Chapter 11: Introduction to Beyond the Natural Body – Nelly Oudshoorn
- During second wave of feminism, female biologist knew that nature does not
determine what we mean when we use terms like women, body and femininity.
- The opinion that social inequality between men and women was primarirly based
on biological sex differences.
- So, biology rather than society sets constrains on behavior and abilities of women
and it is women’s destiny and feminists have to accept it.
- Anatomical, endocrinological or immunological facts are anything but self evident.
- Our perception and interpretation of the body is mediated through language and in
society, biomedical sciences function as a major provider of this language.
- Was scientists not discovering the reality? – The scientific acts are not objectively
given but collectively created.
- Scientists construct reality rather than discovering it.
Sex and the body:
- Medical texts from ancient Greeks described male and female bodies as similar.
- Similarities were assessed based on male bodies which constructed women’s
organs as similar but inferior constructed for patriarchal purposes.
- One sex model - the female body was understood as a male turned inside herself.
(lesser version of male’s body)
- Scientific and biomedical knowledge constructed the body as natural
- The ovary did not have a name of its own, and was described as female testicle,
referring to male organ.
- The anatomical atlas had a sex less skeleton drawings of bones in epitome.
- Man as a measure of all things and woman does not exist as an ontologically
- In the 18C criticism scientists focused on bodily differences familiar to our modern
day interpretation of the male/female body.
- Sex not confined to bodily organ but spread throughout the body
- Anatomists paid special attention to those parts of the skeleton that would become
socially significant amongst which was the skull.
- Skeleton sexualized women’s skull used to prove women intellectually inferior
- Cellular physiology focused on by scientists as a way to construct women as
passive. Female body became medical sight for creating difference between male
and female constructing the former as biologically inferior.
- By the 19C, the medical gaze shifted from bones to cells.
- Difference localized to a single organ the uterus then to the ovaries.
- By late 19THcentury, it extended this sexualization to every body part: Bones,
blood vessels, cells, hair, brain. Only the eye seem to have no sex.
- Female and male bodies were now opposite bodies with different organs, functions
and feelings. - Following this, female body became par excellence and emphasized woman’s
unique sexual character.
- Then, the attention shifted from organs to ovaries. Thought to be the essence of
- Thus, the ovaries were perceived as organs of crises. This resulted in widespread
of surgical removal of ovaries.
- This procedure for the treatment of menstrual irregularities and various neuroses.
- Then, in 20 Century, essence of femininity became located in sex hormones.
- Many types of behaviors, roles, functions and characteristics considered to be
typically male or female in western culture ascribed to hormones.
- Female body has become the body completely controlled by hormones
- This was coined in 1905, after two decades, the pharmaceutical companies began
the mass production of harmones.
- Women around the world now are taking hormonal pills and use it to explain our
- Feminist scientists suggest that cultural stereotype about male/female play an
important role in shaping scientific theories.
Chapter 12: The Egg and the Sperm – Emily Martin
- Stereotypes imply that female biological processes are less worthy than their male
- Menstruation is described to produce egg and fertilized in order for reproduction.
However, there is more negative constructs around it.
- According to medical text, It is seen as a representative of dying, dead cells that
ceases to have any function. Essentially seen as a failure.
- Male reproductive is evaluated differently. Sperms are thought to be better
because millions of it are produced everyday.
- The question is how come male sperm not seen as wasteful.
- The scientific language used constructs sperm as lively, vigorous, penetrating the
egg and constructs the egg as static waiting to be penetrated.
- Eggs are seen to be existing from the time of birth and sitting in shelf, slowly
degenerating while sperms are produced.
- The female process has a vivid description like “ripening of eggs” while sperms is
seen as a hero.
- The egg needs to be rescued by the sperm or else it will die.
- Women’s eggs are seen as wasteful – oogenesis – where most of the eggs are
- Sperms are produced in trillions of amount but the over production is not seen as
- The scientific language shows sperm to be masculine and strong while egg to be
feminine and passive – not actively doing anything.
- Terms like corona – crown for egg and “survivor” for sperm is used.
- Picture it as a fairy tale – eggs is the sleeping beauty waiting for the kiss and sperm
as a prince. Thinking Beyond:
- Important to think beyond the biological.
- Biology provides another model that can be applied to egg and sperm.
- Cybernetic model: Flexible adaptation to change within a whole, evolution over
time and changing response to environment.
- The model has a potential to shift our negative imagery to positive regarding
female reproductive system.
- However, it is hardly neutral and has imposition of social control.
- Shifts to psychosocial and environment brought with emphasis on social control.
- Scientists used Darwin’s origin of species to explain this
- Origin stood for description of the natural world with competition and it could be
reimported as social science – social Darwinism.
- These approaches make the stereotypical images more powerful and they feel
- Stereotypical image – cellular bride (female fatale) and a cellular groom (her
victim) make a cellular baby.
- Women however struggle more as their activities are restricted to protect the
fetus, fetal surgery, resciding of abortion rights etc.
- This approach influenced by eugenics invested in racial and classed ideologies that
shaped how particular women and men se