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Why human fertilization story is gender-biased

Spanky

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Aug 12, 2008
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Black Thorn
from Vox

The fertilization story most of us know is skewed. In the textbooks we read in middle school and high school, it’s presented as a sort of fairytale: The strong sperm go on a journey where they have to defeat and overcome obstacles to reach the egg. Meanwhile, the egg just sits around waiting to be fertilized.

The story inherently carries a lot of gender bias, and what’s worse is that it’s not entirely true. The sperm can’t make the journey on its own, and the real story of fertilization involves two reproductive systems working together. While sperm have tails that seem like they’re meant for swimming, they can’t propel themselves all the way to the egg — they need the female reproductive tract to help move them forward. And the egg doesn’t just wait around for the sperm to reach it; it has an active role in selecting which sperm will be the best one to fertilize it.

So why has the fertilization story been skewed in this gender-biased way? We dig into a study of textbooks from middle school to medical school to find out.

 

Priceless

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Is this news? I've known this for years. I suspect there is a little bias in the old story, but also a lot about a lack of research and technology available to accurately know how conception really works. Plus, when a lie gets told often enough people start to believe it.
 

Ethan Reigns

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Sineya
Add in the fact that on its journey, the sperm is nourished by fructose manufactured by the woman and you get the idea of how a woman's place is in the kitchen.
 

DeadlyDuo

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They conveniently miss out the fact that the woman's immune system tries to murder the sperm with a vengeance.

The whole claiming racism/sexism/transphobia/fatphobia/etc in everything is getting ridiculous now.

Soon it'll be claimed that it is "gender bias" for men to have possession of their own balls instead of letting women wear them as earrings.
 

Spanky

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Black Thorn
They conveniently miss out the fact that the woman's immune system tries to murder the sperm
But that's pretty well known already. The point was to highlight that them there parts aren't like a massive chasm of death for the little spermies. Much of what you are taught tells you it is.
 

thrasherpix

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Interesting trivia, and I don't dispute the biology or why it gets worded that way, but I find myself unconcerned. I thought of the egg as passive in youth and I don't remember it ever making me particularly passive or feeling powerless...nor many other females as well. (Other forces could inspire such feelings, but not that.)

Sex ed is crap anyway, at least in the USA. Even in California where they're supposed to be more open, it's still crap, and I remember being pathetically grateful for a website that helped me as a teen to the point that I sent them money later. Don't even get me started on the pseudo-education of "abstinence-only" (which nets them more federal funding despite that it doesn't work, if anything, it contributes to teen pregnancy and STDs) or those crappy shoe or gum metaphors for girls who aren't virgins.



Actually, I was kinda reminded of Tom Adkin whose rationale for prohibiting abortion including that women could not (or only under the most extreme rare circumstances) get pregnant if they were "legitimately raped" (that is not just having regret over their decision to have intercourse). I believe he said the body shut down in that case, though the specifics escape me, but does imply agency in the female body itself, so that if she was pregnant then she was not raped, she just had remorse, and therefore did not need or deserve an abortion.

(Thankfully, this shut his career down the way he said a woman's reproductive organs would in case of rape.

And about 10 years earlier, a Texas politician named Clayton Williams compared rape to the weather, might as well lay back and enjoy it, which handed the campaign to a female Democratic governor which was almost a pointless race in Texas with Williams as the shoo-in until he destroyed his own campaign with that remark, which led many men in the same state with the same name to change their phone numbers as they were getting phone calls with death threats even before the internet took off, and even McCain wouldn't allow him to act as a fundraiser for him nearly 20 years later because he didn't want to be associated with him and his remark.

I say that as it's a bit hopeful, but I don't know if the same results would happen among today's Republicans if the same was done today, and might even celebrate Adkins and Williams.)


I'm much more concerned about bizarre practices in medical testing, like meds made for the female body being tested on men. Like WTF. I want to respect science and doctors, but they make it so damn hard at times.

When I first came across this I tried to find Snopes or others to disprove it but it didn't happen, and I found that the primary reason seems to be that those who do the testing want to eliminate as many factors as possible, such as from menstruation and especially from a woman who might be pregnant, but despite acknowledging the difference of women's bodies here, they then test on men--sometimes when men aren't really the target market--which accounts for why women have a lot more adverse side effects from these meds.

Likewise, heart attacks happen differently, women tend to explain their systems differently, and even though this is known, it just doesn't sink into a gut level which causes all sorts of problems if you're female, and that concerns me a lot more than what some crappy textbook says in school.


Textbook companies make whatever will sell. It's a serious problem because of the political and social agendas involved and has a lot worse here. (And they get so much wrong in every subject because they're out to make money and that means catering to agendas that will net them the most sales over providing accurate information, and many don't care that even basic dates of major historical events are wrong, because school isn't about education, but about molding kids to be cogs in a machine that do as their community wants.)

Not that I care if textbooks are changed as that Vox vid promotes. I just don't see the point of it, and it feels like a distraction from much more serious problems, and a way to block meaningful changes by offering some trivial goals which will ultimately change nothing while leaving social forces that actually do deprive women of agency or strongly encourage passivity in us to remain unopposed.
 
Stake fodder
Stake fodder
Only in Texas would there be a lot of men named Clayton Williams!

TriBel

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Is this news? I've known this for years.
Snap! In a sense it's this sort of implicit gender bias I think about whenever people talk about "male privilege". It's not the case that all men are privileged (they're not) just that the world tends to be constructed from their viewpoint.
Likewise, heart attacks happen differently, women tend to explain their systems differently, and even though this is known, it just doesn't sink into a gut level which causes all sorts of problems if you're female, and that concerns me a lot more than what some crappy textbook says in school.
I agree, but, in fairness to the video, I think the root cause is similar. In the UK there are 160,000 male doctors and 140,000 female doctors. The gender gap's been narrowing at pace since the 60s but traditionally doctors (particularly specialists) have been male and there's an unconscious gender bias in the sense that, historically, the experience of men has been taken as the norm. The British Heart Foundation points out "Coronary heart disease (CHD) kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer in the UK every year, and is the single biggest killer of women worldwide. Despite this, it’s often considered a man’s disease". Perhaps because, unlike breast cancer, it's specifically not a female disease? It seems to be the same in the US. It’s Not a Man’s World: What We All Should Know About Heart Disease in Women | Lifespan
 

thetopher

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It goes right back to Darwin and it fits the survival of the fittest narrative. The strongest survive. But Darwin was a long time ago and we all know that, as in a lot of things in life, its the female that selects the best male.

I'm not sure that the 'gender bias' here is evident elsewhere in medicine, at least its not that as simple as all that; in most media female mortality rates are remarked on far more than male mortality rates. It's emphasized that governments 'should do more to help women' but that men should just simply 'be more aware of their bodies and visit their doctor more often' or perhaps 'change their lifestyle'. Female cancers get more funding than male cancers such as prostate cancers, despite being less lethal.

It happened with Covid as well; a UK government panel ( all women) were concerned about the effects of COVID of women and 'the BAME community', but when it was pointed out that the male death rate was higher one MP remarked that perhaps 'male cleanliness' was a factor and that 'men should take more care'. Telling.
 

thrasherpix

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One reason Buffy appealed to me when I finally tried it is because I was struggling with being more feminine for someone else, which I subconsciously mistook for being passive, lacking agency, and ultimately a victim who had to depend upon others to take care of me (and I learned early that others were not enough, it had to be me). I worked through it, and would've without Buffy (which is not a perfect "female empowerment" show, though still good in this direction), but I think it helped.

The reasons I'd come to associate being feminine with powerless (contributing to why I was such a tomboy then, but not yet consciously aware that it was partially a defensive tactic to keep myself safe and empowered) are varied. It does include misogynists who wanted to keep me in my place, but also the constant blather (often feminist, but not just them) which equated femininity with victimhood.

That is, the people that keep putting out articles like in the OP did more to make me (and I'm sure countless others) feel more helpless and passive rather than (barely) teaching the reproduction process in school.
 
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