Fall in Love with Science and Data (books)

Yep, it’s autumn and I went with a cheesy pun. Can’t say I’m sorry about that one.

There are three books that I think everyone should read. I mean, honestly there are more than three. But these three are a wonderful package if you’re looking to educate yourself, or if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a friend/loved one. An archnemesis would benefit too, honestly.

In looking at these books, you might think by ‘everyone’ I mean women, or people who identify as women. But no, I mean everyone. They say knowing is half the battle. Ignorance will be our demise.

Why have I been recommending these books, and buying them as gifts? Because little research has been done on the biology of half the world’s population, and that’s unacceptable. These books manage to scrape together what little we do have. Until very recently, the default in any kind of research has been male. Medications haven’t been tested on women (including medications designed specifically for women), and every aspect of a person’s daily life, from traffic patterns to the chairs we sit in have been designed for men.

This is not a feminist rant. Studies consistently show that including women increases GDP (gross domestic product), allows for breakthrough discoveries that advance society and science, and allows resolutions to be made more quickly.

Diversity is incredibly important in all aspect of our lives.

If any of what I’ve said interests you, then I’d recommend starting with Invisible Women. Maybe your interest is only at the ‘this can’t be right’ or ‘she’s wrong’ stage. Cool. Read Invisible Women. The citations and evidence is there.

Now, if you’re still with me, let me introduce this fabulous trifecta of knowledge bombs:

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Design for Men – Caroline Criado Perez

Note: This book is a few years old, but there is a new edition published in 2021 that includes and afterward talking about the pandemic.

Perez brings together a massive amount of data to examine the gender gap and how it feeds biases and works against women. This book goes beyond looking at inequities in pay to examine how societies have managed to completely forget about women when designing cities, drafting public policies that are meant to provide support to, well, everyone, and creating safety devices like seatbelts and car seats. Perez sheds light on the harsh truth of the medical community (they don’t have enough data to know how to treat women because they only recently started to admit that women aren’t just smaller men), how this translates into medications, cosmetics, consumer products, and household goods.

This book is an awakening. It gave me evidence to support what was previously dismissed, by others and then by myself, as ‘feelings’.

And I’m recommending it to everyone I can because overcoming such deeply engrained biases is hard. Our brains are literally wired to hold on to our biases (that’s a whole different book). So if we want to improve women’s lives, and as a result everyone’s lives, we need to educate ourselves on what is reality versus what we believe because society has found it easier to default to male than account for women.

The Vagina Bible – Jen Gunter, MD

I grew up in the deep south. I used to think that was relevant because I used to think the idea that women’s bodies are something private, and by private they mean shameful, and by shameful they mean gross–I used to think that THAT idea came from living in a red state in the south. But then I moved to other states and realized that it’s a very United States belief. In fact, it’s a nearly global belief.

And it’s wrong.

As a result of this systemic belief, I wasn’t taught very much about my body, beyond the bare necessities, such as how to ‘handle’ my monthly period. I spent three decades of my life walking around in a body that was essentially a mystery from belly button to thighs. And that’s dangerous for many reasons.

This book is excellent not just for those of us with a vagina, but for everyone. Knowing about human bodies is important. De-mystifying female anatomy elevates facts over myth, and in doing so removes harmful biases and flat out lies about how and why the female body does what it does.

This book can be read cover to cover, or explored one chapter at a time. I don’t always have physical copies of books, but this one covers topics and experiences that I haven’t yet gone through (like menopause) and therefore I feel will be a handy reference book later in life too.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life – Emily Nagoski, PhD

Once upon a time flowers were used as a visual euphemism for female genitalia, and now it appears we’ve moved to zippers. I’m not going to take the time to dive into that, but I will say it greatly amuses me that I have two books with zippers centered on the cover in a suggestive way.

Despite the vagina-zipper, this book is once again great for everyone. After all, as it says there on the cover: it contains science that will transform your sex life. And that’s not solely for women.

Part One of this book covers anatomy. This doesn’t solely rehash what’s covered in The Vagina Bible, although there is some overlap. Part Two is “sex in context” which examines the cultural and emotional aspects of sex. The emotional section dives into how stress impacts sex and also touches on the difficult topic of survivors of abuse and assault. Part Three covers “sex in action”, including lubrication, and desire versus arousal. In the desire versus arousal section, Nagoski sets out studies showing that women differ from men (not always, because if this book teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that nothing is weird or abnormal) in how they become aroused, stay aroused, and eventually climax. This section is a fantastic read for partners. Lastly, Part Four is about “ecstasy for everybody”, or orgasms and sex-positivity.

This book was informative, but it was also hugely impowering. After having had the world tell us, all of us not just women, how sex should be, having science tell us that we’re all okay was like a big hug.

So there they are. The Powerful Three! I hope at least one of these books winds up in your hands or streaming in your ears. Or if nothing else, you’re now questioning if your own beliefs are based in fact, or something else.

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