafor's Binti got prominently mentioned in Inferior. I had never heard of the Himba until I read Binti. Okorafor doesn't expicitly m..."

Wow this is interesting-- will have to read. It's funny going to a book on goodreads and ALL my friends have either read ir or marked as to-read. Anyway, thanks for pointing this out!


Cassandra (cassandrat) Finally getting back to reading this book. I'm a little annoyed with the author during the estrogen/testosterone section. She says the sexes couldn't be clearly defined, but that makes no sense. She means defined by the presence of hormones. It's not clear why that's important but I assume because it links to personality traits and not reproductive function? Also, what do people disagree with about Mead's observations? They disagree with her interpretation of gender roles? That's very interesting if so but the author just kind of brushed over this point.


Cassandra (cassandrat) I know it's chapter one but she could have done a clearer job differentiating sex and gender and what she means by differences. I feel like I wouldn't have gotten her points without knowing them already.


message 25: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda (dewluca) re Cassandra's point above: I'm not reading the book, but when an author says that some dichotomy (estrogen/testosterone) or other doesn't clearly define male/female, what that MEANS is that if you measure these things in a population of men and women, there will be a HUGE overlap in values . . . SO knowing someone's levels of estrogen, testosterone (or scores on some cognitive or personality test) will NOT tell you whether that person is male or female. This huge overlap is HUGELY important (sorry for the huge use of huge) . . . because most people think that there are distinct differences between males and females on all sorts of measures, but for the most part this is just not true. BECAUSE "male"/"female", "sex"/"gender" are constructed categories. People have tried to set up dichotomies using sex chromosomes, gonads, hormones, secondary sexual characteristics (breasts, penises/clitorises, etc.), but even with those things, which you might think would be definitive, it doesn't work . . . because there are all sorts of overlaps and variations.

I hope this helps.


Cassandra (cassandrat) Lucinda, I understand statistics. I am confused by what you mean by constructed categories. All categories are necessarily constructef. It is my understanding that sex is not a social construct but gender is. Male and female are generally defined based on procreation. I recognize there are women who cannot bear children and men who cannot inseminate, and women who are assigned male because of said bodily functions (and vice versa), but as a general definition it works. Reading this section I wondered "what about hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery?" This question/follow-up is separate from what I said, the author is not clear about what the response variables are that she's discussing.


message 27: by Outis (last edited Jun 17, 2018 02:27PM) (new)

Outis "All categories are necessarily constructed."
Essentialism is quite popular, even among people who identify as feminists. I agree with you but you're assuming away the other side's core premise.
In this instance, while the mainstream definitions of "male" and "female" do work from a pragmatic perspective, the burden of proof for such categories drawing predictive or normative power from unconstructed roots is considerably higher.


Leena-Maaretta Dixon | 3 comments Just downloaded it from Audible. Will share my thoughts next week!


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Lucinda wrote: "re Cassandra's point above: I'm not reading the book, but when an author says that some dichotomy (estrogen/testosterone) or other doesn't clearly define male/female, what that MEANS is that if you..."

Thanks for the clarification. I thought that's what the author meant.


message 30: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 19, 2018 12:48PM) (new)

Chapter 33 - I agree with cooperative breeding and the importance of an extended family to raise a child. However I did read another scientific experiment with rats that isn't included in this book. It was determined that male genes? control the development of the placenta and heavily influences how the female will 'mother' the children. Apparently without this gene? the females were indifferent to their pups and with this gene? the females are much more attentive. I can't remember what book but I think it was Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters I have problems with his book that this book (concerning the innate qualities of males and females) has helped dispel.


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter 35 - Heard this again in this book that the focus on beauty and thinness in women is something abnormal to the capabilities and hard manual labor that is required of women in subsistence farming. Something that was also mentioned in a Marilyn French book.


Honore | 78 comments Hearing about how young girls are taken to the hospital less often than boys really hurt. I think in part it's because growing up I felt like teachers, doctors, and people at work/school really didin't believe that I was in incredible pain with the onset of my period every month.


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

Honore wrote: "Hearing about how young girls are taken to the hospital less often than boys really hurt. I think in part it's because growing up I felt like teachers, doctors, and people at work/school really did..."

Yes. Half the Sky really explores this issue on a global scale.


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

Finished and starting at Chapter 50 she goes into menopause of particular interest to me until the end. I had no idea our demographic was such a hot button topic. Great book!


message 35: by Anita (last edited Jun 26, 2018 02:15PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) I just started so I glazed over the last few comments for now. I was also surprised at the double X v XY chromosome playing a part in woman's robustness. It makes sense but I never heard a thing about that before. As mis mentioned, I also chalked up longer lives in women to social bonds, etc. Because that's what I had been taught. From a corporate PoV doing studies on males seems like a good idea at first but how many lawsuits and pulled products (not to mention lives) could have been saved by doing PROPER studies of both sexes; and separately as well for a better control study application. It seems careless, lazy, and reckless. damage mitigation really needs to start considering women more actively.


message 36: by Shomeret (new) - added it

Shomeret | 33 comments Although there were several observations made in this book that I hadn't known or thought about, I thought there wasn't much in the way of fresh conclusions.

See my review at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 37: by Anita (last edited Jun 26, 2018 02:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) Thanks for sharing your review Shomeret. I Haven't read the section on menopause but I wouldn't have thought only whales and human females survive past it. so that's news to me. I wonder if other animals maybe don't go through menopause? Because I immediately thought of the matriarchal grandma elephants. but, as I said, I haven't read that yet.

I was slightly disappointed in the brain chapter just because by the end I felt like I had just been talked in a circle. I like all of the facts but I didn't see a point or conclusion to any argument in there. It was frustrating to read that there is research showing how the male and female brains' activity is different, yet she introduces arguments (or research, I'm not nitpicking - she compiled the work for the book so it's technically her argument one way or another) that indicate just looking at brain activity or mapping on paper would make it impossible to distinguish whether it was a male or female brain? For me, this chapter was just a lot of information that didn't lead anywhere. maybe I need to read it again


message 38: by CD (new) - added it

CD  | 105 comments Late to the discussion, a copy has become available via the local library system. Scheduled to arrive this week.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

And this article showed up where scientists are reluctant to experiment on anything but male mice - https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/mi...


message 40: by Shomeret (new) - added it

Shomeret | 33 comments Coral wrote: "And this article showed up where scientists are reluctant to experiment on anything but male mice - https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/mi..."

I seem to recall that this problem was mentioned in Inferior. There is admittedly a lack of equivalency between female animals who have estrus and human females who don't. On the other hand, does estrus influence the way female mice experience pain? If experimenters won't use female mice, we'll never know whether or not estrus is even relevant to a pain study.


Honore | 78 comments So I just finished the audio book version on this book and I was a little underwhelmed.
I think it's mostly due to the fact that I thought it would be about how science got MEDICAL research wrong about women, rather than a focus on the anthropological side of science. I appreciated the mentions about the signs of a heart attack and the ambien dosage thing, but I had already heard about those things via articles.


message 42: by Anita (last edited Jun 26, 2018 02:31PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) Honore wrote: "Hearing about how young girls are taken to the hospital less often than boys really hurt. I think in part it's because growing up I felt like teachers, doctors, and people at work/school really did..."

I've seen this on news feeds recently as a new hot topic in the scientific community: acknowledging and studying the severity of period pain. While it isn't news to us I always enjoy seeing some sort of progress - and discussion is progress. The only person who ever felt any sympathy for me was my mother. Which leads me to discussion of the FGM chapter I'm reading now.

Even though it is a terrible operation for the women, they continue to carry it out on each other. Even knowing both the short term trauma and the long term trauma and health complications likely to occur.
I think the case study used sums it up aptly when she acknowledges that the women in (her) society are placing and enforcing the mutilation on themselves and subsequent generations solely for the benefit of men. She discusses how the men aren't even involved in the process. The girls shame each other, the mothers and aunts carry out the ceremony surrounding it, and women perform the operation (I'm using this term extremely loosely).

It's quite a horrifying thought at the basic premise that women will continue to carry out violence against other women because "that's the way it's always been." It gave me pause to reflect on all the other ways we harm ourselves and each other.

I had a bit of the opposite reaction to the book in general and enjoyed the anthropological studies chapters a bit more than the scientific studies chapters. :) All in all I found it an interesting study of many topics, although not full of all the facts that I expected. Still 2 more chapters to go though.


Leena-Maaretta Dixon | 3 comments Have read the introduction and the first chapter. Pleasantly surprised this book is penned by a WOC! And that she already has linked both the sexism and the racism that exist in scientific fields.


message 44: by [deleted user] (new)

Shomeret wrote: "Coral wrote: "And this article showed up where scientists are reluctant to experiment on anything but male mice - https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/mi......"

The article went even further to say scientists (the author of the article is a research scientist) include 'intersex animals'. I confess I'm not a scientist so I thought that was interesting.


message 45: by [deleted user] (new)

Anita wrote: "Honore wrote: "Hearing about how young girls are taken to the hospital less often than boys really hurt. I think in part it's because growing up I felt like teachers, doctors, and people at work/sc..."

I've read Alice Walker's fictional book with FGM a long time ago. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the rage behind it or try to think of the starting point for this kind of 'tradition.'

Although they do circumcise boys when they're older with a dull knife so maybe they figured it was the equivalent.


message 46: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I'm finally getting to this read! One day I will be completely caught up...

Cassandra wrote: "Also, what do people disagree with about Mead's observations? They disagree with her interpretation of gender roles?"

If I remember correctly, most of Mead's observations were discounted because the Samoans she was working with misled her during her research. There was also, no surprise, a male researcher who contradicted Mead's works, and therefore, I think, his studies took precedence over hers. There's probably more to the whole controversy than I am remembering, but that's the unfortunate part I remember picking up in college.

I agree that Saini should have discussed that in more detail in that chapter. On one hand she is very good about explaining historical context to back her positions, but then occasionally she says stuff like that about Mead with no background to help the reader. Not all of that stuff is commonly known, so a bit more context would have been appreciated.

I have only read the first two chapters so far and am enjoying how readable this book is. I have a lot going on and worried this might be too academic for me to give full attention to, but at this rate I should be done in a few days.


message 47: by CD (new) - added it

CD  | 105 comments The library just notified me that a copy is now available!

On my way there before the close this pm!


Cassandra (cassandrat) Thank you, El!


message 49: by CD (new) - added it

CD  | 105 comments Read the first three chapters non-stop!


message 50: by CD (new) - added it

CD  | 105 comments Two chapters left. Waiting for this work to tie together with title, premise, and the various sub-topics. A lot of anthropology and other soft/pseudo scientific approaches to the material.

That science has gotten a lot about women wrong isn't the big question; it maybe should be at this point what has science 'got right?'


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