literary journalism sex & gender

Katrine Marçal’s ‘Mother of Invention’

If the wheel was invented over 5,000 years ago, why wasn’t it applied to luggage until the 1970s? asks Katrine Marçal in this thought-provoking book, seamlessly translated by Alex Fleming. A Swedish journalist based in London, Marçal is the author of Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? (2012), which explored the limitations of Homo economicus as an organising principle and the societal costs of devaluing unpaid labour.

In The Mother of Invention, Marçal investigates the impact of gender expectations on innovation. Wheelie suitcases did not take off until the seventies because of macho assumptions that women were not meant to travel alone and that men should be strong enough to [lug/carry] luggage, she explains. “Our society’s ideas on masculinity are some of the most unyielding ideas we have, and our culture often values the preservation of certain concepts of masculinity over death itself.” If death sounds dramatic, Marçal illustrates her point with the history of the automobile. What held back the development of the electric car, she argues, was less inadequate battery power than that its attributes—safety, silence, comfort—were considered to appeal to women. Would our current climate crisis look different if the electric car had not been considered feminine and, as such, inferior? she wonders…

Read the full piece online in the Irish Times Magazine

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