For centuries there has been a fallacious belief in western societies that women are inferior to men. With our supposed weaker bodies and flighty, feeble minds, we’re naturally subservient to men – right?
Angela Saini, a science journalist and author of the book “Inferior”, is challenging many of these notions which she says are the result of “gender bias”. Her book shares years of research which shows that our “science” about women and differences in gender may not be so accurate after all.
Let’s talk about sex
Archaic 1970s sexual selection science holds that women are more selective than men when it comes to deciding who they will and won’t have sex with. The thought behind this is that because we have a limited number of eggs, and because of the effort it takes to carry and raise a child, it is in a woman’s interest to be monogamous so that she has the continual support of a partner to raise the child.
The same science also endeavours to explain why men are supposedly more promiscuous than women. Researchers have believed that because men have loads of sperm to go around and very little parental investment, it’s in their interest to mate with multiple women and spread their DNA.
But Saini says that this so-called “science” is off the mark. She points to many different cultures, like the men and women of the Himba, in Namibia, where both sexes have been observed having affairs (and happily doing so).
Other so-called monogamous species of animals also have affairs. Certain breeds of birds, for example, actively engage in sexual activity with a number of other birds.
Motherhood takes a village (which includes men)
Modern-day motherhood is often akin to martyrdom, with a mother being expected to entirely forego her needs so that she devotes 100% of her resources to her child.
Saini argues that this is not the way parenting has been done for most of humankind’s existence. Human beings primarily lived in communal societies where responsibilities were shared – responsibilities which included caring for the children.
But it wasn’t just the mothers and grandmothers caring for the children. Men have also been actively involved in the child rearing process, with some cultures like the men of the Hadza in Tanzania often taking on the role of a primary caregiver.
Working mums are nothing new
The belief that men ventured out to hunt while women tended to the hearth and home is simply inaccurate. Because everyone in the community played a role in the parenting of a child, women were able to work and have always done so. Saini looks to many cultures for evidence of this, like the women of the Philippine Nanadukan Agta community Luzon, who also hunt and forage for food just as men do.
A difference in mortality
From the cradle to the nursing home, there continues to be a difference in the health and longevity of men and women.
Female babies who are sick or premature are statistically more likely to survive than their male counterparts. The female immune system has also proven to be stronger and more adaptable, which explains why women can recover from both minor and serious illnesses faster and better than men. It may also explain why, on average, the lifespan of an Australian woman is four years longer than that of a man.
Saini’s research may not be scientifically based, but she does present several strong arguments that refute many of our traditional “scientific” stereotypes about women. As the author herself says, science gets things wrong from time to time. By acknowledging the widespread gender bias that exists in modern day science, we’ll benefit from getting better and more honest results.