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Angela Saini, essayist: “That prehistoric image of the hunting man and the woman with the children never existed”


Highlights: Angela Saini is a renowned scientific communicator specialized in dismantling clichés. She maintains that it is a creation of the State, that it leaked into the family and that today it even defines the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters- in-law. Her books have attracted special attention for addressing phenomena that are as controversial as they are multifaceted. She remembers the discrimination she suffered as a child because of the color of her skin and the lies and scientific prejudices of sexism in Inferior.

The speech of this scientific communicator dissects with unusual naturalness the unnatural origins of patriarchy. She maintains that it is a creation of the State, that it leaked into the family and that today it even defines the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.

Angela Saini (London, 1980) is a renowned scientific communicator specialized in dismantling clichés.

With the clarity and conciseness of journalism - he worked at the BBC before devoting himself fully to writing - he sheds light on supposedly immutable concepts and the clichés they convey, as demonstrated in his latest work with an optimistic and even provocative review of patriarchy. :

The patriarchy.

The origins of male domination


She affirms that the question of power exercised by men, which historian Gerda Lerner addressed nearly 40 years ago in her work The Creation of Patriarchy (1986), needed an update.

"We have learned a lot since then in archaeology, in science, in anthropology...", says the communicator.

Saini, who is also an engineer from the University of Oxford, dissects the interaction between science and society, and its effects on marginalized groups.

Two of his books have attracted special attention for addressing phenomena that are as controversial as they are multifaceted: racism in

Superior: the return of scientific racism

(2019), Círculo de Tiza publishing house —selected as one of the 10 best books of the year by the renowned magazine scientific


and by

the Financial Times

—, where she remembers the discrimination she suffered as a child because of the color of her skin (she is of Indian origin), and the lies and scientific prejudices of sexism in


How Science Undervalues ​​Women and How Research Rewrites History

, 2017 and translated into 14 languages.

More information

Noelia Adánez: “Women are still very exposed to being treated as crazy and hysterical”

Saini received this newspaper at the beginning of February in his apartment in New York, a cozy place that, he says, did not seem that way at all when he arrived, in the middle of the pandemic, and that stands like a watchtower over Manhattan and has spectacular views.

The talk is refreshing and at the same time intense, a kaleidoscope of ideas in which science and social conscience coexist.

At the end he tells how much he misses the Indian restaurants in London, despite the wide range in New York, and his feeling of strangeness, as a European, in the New World.


Has patriarchy always been the same or has it been reinvented over the years?


What we imagine was a great event in the past, controlling all our lives in a homogeneous way, has actually happened in very different ways in different parts of the world.

There are still many places where patriarchy does not exist, but rather matrilineal societies in which authority tends to be shared.


Is there a global cartography?


What seems enormous and sometimes indestructible is in reality only a product of choices and actions and the colonization of ideas and the export of ideologies, in the same way that democracy or the idea of ​​the State or capitalism or communism have spread and widespread.

That doesn't mean any of them are natural.

If it were inevitable, it would be everywhere.

I think there are certain circumstances that cause it, some more crucial than others.


What are those determinants?


In patrilineal societies it is easier to move towards patriarchy due to the conditions that create networks of men related to each other.

The emergence of the State was crucial because the first States were very concerned about the population.

Therefore, he must be interested in the family, that is, in reproduction and defense.

These concerns became the axes of the modern patriarchal state, encouraging women to have as many children as possible.


Did you demand anything from the men?


Of course, that they be available to fight and defend the State and give their lives if necessary.

So patriarchy demands a lot from men and women.

And that is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago.


Is it more of an economic, cultural, social, political system...?


It is a whole, in the same way that other political systems also become social and cultural.

In the same way that capitalism can sometimes be tied to our ideas of individualism, growth and productivity, I think patriarchy is the same thing.

It is a system imposed from above.


Then it is a control system…


That's probably the main argument of my book, that although we imagine patriarchy started in the family, historical evidence suggests that it started with the state and then trickled down to the family.

And, of course, when it is a system that is imposed from the top down, it will affect social and cultural relations.


How or why are those few matrilineal societies that exist maintained?


The big question is why not.

We should expect there to be enormous social variation in the way humans live, we are capable of living in many different ways.

The strangest thing about patriarchy being so widespread is that such an unjust system has become so common, so habitual.

Let us treat it as something inevitable.

Psychologically, we continue to behave as if it were a norm.

“That image of the man going hunting and the woman with the children never existed.

There is no evidence for this hypothesis."


Strong leaders like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or Narendra Modi… are they shaping a new type of patriarchy?


I think so.

People who talk about patriarchy as something traditional or a return to something assume that there is an original form of male domination, and there never was.

The Taliban are not resurrecting something that existed in Afghanistan's past.

They are recreating patriarchy in their own way for the 21st century, using religion selectively.

The same goes for Putin, for Trump… when Trump talks about making America great again, or Putin constantly invoking the idea of ​​Russia.

They are not old ideas.

They are quite recent.


You say that there is no definitive history of patriarchy, nor a single story, that its narrative has been transformed over time.

What is dominant today?


I think it varies.

It is widely believed that patriarchy has always been there, that male dominance is biologically intrinsic, that the average size difference between the sexes is what established the power imbalance between men and women in the first place.

When we think of the Stone Age, we imagine the nuclear family, the man going out hunting and the woman with the children.

That was never true.

We have no evidence to support this division of labor hypothesis.

But we take our modern ideas about family or about gender, and we project them into the past.

And we assume that things must have been even worse, when in reality the evidence says nothing of the sort.


Do you mean that people lived better before?


Everyone has to work, you cannot survive with that type of highly specialized division of labor.

The further we go back in time, the more evidence we see that people lived very egalitarianly, that women and men did practically the same work, which is what you would expect, especially in subsistence societies, because In these everyone has to be able to do everything, children included.


Therefore equality is possible…


Yes, of course it is possible.

There are more egalitarian societies, and less egalitarian ones.

We also see more egalitarian societies in history.

There is a very large variety.

And the reason I think this book is optimistic is because I want to remind people that anything is possible.

The idea that patriarchy is inevitable is self-defeating and counterfactual.


How important are movements like MeToo to open cracks in the system?


They are crucial.

Throughout my writing career, I have seen the enormous difference they have made.

I remember when I was trying to write Inferior, before 2017 [when MeToo broke out] and the editors didn't want to know anything.

It was very difficult to sell the idea of ​​sexism in the sciences that had given rise to these modern-day myths about men and women.

When the book came out, MeToo was happening.

Women scientists made the book a success, because they had been saying for a long time: look at the discrimination and abuse we face.


But Hollywood took the first step…


We are only now beginning to see the levels of sexual harassment within the academic world.

And it's not just there, of course, it's Hollywood, it's corporate spaces.

It's politics.

It's everywhere.

Now I see a generation of young people who are not going to tolerate the things that my generation had to tolerate, they feel that they have a voice.


When we talk about female empowerment, what are we talking about?

Of economic self-sufficiency, of self-esteem, of gender vindication?


Each person has their own idea of ​​what feminism and gender equality means.

For me, gender equality is a society where no one feels vulnerable and everyone feels safe.

Sometimes ideas about freedom or liberation do not always recognize the fact that being free in itself is not enough.

We are social creatures.

We depend on systems to rely on.

And if they don't exist, we are trapped in undesirable situations: women in terrible marriages or abusive situations, or in bad jobs where they are harassed, because they have no other option.

So a supportive society, a more egalitarian society, is one that always gives you another option.


The myth of the


, of the perfect woman 24 hours a day... is it a trap set by the patriarchy or by ourselves?


We are part of this patriarchal system.

We also internalize these things, they are perpetuated for generations, so when we talk about patriarchy, I don't just mean men telling women what to do.

It's a system where we grow and see that, okay, okay, if I follow these rules, that's going to work for me.

If I don't follow them, things will be a little more difficult.

And that's the pernicious way ideologies like this spread.

“Sexual fluidity or gender diversity not only speaks of sexual minorities, but of each and every one of us”


Nobody said freedom was easy.


That's why I explore in the book, and I think it's quite uncomfortable to face issues like this, the ways in which we make decisions or behave that harm other women.

For example, the phenomenon of mothers-in-law in traditional patriarchal families, incredibly abusive and controlling towards their daughters-in-law, because it has happened to them and that is their only source of power.

“I will endure this as a daughter-in-law, because later I will gain that power as a mother-in-law.”

Everyone cares about status, and this is a factor when thinking about perpetuating power imbalances.


Gender diversity or fluidity is mainstream.

Can it undermine patriarchy, by driving a wedge in the male-female dichotomy?


Yes, of course.

I think part of the patriarchal control mechanism is to put people into these two rigid compartments and be very prescriptive about how they should behave.

Saying that men can only behave like this, women like that.

Therefore, when we talk about sexual fluidity or gender diversity, it is not just a question of sexual minorities, but of each and every one of us.

Because when we open our minds about what it means to be a man or a woman or what it means to be human, we are fundamentally undermining that patriarchal system.


How many generations must pass to achieve full equality?


We could do it in this same generation, if we want.

But I think we're not yet at that stage where people are fully ready to accept what gender equality would really mean, which would mean questioning everything.

It means questioning capitalism.

It means questioning the functioning of the State, and that takes time.

It is important to remember that in the last century we have made incredible progress.

In most countries, women have gone from being the property of their husbands to being individuals, with the right to divorce, to not be raped in marriage... And that has not happened through the revolution, but through the reform.

So things can happen.

And 100 years is not a long time.

So I'm very optimistic and hopeful.


Some studies show, however, that younger people experience gender equality as a grievance, if not as a threat.


What makes me wonder is whether, as feminists, we have done a good job selling gender equality to both men and women.

Increasingly around the world, Gen Z men are moving away from gender equality at the same time their peers are increasingly in favor of it.

And I think it's because there is a feeling that gender equality is only for women, but no: it is for everyone.

We could do a better job of selling it and presenting it in a compelling way to both sexes.

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Source: elparis

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