Recently in Question 6: 3/9-3/11 Category

Discussion on Culture shapes scientific fact about men and women

In the "Egg and Sperm" by Emily Martin, the author presented that " culture influence biological science which describes what they discover about Natural world and the picture of Egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific amount of reproductive biology relied on stereotype central to our cultural definition of males and females. Some examples I have found from her article are " for women, the monthly cycle is described as being design to produce egg and prepare a suitable place for them to fertilize and grown" p(486)
On the other hands, she sites from the human physiology article that " normal human male may manufacture several hundred millions sperm per day " (P486)
She also explain about menstruation and spermatogenesis. "All of the ovarian follieles containing ova are already present at birth. Normal human ovaries contain and estimated a million follies and no new one appear after birth. In contract to the males, the new born female already has all the germ cells she will ever have. Only a few are destined to reach full maturity during her active productive life, a few remain by the time she reach menopause.
She also said " between male and females, males continuously produce fresh germ cells and female who has stockpiled germ cell by birth and it face with their degneration. As the example Martin said that laparoscope a tan ovary that has been through hundred of cycle even in the superbly healthy Americans female, you see a searred battered organ"
In "Riki Wilchins " Can sex have Opposite?" at first the author presented the different skin color means different race. But when she brought to the Sex,, she said " Sex is not just about reproduction and the interesting properties of somebody to produce offspring but it is the primary properties of all human bodies, including those can not now or never will participate in the procreation , such as infants, adolescents, transexual, the very old, women past menopause, sterile and infertile people , etc.
for exampleis the sex industry such as the discovery channel which rebroadcasting the Opposites Sexes"p(85). Another example is neonate sexual development between males and females infants.

I choose to read the following article and
* Martin, Emily. "The Egg and the Sperm" (on WebVista)
* Wilchins, Riki. "Can Sex have Opposites?" (on WebVista)
* Skwarecki, Beth. "Mad Science: Deconstructing Bunk Reporting in 5 Easy Steps" (online--click on article)
* Bornstein, Kate. "Abandon Your Tedious Search! The Rulebook has been Found" (on WebVista)
* Skim through our blog category, "This is a feminist issue because..."

And the ways in which culture (societal norms, stereotypes about gender roles) shapes how scientific facts about men and women/male and female/masculine and feminine are reported and understood within popular culture, news reports about scientific studies and scientific textbooks. In different ways, each author is curious about how the way we interpret "facts" about bodies is mediated through language that is not free of cultural expectations and norms. In other words, the language that is used to describe certain scientific/biological facts is often loaded with culturally specific metaphors (Martin), is wholly concerned with differences instead of similarities (Wilchins), and is frequently promoted as "natural" and beyond question/ing (Bornstein).
I am confusing after reading the articles and try to find the concept of science, culture, and gender are related and how the culture influence the way the men and women see the science.

normalizing. criminalizing. sleepwalking.

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I've filed this post under both 'prison industrial complex' and under the question for this week, although it does not directly correspond to either. But I became very curious in reading through the selected articles for this week, as well as reading through essays pertaining to the PIC, and wanted to use the blog as a space to express my curiosity. I'm curious about language and its (mis)use; gender sleepwalking and gender-fucking; prescribed gender versus performed gender; blindness and invisibility; socially constructed norms; coercion versus choice; human v. non-human; and, finally, I'm curious about what happens when I bring all of these things I've been processing into conversation with one another -- what are the consequences or benefits of doing this?

Since I organize my thoughts in a really scattered way when processing multiple readings -- especially in conjunction with readings, etc., that are seemingly unrelated -- I'm going to risk confusing my readers and just throw my thoughts up here in the form of my favorite organizational facilitator:

kraus post.jpgbornstein post.jpgstein post.jpgwilchins post.jpgsperm:egg post.jpg

Can the same social constructs that circumscribe and produce gender norms be contrasted or compared to how criminal bodies are produced?


How do the foreclosures and erasures of proper, legitimate gender demarcate and circumscribe the human? To what purpose are criminal bodies produced in order to be legitimately (lawfully) excluded from the category of human? What does gender transgression do for/to feminist discourses? How is the human framed and delimited through these discourses and where do non-humans (both abject bodies and non-human animals, etc.) fit in? What would the transvaluation of the non-human mean for feminist discourse? (I'm thinking of most of these questions in relation to my engagement with Davis and Foucault regarding criminalized bodies, racialized and gendered crime and criminalization, and the punishment industry - so if anyone has ideas about framing these questions more productively, that would be a great help.)

Direct Engagement 6


Emily Martin, in her work "Eggs and Sperm", asserts that the language used to describe the fertilization process between an egg and sperm is inherently sexist. Martin argues that the sperm is given an unfairly elevated position in the reproductive process and that the language used to describe the process perpetuates social and gender norms. Martin draws examples from several prominent biology textbooks, where in her opinion; there is a clear bias toward the male aspect of reproduction.

One topic Martin often refers to is the representation of menstruation in science; she asserts that is misrepresented as a "wasteful" process, whereas the loss of millions of sperm is neglected. The egg as Martin asserts, is portrayed as "merely sit on the shelf, slowly degenerating and aging like overstocked inventory". Martin goes on to note that; "For every baby a man produces, he wastes more than one trillion (〖10〗^12) sperm" (489).

In one section of her paper, Martin lists several common terms that are used to describe sperm and eggs. She argues that these terms are also commonly used to perpetuate preconceived gender norms. Martin points out contrast between the words used to describe egg and sperm locomotion. In biology textbooks, Martin notices that the egg is said to "drift" or "is swept" along the fallopian tubes, whereas the sperm is portrayed as a driver and in control of their part, with words such as "deliver", "streamlined" and "velocity".

Direct Engagement

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In "The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles" Emily Martin questions how science textbooks describe the reproduction process, specifically the actions of the sperm and the egg. Martin claims that a majority of the contemporary literature describing these processes "impl[ies] not only that female biological processes are less worthy than their male counterparts but also that women are less worthy than men" (485-6). This claim is based on the fact that such literature personifies the actions of the egg and the sperm: "Endowing egg and sperm with intentional action, a key aspect of personhood [emphasis mine] in our culture [. . . ]" (500).

Martin describes that the egg has been portrayed as passive and inactive, a typical stereotype of women, whereas the sperm has been portrayed as active and aggressive, a typical stereotype of men (486-98). Martin writes, "the texts have an almost dogged insistence on portraying female processes in a negative light. The texts celebrate sperm production because it is continuous pretty much throughout a man's entire life, while they portray egg production as inferior because it is finished at birth" (488); "The real mystery is why the male's vast production of sperm is not seen as wasteful" (488); and "although this new version of the saga of the egg and the sperm broke through cultural expectations, the researchers who made the discovery continue to write papers and abstracts as if the sperm were the active party who attacks, binds, penetrates, and enters the egg. The only difference was that sperm were now seen as performing these actions weakly" (493).

Another cultural stereotype that Martin describes is femme fatal: "women as a dangerous and aggressive threat" (498). Of this new development Martin says, "new data did not lead scientists to eliminate gender stereotypes in their descriptions of egg and sperm. Instead, scientists simply began to describe egg and sperm in different, but no less damaging, terms" (498-9). Based on these statements, Martin makes two arguments. First, the ways that metaphor and language are used to describe the biological process of fertilization are sexist and perpetuate inaccurate cultural stereotypes, which only further entrenches sexism into societal "norms". Indeed, "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" (485). Second, using any such imagery at all might endanger the feminist movement for reproductive rights. Indeed, "The stereotypical imagery might also encourage people to imagine that what results from the interaction of egg and sperm--a fertilized egg--is the result of deliberate 'human' action at the cellular level [. . . and] will likely lead to greater acceptance of technological developments and new forms of scrutiny and manipulation for the benefits of these inner 'persons': court-ordered restrictions on a pregnant woman's activities in order to protect her fetus, fetal surgery, amniocentesis, and a rescinding of abortion rights, to name but a few examples" (500).

On a completely separate note, this article reminded me about parthenogenesis which is reproduction but with two egg cells instead of an egg and a sperm. So it's like sexual reproduction insomuch that the genetic variation is still there, but there's no need for the male chromosomes. Kind of interesting!

Direct Engagement 6


In Riki Wilchins' "Can Sex Have Opposites?", she discusses how society, science, and culture, in particular, focus predominantly on gender and sex differences, not similarities. She poses many examples of this phenomenon and gives details and explanations for why this might be so, but she also questions the validity of these studies and assesses the negative and misleading effect it has on culture.

One example of a "fact" that actually has cultural meanings attached to it, is the topic that was discussed in a Discovery Channel program entitled "The Science of the Sexes"; this program was "devoted to the neonate biology that produces opposite sexes (85)". Wilchins elaborates on the topic, stating that "the narrator recounts in suitably hushed tones an experiment showing how girls and boys react differently when a glass barrier separates them from a parent. Boys try to get through; girls cry for help (86)."

Wilchins goes on to explain that the experiment failed to address any similarities and only focused on the differences between the sexes. She argues that there was most likely many boys and girls who reacted similarly. Also, there were probably boys who cried and girls who tried to get through. This example highlights the larger argument the Wilchins makes- science feeds into the differences of sexes, and this has a profound effect on culture, norms, and gender inequality. Research that is conducted in a manner that highlights differences and does not care about similarities encourages society to to view men and women as "opposite"; Wilchins believes this is misinforming people, leading to sexist cultural norms.

Direct Engagement Week 6

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"Egg and Sperm" by Emily Martin draws upon examples in medical texts which illustrate the egg as the cultural perception of women and the sperm as the cultural perception of men. Martin contests that when medical texts describe the reproductive cycles of men and women our culture influences the language used, drawing upon gender specific roles and stereotypes. In a medical text Medical Physiology by Vernon Mountcastle the male and female processes are contrasted "'Whereas the female sheds only a single gamete each month, the seminiferous tubules produce hunderds of millions of sperm each day'" (Martin, 486).

Using the term produce to describe the males role and the term shed to describe the females role reflectst the cultural view of men as productive beings who can limitlessly offer something valuable while women simply wait for men to impregnate them and age over time as they lose their only asset/value. Martin brings up the point that eggs can just as easily be described as being produced and allocated each month as necessary. Further, texts could touch upon the degeneration of germ cells which occurs throughout life for males.

This example shows how the language used to describe male and female reproductive cycles is skewed by cultural views of men and women. Throughout history men are viewed as the breadmakers. According to cultural norms men are supposed to go to work every day to make the money to support their family. They produce the revenue to maintain the families needs. Women on the other hand stay home and their value lies in their attractiveness according to cultural standards. As they age, they slowly shed their value and become useless.

Direct Engagement Week 6: "Stone Age Feminism"

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In the 2007 Boston Globe, a story titled: "Stone Age Feminism? Females joining hunt may explain Neanderthals' end" was printed. It was authored by archaeologists Steven Kuhn and Mary Stiner, and pointed the finger at a sort of feminism that led to the downfall of this species. In "Mad Science", Beth Skwarecki discusses the errors involved in the research process as well as the interpretation of this particular study's findings. First, the theory that females Neanderthals hunted came only from a lack of domestic evidence signaling a division of labor. Second, if female Neanderthals did hunt, maybe this is why their species lasted for 100,000 years, and their downfall could be attributed something completely unrelated. "Why jump to the conclusion that feminism ruins everything? Ah, yes: because it's a story that will sell papers". The information is being distorted by the media seems obvious, but less apparent are biases and preconceptions of scientists and their methods.

Skwarecki describes how the media's portrayal of "the wacky story, the breakthrough story, and the scare story" often distorts scientific fact. These serve to "support existing stereotypes of women, reassuring readers that social stereotypes do, in fact, reflect reality". That there is a bias in the consumption of this information also calls into question the scientist's own presumptions, and the role of scientific evidence in reproducing and reaffirming our already held beliefs about gender difference. Skwarecki gives us five ways to deconstruct bunk reporting, and shows the major ways in which to examine data. Looking at the "Stone Age Feminism" article, the idea that research can sometimes be based on bad science to begin with is illustrated. The repercussions of what happens as findings are distorted can "reassure people that media images reflect reality, that society reflects biology and that nothing can or should be changed". Truly believing females participating in male activities could bring down civilization and citing scientific data continues to obscure what feminism even means and allows stereotypes to flourish.

Direct Engagement Question #6


In "The Egg and The Sperm" by Emily Martin, she tries to shed light on the language of science and how it is swayed by and sways the stereotypical roles of males and females in our culture. She talks extensively about how scientific text has "an almost dogged insistence on casting female processes in a negative light" (488). Some examples that she sites are from popular textbooks saying that "Oogenesis is wasteful" (488) and others are portraying female reproduction in a light that is inferior to male processes... "whereas a female sheds only a single gamete ... the seminiferous tubules produce hundreds of millions of sperm each day" (486).

These texts often portray women's reproduction systems and biology as damaged and often inferior to a man's. With age, "even in a superbly healthy American female, you see a scarred, battered organ" (487). Through her writings, she explains how these are hardly ever descriptions given to men and male reproductive biology. The language that is used to describe scientific fact have hidden in them undertones of gender stereotyping.

Are these undertones direct attacks on women or is there an actual biological explanations for these comments? Is it the wordage of these texts that is so concerning, could they use different words to express the same idea? Are these particular choices of words truly swayed by gender stereotypes?

Martin focuses on how scientific language is often linked with specific social and cultural ideas. Scientific fact is portrayed and taught often hidden as "cultural beliefs and practices as if they were part of nature" (485). How do these "biological facts" give life to the idea "not only that female biological processes are less worthy than their male counterparts but also that women are less worthy than men" (485-486). She not only evaluates how "culture shapes how biological scientists describe what they discover" but how these descriptions reemphasize and reiterate gender stereotypes within our culture.

Direct Engagement #6


In Kate Bornstein's article, "Abandon Your Tedious Search: The Rulebook has been Found!," she displays Harold Garfinkel's list of rules about gender. On page 89 of Riki Wilchin's article, she states that "facts are there, meaning is added." Garfinkel focuses on the fact that some people are naturally born with a vagina and some are born with a penis. Because this a natural difference, Garfinkel implies that it cannot be changed and should not be question. The meaning is added with rule #4 which states that "Any exception to two genders are not to be taken seriously." If a person does not identify with any gender, identifies with a gender that does "match" their biological sex, or chooses to change their sex, they are merely a joke. This added meaning leads to society discriminating and laughing at those who do not fit into one category of gender.

Bernstein points out that even though there are "rules" to gender, rules were meant to be broken. Just because some people have applied meaning to gender, we can apply our own meaning to gender. Bornstein mentions that gender can have ambiguity, meaning if we so choose, we do not have to belong to any gender, and fluidity, meaning our personally defined version of gender is able to change throughout time.

I noticed in this article, nothing was said about hermaphrodites. Yes, a good portion of the population is born with one set of genitalia, but what about those who are born with both? What gender should they naturally be? If males have penises, and females have vaginas, what gender is left for hermaphrodites? Just throwing that out there.

Dir Eng Question 6


In the "Egg and the Sperm" by Emily Martin, there are some great examples of how language that is used to describe certain scientific/biological facts that are loaded with culturally specific metaphors regarding gender relations. An example I would like to show is a report from a experiment done by Gerald Schatten and Helen Schatten in which they describe how "the sperm and egg first touch when, from the tip of the sperm's triangular head, a long, thin filament shoots out and harpoons the egg. (494)". Then they go on to say "remarkably, the harpoon is not so much fired but assembled at great speed... (494)".

This "harpooning" filament is what "sticks" the sperm to the egg at the beginning of egg fertilization, when the sperm enters the egg through the outer membrane. Martin questions why the term "harpooning" was used and states that a harpoon is a tool that is used to pierce, injure or kill prey. What is the significance? How is there a relation between a harpoon and a molecular filament that builds itself one molecule by one molecule through proteins in a sperm until it is able to attach itself to the egg?

This is a great example of the large argument of Martin. Science often categorizes natural biological processes in relation to gender stereotypes in social behavior. The harpoon is a great example. It is a tool that is used by men in a masculine way, to hunt. And despite there not being a clear association of functions between a harpoon and the proteins used by a sperm to attach itself to an egg, the harpoon is used as an analogy purely because of its masculine relation to the sperm in a social stereotypical way. She understands that "identifying such metaphors and becoming aware of their implications, will rob them of their power to naturalize our social convention about gender. (501)"

Question 6: 3/9-3/11


For Tuesday we are reading essays about gender roles and science and thinking about them in relation to some of your "this is a feminist issue because..." entries.


All of the readings discuss the ways in which culture (societal norms, stereotypes about gender roles) shapes how scientific facts about men and women/male and female/masculine and feminine are reported and understood within popular culture, news reports about scientific studies and scientific textbooks. In different ways, each author is curious about how the way we interpret "facts" about bodies is mediated through language that is not free of cultural expectations and norms. In other words, the language that is used to describe certain scientific/biological facts is often loaded with culturally specific metaphors (Martin), is wholly concerned with differences instead of similarities (Wilchins), and is frequently promoted as "natural" and beyond question/ing (Bornstein). 


Members of Group D: Find one concrete example from the readings that illustrates this idea and do the following

  • Clearly describe the example. Include the author, title of the article and the page number/s of your example. Be as specific as possible.
  • Articulate what the author's larger argument is and how your specific example helps to illustrate that argument.

The purpose of this engagement is not to express your own opinion about the example, but to clearly articulate what the author is trying to say and how they say it. Therefore, your entry should not include how you agree/disagree with the claim or the author. Instead, it should offer a clear, succinct and specific articulation of the author's claim and the example that they use to explain/defend/support that claim.

Comments by groups A and B could include:

  • Questions of clarification connected to example given in the entry. Why does the author use this term...? Or what does the author mean by...?
  • Critical thoughts on why the example does/doesn't support the author's claim or why you agree or disagree with the claim.
  • Questions that the example or larger argument raise for you.

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