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Lecture 9

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University of Toronto St. George
Heather Miller

Lecture 9 • “As an anthropologist, I am intrigued by the possibility that culture shapes how biological scientists describe what they discover about the natural world. If this were so, we would be learning about more than the natural world in high school biology class; we would be learning about cultural beliefs and practices as if they were part of nature … The picture of egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific accounts of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female” (Martin 1991: 485). • When reading a biology book, you are learning about your cultural beliefs when biology books are supposed to teach you about the natural words. • In a biology book, you are leaning about cultural beliefs and practices as if they were a part of nature • Gender: a cultural construct of biological sex.  values, norms and attitudes that define what it is to be a men/women in a specific culture. • Sex: biological characterization based primarily on reproductive potential • Common argument: Sex causes Gender. Or Gender is a natural to extension of sex/who we are biologically • But not everyone is clearly born as a male/female. 1/100 babies are neither male nor female cuz of chromosomal, hormonal or genital issues • If a baby boy has really small penis or a female has a really large clitoris, they are considered abnormal in Western science and usually undergo surgery. • Strict distinction between male/female in Western culture • Ideas about gender influence what we think a man/woman is naturally • Naturalization“What we are seeing is the importation of cultural ideas about passive females and heroic males into the “personalities” of gametes. This amounts to the implanting of social imagery on representations of nature so as to lay a firm basis for re-importing exactly that same imagery as natural explanations of social phenomena (1991: 500). Scientists use a particular language influences by gender cultural constructs and portray that the sperm portrays the egg when that’s actually not scientifically true. Reinforces that males are active and females are passive in a male/female relation. • The sperm receives the egg’s molecules. So sperm=receptor according to the regular biological language. Men are usually not the passive receptors and females are usually not the active ones. They didn’t like they didn’t want the sperm to be called the receptor so they created a new term for this process so the sperm wouldn’t have to be called the receptor • Naturalization: things that are produced by culture and the meanings we attached to these things (like what it is to be a man and a woman) are represented as if they are a natural and not created by culture. i.e it’s natural for a sperm to be active, strong, masculine, productive and it’s natural for female egg to be passive and wasteful. In reality, the male sperm is surprisingly weak and it’s the egg that draws in the sperm (rather than sperm penetrating the egg). • Isn’t it amazing how males produce millions of sperms every day. Whereas the women’s monthly cycle, which causes women to lose their eggs, is considered wasteful. Why isn’t the male’s production of sperms not considered wasteful when h produces millions of sperms and only 2 or 3
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