Prompt: Write a short piece in which you discuss what you learned about sexual reproduction in your early education and what Martin's essay teaches. Did she persuade you to rethink your understanding of these basic processes?
Biased Metaphors in the Science of Sexual Reproduction
Sexual reproduction has remained a controversial topic largely due to popular misconceptions and outdated metaphors that have been clinged onto by the scientific community. In Martin's essay, she tries to cut through popular misconceptions on reproduction using experimental findings and specific cases were gender bias has misrepresented events in sexual reproduction. She tries to use good evident to explain that the level the importance of the egg is at or more important than the sperm as they rely upon each other for reproduction to be successful, a radical thought at the time.
I was taught in grade school that most of the energy in sexual reproduction was performed by the sperm. Therefore, the sperm was seen as more important than the egg because it swims through the reproductive system to the egg on its own propulsion while the egg seems to flow there. I was taught that the sperm was the aggressor during fertilization and the egg was portrayed as passive and reliant upon the sperm. The sperm would then combine with the egg and fertilize it. There was really no mention of the egg doing anything to help the sperm fertilize the egg but rather a one sided effort by the sperm to overcome all odds and complete its mission of fertilization.
The egg was portrayed in grade school education as a passive cell that relied upon the sperm to survive and complete its mission. An unused egg was likened to a waste of vital resources while sperm which dies at a rate of thousands and hundreds of thousands per day is viewed as being no big deal. Females are born with all the eggs in their lifetime already created at birth while sperm is created throughout a male's life. Therefore, the sperm is viewed as healthier and less wasteful than the egg even though Emily Martin says that the fatality rate of sperm is a lot higher than the fatality rate of eggs. Therefore, she argued, sperm should be viewed as fragile if not more fragile than an egg.
Mrs. Martin definitely forced me to rethink my understanding of the sexual reproduction process. After reading about how most of the sperms energy is expended in moving sidewise as opposed to forward changed my view of the strong swimming capabilities of a sperm. I was surprised that the sperm does not bore through the coat off the egg but needed the egg to dissolve its own hard shell. Mrs. Martin pointed an interesting point that "if an egg is killed..., live sperm cannot get through the zona"(pg. 126) which shows how much both sperm and egg rely on each other. She hit the point dead on when she said that biology tends to support the idea that males are generally more important than females because the egg must rely upon the sperm rather than the other way around. She also pointed that the scientific literatures in sexual reproduction created by men usually portray the egg as having a passive existence and giving the sperm "superhuman" characteristics. These negative, inaccurate metaphors helped to reinforce social stereotypes of female's reliance upon males to survive in nature. This view on women, Martin reasoned, led to "court-ordered restrictions on a pregnant women's activities in order to protect the fetus, fetal surgery, amniocentesis, and rescinding of abortion rights"(pg. 127) . Even findings from Johns Hopkins labs, resulted in "the egg ...as the aggressor"(pg. 125) therefore reinforcing the stereotypes that women are dangerous and aggressive.
Emily Martin explores the many metaphors present in the science of sexual reproduction and how they affect gender views in today's society. Early in grade school education, we are taught a basic understanding of sexual reproduction and are taught various things that support a gender stereotype. For instance, the egg is usually described as being passive and relying upon the sperm and its strength to fertilize the egg. Therefore, we extend the gametes produced by each sex to the sex itself. Therefore, women are viewed as passive and more reliant upon males for survival. Emily Martin nails many concepts in sexual reproduction that points to the science communities inability to shed the now obsolete metaphors that male parts are better than female parts. Thanks to reading Emily Martin's essays, I can know recognize many misconceptions and gender roles in science and other disciplines that are obsolete.
Ps. Thank you for helping me.