Emily+Martin - T H E EGG A ND T H E SPERM H OW SCIENCE HAS...

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THE EGG AND THE SPERM: HOW SCIENCE HAS CONSTRUCTED A ROMANCE BASED ON STEREOTYPICAL MALE-FEMALE ROLES EMILY MARTIN The theory of the human body is always a part of a world- picture. . . . The theory of the human body is always a part of a fantasy. [JAMES The Myth of Analysis]' HILLMAN, As an anthropologist, I am intrigued by the possibility that culture shapes how biological scientists describe what they discover about the natural world. If this were so, we would be learning about more than the natural world in high school biology class; we would be learning about cultural beliefs and practices as if they were part of nature. In the course of my research I realized that the picture of egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific accounts of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female. The stereotypes imply not only that Portions of this article were presented as the 1987 Becker Lecture, Cornell University. I am grateful for the many suggestions and ideas I received on this occasion. For especially pertinent help with my arguments and data I thank Richard Cone, Kevin Whaley, Sharon Stephens, Barbara Duden, Susanne Kuechler, Lorna Rhodes, and Scott Gilbert. The article was strengthened and clarified by the comments of the anonymous Signs reviewers as well as the superb editorial skills of Amy Gage. I James Hillman, The Myth of Analysis (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1972), 220. [Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1991, vol. 16, no. 31 0 1991 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0097-974019111603-0003$01.00
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Martin 1 EGG AND THE SPERM female biological processes are less worthy than their male counter- parts but also that women are less worthy than men. Part ofmy goal in writing this article is to shine a bright light on the gender stereotypes hidden within the scientific language of biology. Exposed in such a light, I hope they will lose much of their power to harm us. Egg and sperm: A scientific fairy tale At a fundamental level, all major scientific textbooks depict male and female reproductive organs as systems for the production of valuable substances, such as eggs and sperm.2 In the case of women, the monthly cycle is described as being designed to produce eggs and prepare a suitable place for them to be, fertilized and grown-all to the end of making babies. But the enthusiasm ends there. By extolling the female cycle as a productive enterprise, menstruation must necessarily be viewed as a failure. Medical texts describe menstruation as the "debris" of the uterine lining, the result of necrosis, or death of tissue. The descriptions imply that a system has gone awry, making products of no use, not to specifica- tion, unsalable, wasted, scrap. An illustration in a widely used medical text shows menstruation as a chaotic disintegration of form, complementing the many texts that describe it as "ceasing," "dy- ing," "losing," "denuding," "e~pelling."~ Male reproductive physiology is evaluated quite differently. One
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This note was uploaded on 02/15/2011 for the course ANTHC 101 taught by Professor Friedlander during the Summer '08 term at CUNY Hunter.

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Emily+Martin - T H E EGG A ND T H E SPERM H OW SCIENCE HAS...

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