The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles. Emily Martin,Feminism &Science
,edited by Evelyn Fox Keller and Helen E.Longino,Oxford Readings in Feminism,Oxford University Press,1996.
Science shoulders the task of combattting the "dim" side of metaphors One of these resembles human reproduction process to "planting a seed in soil".
Martin''s goal was to highlight the gender stereotypes hidden within that metaphor. It is remarkable how "femininely" the egg behaves and how "masculinely" the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move, but "is transported" along fallopian tube. In contrast, sperm are small, and constantly active. They ''deliver'' their genes to the egg and ,''activate'' its developmental program. At most the age-old relationship of the egg and the sperm takes on a royal aura. The egg coat, its protective barrier, is sometimes called its ''vestments'', a term usually reserved for majestic dress., in other words, a queen/ king relationship.
But Martin dismisses all this imagery as part of history. Citing an article in Cell
, she states: Sperm are cells with a limited behavioral repertoire, one that is directed toward fertilizing eggs, i.e."executing decisions". Then she calls to mind a movie by Woody Allen, in which Allen is playing the part of an apprehensive sperm inside a man''s testicles, scared of the man''s approaching orgasm and reluctant to launch himself into the unknown.
Martin also deplores the persistence of the age-old imagery quoting in this respect L. Fleck who describes the self-contained nature of scientific thought as follows: "the interaction between what is known, what remains to be learned, and those who are to apprehend it, go to ensure harmony within the system. But at the same time they also preserve the harmony of "its" illusions."
Recently the researchers at Johns Hopkins university concluded that the sperm and the egg stick together because of adhesive molecules on the surfaces of each. The egg traps the sperm. The trapped sperm continues to wiggle ineffectively. If the digestive enzymes released by the trapped sperm start to soften the zona i.e.the outer layer of the egg, the fragile sperm can get oriented in the right direction and make it through it.
But this new version of the role of both the egg and the sperm helped little in changing the saga on the cultural level. Researchers who made the discovery themselves continued to write papers echoing the same time-worn metaphor of sperm as the active party who attacks , penetrates, and enters the egg. In the end, Martin urges on the waking up of sleeping meataphors in science about our reproduction, by becoming aware of when we are projecting cultural imagery onto what we study, which will improve our ability to understand nature, and in so doing, will rob those metaphors of their power to harm our social conventions about gende