Inferior: How Science got Women Wrong - Angela Saini in conversation with Dr. Whitaker


The event started off with Angela giving us a brief overview of her recent book 'Inferior: How Science got Women Wrong'. She spoke about great scientists such as Charles Darwin held the view that women were intellectually inferior to men, and the fact that this belief was pervasive across cultures. She pointed to current popular literature that highlighted men and women are meant to occupy different spheres. In order to counter such theories, she brought forth the example of anthropologists who had observed women hunting, an activity traditionally associated with men, and the existence of matrilineal societies in Northwestern China/Tibet. She encouraged the audience to broaden their perspectives by pointing that we are incredibly versatile beings and that 'there is no reason biology should hold us back'.

This was followed by a Q&A session with Dr. Kirstie Whitaker. Questions ranged from what led Ms Saini to research this topic to what her views were to enforce equal representation. She went back to Darwin's theory of sexual selection and talked about how there had been no rigorous research to support his statement in contrary to the other theories he had proposed. She also touched upon the 'Theory of Parental Investment' which said that women tended to be monogamous as their investment was high in raising offspring, while men were more promiscuous due to low investment; she went on to say that there were many instances in history such as FGM where female sexual behaviour was controlled. With regard to enforcement of a quota in science to ensure equal representation of women, she eloquently put that heavy-handed methods would not work in skilled fields and instead, we would need to look at measures such as providing better childcare options. Dr. Whitaker also asked Ms Saini about her next book on race in science and what prompted her to write it. Angela said that this was a subject she always wanted to write about, and she hopes to understand where the idea of race came from and why we hold on to it so much, even in present times.

Following this, there was a lively engagement between the audience and Ms Saini. One response of note was about how chimps and bonobos have female-dominated societies not by virtue of physical strength, but because of the strong networks females form amongst themselves. The session ended with a few key messages from Ms Saini on how we should start with breaking gender stereotypes at home and how we should not take women's rights for granted.