Five myths about women that scientists have tried to present as fact

Are women the weaker sex and are men the natural hunter-gatherers? No, says Angela Saini, author of a new book that debunks a few sexist myths using scientific proof

If you’ve ever had the sneaking suspicion that some of the so-called ‘innate’ differences between men and women might be a load of bullsh*t, science journalist Angela Saini’s new book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, debunking myths about women, is an absolute must-read.

We asked her to deconstruct five big myths about women, previously presented as ‘fact’ by scientists:

Are women really the weaker sex?

Angela says: ‘Women live longer than men because they are biologically better survivors from the day they’re born. Statistically, baby girls are more robust than boys, which makes mortality rates among babies a little skewed in favour of girls. And for reasons that scientists don’t fully understand, throughout their lives women tend to survive the same diseases that kill men. This is true across all countries and as far back as records have been kept. Today, 
of the 45 people in the world living beyond the age of 110 all but one are women. So in short, are women the weaker sex? Not at all.’

Are men biologically better hunters?

Angela says: ‘We think of hunting animals as something men usually do, originating from caveman times, but there are a number of tribes worldwide in which women primarily hunt. Among the Martu aborigines in Western Australia, women are particularly skilled at outrunning prey. Some researchers now think that in our distant past, women would have hunted even more than they do today. This means that for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, life was nothing like The Flintstones – it wasn’t solely the men who brought home the bacon.

Is gender equality a new concept?

Angela says: ‘When women today fight for equal rights, they’re not overturning any laws of nature. Anthropologists widely agree that early humans were egalitarian, with women and men sharing responsibilities and decision-making power. They would have had no other choice, because subsistence living is so harsh that everyone would have needed to pitch in with labour, including getting food and raising babies. For new mums who might be struggling, it’s important 
to remember that childcare was never 
a mother’s responsibility alone – it’s something that’s been shared between grandparents, siblings, aunts and parents.’

Are men naturally more promiscuous?

Angela says: ‘In 1978 a survey of sexual behaviour on one American university campus suggested that women were less likely than men to want causal sex. But since then, more recent studies into hook-up behaviour reveal that women and men are equally up for casual sex, so long as they don’t feel they are being judged or putting themselves at risk of violence. The biggest difference between the sexes is that women tend to be pickier about their partners.’

Are girls naturally drawn to pink?

Angela says: ‘Wrong. Pink is for everyone! Studies show that infant girls have no more a love of the colour pink than infant boys do. Differences in preference start to appear as they get older, probably because girls tend to be given pink clothes, nurseries and toys. Social reinforcement in early childhood can have a huge effect on the kinds of things we like as adults. This applies to gender stereotypes, too. By the age of five, most children hold lots of assumptions about what women can and can’t do. In one experiment, when kids were shown a picture of a girl sawing wood, they incorrectly remembered that they had 
seen a picture of a boy sawing wood.

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