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Social Science Gender Studies

Mother of Invention

How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men

by (author) Katrine Marcal

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2021
Gender Studies, Social Psychology, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2021
    List Price

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An illuminating and maddening examination of how gender bias has skewed innovation, technology, history and work.

It all starts with a rolling suitcase.

The wheel was invented some 5,000 years ago, and the modern suitcase in the mid-nineteenth century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that someone successfully married the two. What was the hold up? For writer and journalist Katrine Marçal, the answer is both shocking and simple: because "real men" carried their bags, no matter how heavy. There were rolling suitcases before the '70s, but they were marketed as a niche product for (the presumably few) women travelling alone, and the wheeled suitcase wasn't "invented" until it was no longer threatening to masculinity.
Mother of Invention draws on this example and many others, from electric cars to tech billionaires, to show how gender bias stifles the economy and holds us back. Our traditional notions about men and women have delayed innovations, sometimes by hundreds of years, and have distorted our understanding of our history. While we talk about the Iron Age and the Bronze Age, we might as well talk about the Ceramic Age or the Flax Age, since these technologies were just as important. But inventions associated with women are not considered to be technology in the same way.
Katrine Marçal’s Mother of Invention is a fascinating examination of business, technology, and innovation through a feminist lens. Marçal takes us on a tour of the global economy, arguing that gendered assumptions dictate which businesses get funding, how we value work, and how we trace human progress. And it carries a powerful message: If we upend our biases, we can unleash our full potential, tackling climate change and wielding technology to become more human, rather than less.

About the author

Contributor Notes

KATRINE MARÇAL is a Swedish writer, journalist and correspondent for a Swedish daily newspaper. Her first book, Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? was shortlisted for the August Prize and won the Lagercrantzen Award. She lives in London.

Editorial Reviews

Longlisted for the 2021 Porchlight Business Book Awards

"[Marçal's] at-once anecdotal and theoretical book seeks to understand what's lost when women's social contributions are limited, as well as ways to move toward a new model. The author's writing shines when she addresses perceptions of women throughout history; she particularly carefully unpacks how Black and brown women have historically been restricted and misrepresented, and the misconceptions that endure. . . . A must-read." —Library Journal, starred review

"The joy of the book is how it manages to weave in stories of women influencing innovation in masculine spaces. . . . Innovation may have been stifled by gender bias in the past, but Mother of Invention shows that we can choose a different future." —Science Magazine

"[A] breezy read. . . . Each chapter uses an animating story . . . to offer free-flowing ruminations on patriarchy, economics, and invention." —Booklist

"A book with a radical agenda. . . . Marçal wants nothing less than a revolution in the way we think about ourselves." —The Times

"Wry and witty. . . . It's high time to put the needs of all people and the planet at the heart of invention." —Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics
"Mother of Invention had me nodding along in emphatic agreement. To tackle the substantial problems ahead, we cannot afford to innovate with 'one hand tied behind our backs.'" —Irish Times

"[A] quirky treatise. . . . Told in a conversational tone, this feminist directive . . . fascinates with its wealth of historical tidbits. Fans of Caroline Criado-Perez's Invisible Women, take note." —Publishers Weekly

"This second book by the author of Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? is both bracing and highly entertaining. Marçal's contention is that while women have been coming up with ingenious inventions since the beginning of time, they are routinely sidelined in a world geared to men." —The Bookseller

"A smart, witty and fascinating warning from history. I loved this book." —Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women
"This is an absolute must-read. Equal parts informative and infuriating." —Fern Riddell, author of Sex: Lessons from History
"Sometimes we are lucky to experience a leap in new thinking. We look in amazement at the world around us and ask: why didn't we see this before? This what Katrine Marçal offers us in Mother of Invention. She brilliantly proves how male-driven technology over the ages has limited full human development by neglecting a liberating female narrative and perspective." —Jan Eliasson, Former Swedish Deputy Secretary-General of the UN

"From wheeled suitcases to witch trials, Katrine Marçal makes you look again at history in this funny, clever and provocative book." —Helen Lewis, author of Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights
"Infuriating, but always thought-provoking and intriguing. A clearly-needed wake-up call to future innovators not to view the world through a narrowly gendered lens but to pay attention to the skills and lived experiences of all." —Gina Rippon, author of Gender and Our Brains