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“The Egg and the Sperm” by Emily Martin Essay (Article)

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Updated: Feb 24th, 2022

“The egg and the sperm” is the article written by the anthropologist and feminist Emily Martin in which she discusses the issue of misogyny in culture. The author claims that disrespect towards women could be observed through how the language is used to explain children the principles of reproduction. The current paper contains the discussion of Martins key argument mentioned above and analyzes the risks involved in attributing human personalities to eggs and sperms.

The critical problem with the language used by the scientist to describe the processes of fertilization is that it shows that the eggs behave “femininely”, while the sperm behaves “masculinely” (Martin, 1991, p. 489). From one point of view, this comparison seems to be rather evident and straightforward because the eggs are the part of female bodies, and the sperm could be found only in males’ bodies. The problem with this point is that scientists regard the egg as a passive and lazy object. The sperm, on the contrary, are active and powerful (Martin, 1991). What is more, the egg is illustrated as fragile and dependent on the sperm because the egg that was not “rescued” by the sperm would die (Martin, 1991, p. 490). Besides, menstruation is commonly seen as a failure of women to become pregnant and is described with such words as “dying” or “loosing” (Martin, 1991, p. 486). Talking into consideration the fact that the mentioned description strongly relates gender roles to eggs and sperm, it could be inferred that women are regarded as weak and incapable of surviving in this world without the support of men.

The examples provided by Martin (1991) indicate that the language that is used to describe the reproductive systems of males and females contributes to the strengthening of gender bias and false beliefs on gender norms. The author invokes to use more neutral phrases and re-wording to change the existing gender stereotypes. Apart from this, “The egg and the sperm” suggests that scientists could view the reproductive systems from another perspective. More precisely, they could note that women produce eggs because they are needed, while the number of spermicide cells produced by men is usually excessive and, therefore, wasteful.

The analysis above illustrates that attribution of human personalities to eggs and sperms reinforces gender stereotypes and bias. When children read that the egg is a passive object that could be salvaged only through the insemination, they start transferring this picture to reality. That is why women are usually perceived as weak and vulnerable, and men are believed to be strong, active, and even courageous.

To conclude, it is essential to consider the fact that the discussed article was written in the early 1990s when the feminist movement was not as extensive and influential as it is now. Thus, it could be said that the stereotypes based on gender are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Nevertheless, it is immensely important to differentiate between the social image of men and women and their bodies’ function. The fact that unpregnant women have menstruation should not be associated with the death of eggs and the failure to give birth to offspring. Biologists should still pay more attention to the language that they use and describe the processes that occur in bodies of men and women without applying strongly positive or negative words such as “survivor” or “death”, respectively.

Reference

Martin, E. (1991). The egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 16(3), 485-501.

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IvyPanda. (2022) '“The Egg and the Sperm” by Emily Martin'. 24 February.

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