The best book I read this month was one that got me all riled up. Angela Saini’s Inferior is basically about how science has done women wrong.
For years, I’ve heard stories about how medical science has treated women badly, from doctors who dismiss women’s pain as hysterical to FDA studies that only tested medications on men to the lack of research funding for women’s cancers. I expected to find all of that in this book. I was wrong on that count. Saini addresses some of the above, but her discussion of women’s treatment in medicine forms only a very small part of the book.
Saini explores not only how medical science has dismissed, ignored, and mistreated women, but also how scientists across disciplines—neurology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, to name a few—aren’t quite sure how to account for women in their research. A number of scientists (mostly men, it seems from Saini’s examples) are hell-bent on finding genetic or biological differences between the sexes. Other scientists (mostly women, judging by Saini’s examples) insist that differences do not exist and that any difference between the sexes is cultural or environmental.
Saini convincingly illustrates the extent to which bias has influenced the methodology and conclusions drawn by researchers into sex differences and women’s roles and the extent to which these researchers have been dismissive of cultural and environmental influences—both on themselves and on their subjects.
As a woman, I am frustrated and upset by Saini’s examples, but as a reader, I am grateful that she makes the science so accessible. Her writing is not drowning in jargon, and when she does use scientific terminology, she explains it in terms that any non-scientist could understand. The book is short (about 185 pages without the endnotes and bibliography) and easy to read but packed with information. It was definitely a good reading choice for Women’s History Month.