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The History Of Subjective Diction In Sex Ed Textbooks

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In “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical MaleFemale Roles,” Martin describes how the relationship between egg and sperm leading up to fertilization are often described by scientists within the confines of stereotypical gender roles, and are ultimately published in textbooks and scientific journals. She begins her argument by first comparing how male and female reproductive physiology are described among scientists, and then comparing descriptions of the reproductive process itself between the genders.

“By extolling the female cycle as a productive enterprise, menstruation must necessarily be viewed as a failure. Medical texts describe menstruation as the “debris” of the uterine lining, the result of necrosis, or death of tissue. The descriptions imply that a system has gone awry, making products of no use, not to specification, unsalable, wasted, scrap.” -Martin, 1991

Martin asserts that the “enthusiasm” with which the female reproductive physiology is described ends after its depiction as a monthly cycle which produces and protects eggs with the intention of creating babies. Menstruation, she states, is depicted across medical texts as a “chaotic disintegration of form,” often marked with adjectives such as “ceasing” and “dying.” Meanwhile, the male reproductive physiology is described with marvel, as being “produced,” “valuable,” and the opposite of the female’s “overstocked inventory” threatened by a biological clock. 


“Whereas the female sheds only a single gamete each month, the seminiferous tubules produce hundreds of millions of sperm each day.” The female author of another text marvels at the length of the microscopic seminiferous tubules, which, if uncoiled and placed end to end, “would span almost one-third of a mile!” She writes, “In an adult male these structures produce millions of sperm cells each day.” Later she asks, “How is this feat accomplished?” None of these texts expresses such intense enthusiasm for any female processes. It is surely no accident that the “remarkable” process of making sperm involves precisely what, in the medical view, menstruation does not: production of something deemed valuable.” -Martin, 1991


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