Powers+of+Conception

Powers+of+Conception - 1 Cynthia R. Daniels Exposing Men...

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Cynthia R. Daniels Exposing Men Chapter Two Powers of Conception What is the male role in procreation? While the scientific imagination has speculated about the male role in conception since antiquity, certain knowledge of the role of sperm in the reproductive process is relatively recent, not established in the medical sciences until the end of the 19 th century. Sperm itself was discovered much later than human ova and historical investigation of semen was met with deep suspicion until well into the 19 th century. Despite the fact that Antoni van Leeuwenhoek observed the male “animalcula” in 1677, scientific paradigms did not recognize the equal contributions of sperm and egg in conception for over another 200 years. 1 Throughout history, philosophers and scientists have attributed to men and women different roles in human reproduction, often reflecting shifting assumptions about men’s and women’s proper position in the larger social order. Some gave all procreative power to men, casting them as the creators of life, with superior ‘fluids’ capable of ensouling the fetus or with sperm containing the entire miniaturized human being ready to be ‘planted’ into the womb. Others theorized life creation as the domain of women, with the human being encapsulated in the ova and stimulated to growth by ‘parasitic’ sperm. Competing scientific understandings of the male and female role in reproduction both reflected and shaped cultural assumptions of gender difference, attributing to men either the central power of human life or a peripheral role in procreation, but rarely casting men and women as holding comparable roles in reproduction. Whether attributing procreative power to men or women, competing theories of reproduction were often used to justify ‘natural’ divisions between men and women in society at large and related unequal distributions of power and resources. This chapter examines the evolution of scientific understandings of human procreation. It begins with an assessment of broader understandings of gender difference in the medical sciences, beginning with the long-held scientific belief that men and women were ‘of one body,’ with women’s and men’s reproductive systems simply mirrored external (male) and internal (female) versions of the same body. As this theory was contested, three dominant paradigms competed for legitimacy in understandings of the specific processes of procreation: (1) preformation theory, which presumed either that the sperm or the egg contained a preformed being in entire miniaturized form; (2) epigenesis theory, which posited a developmental model of human creation but which still attributed differential reproductive importance to men or women; and the paradigm now dominant, (3) the genetic equality/hormonal difference model recognizes the equivalent genetic contributions of men and women to human creation, but shifts assumptions of gender asymmetry onto gestational and hormonal grounds. These competing
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This note was uploaded on 11/10/2011 for the course POLI SCI 790:395 taught by Professor Daniels during the Spring '11 term at Rutgers.

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Powers+of+Conception - 1 Cynthia R. Daniels Exposing Men...

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