Gillian Einstein, a distant cousin of Albert Einstein, is exploring why brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disproportionately affect women. Her research raises a difficult question: Do cultural practices and health anomalies reflect differences between the sexes, or do they create them?
In a classic 1991 essay, anthropologist Emily Martin observed how accounts of the human reproductive process usually depict sperm swimming heroically upstream in order to forcefully penetrate a passive, waiting egg — even after research showed that’s not what happens. Adhesive molecules on the egg’s surface allow it to trap sperm, which would otherwise flail ineffectually because of weak forward thrust. The damsel-in-distress narrative survives anyway.