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The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles, Feminism &Science
,edited by Evelyn Fox Keller&Helen Longino,Oxford Readings in Feminism,Oxford University Press,1996.
Author: Emily Martin
It is Science which shoulders the task of combattting the "dim" side of metaphors One of these resembles human reproduction process to "planting a seed in soil
". So it gives rise to the claim of folk theory that the fetus only comes from the male.
In order to shed some light on the gender stereotypes hidden within the scientific language of biology, Emily Martin starts here by referring to all major scientific textbooks'' depiction of male and female reproductive organs as systems for the production of eggs and sperm. So within the female cycle, menstruation must necessarily be judged as a failure, more precisely "debris" of the uterine lining. On the other hand, she says, male reproductive physiology is evaluated differently. She quotes, Vander and others, who describe the maturation of sperm enthusiastically as an amazing phenomenon in the light of its magnitude: the normal human male may manufacture seven hundred million sperm per day!
It is also remarkable how "femininely" the egg behaves and how "masculinely" the sperm. The egg is seen as passive. It does not move, but "is transported" along fallopian tube. In contrast, sperm are active. They ''deliver'' their genes to the egg and, ''activate'' its developmental program. Some researchers liken the egg''s role to that of Sleeping Beauty: a dormant bride awaiting for her lover''s magic kiss, which brings her to life.
But Martin dismisses all this imagery as part of history. Citing an article published in Cell
in the 1980s, she states: Sperm are cells with a limited behavioral repertoire, one that is directed toward fertilizing eggs, i.e."executing decisions" while filled with fear of high risk, resulting from difficult options. Then she calls to mind a movie, in which Woody Allen is playing the part of an apprehensive sperm, reluctant to launch himself into the unknown.
Martin also deplores the persistence of the age-old imagery, quoting Fleck who describes what he termed "the self-contained nature of scientific thought" as 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 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 and adheres to it so tightly that the sperm''s head is forced to lie flat against the surface of the zona. i.e the outer layer of the egg. The trapped sperm continues to wiggle ineffectively. If the digestive enzymes released by the sperm start to soften the zona just at its tip the fragile sperm can get oriented in the right direction and make it through the zona.
But this new version of the role of 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 penetrates the egg.
In the end, Martin urges on the waking up of sleeping meataphors in science about the egg and the sperm by becoming aware of when we are projecting cultural imagery onto what we study, just to improve our ability to understand nature. In so doing, we will rob those metaphors of their power to distort our social conventions about gender.