The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male/Female Roles

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Emily Martin / Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1991, vol. 16, nº3 - The University of Chicago Press

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 lighlight 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.