The first assigned reading for this module is Book 1 of Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals, however it should be stressed that you are not expected to memorize or remember all the details of Aristotle’s arguments, which are antiquated and complex! You are simply being asked to read Book 1 of Aristotle’s treatise in order to get a gist of some of the topics that were covered in the lecture for this module, and since this is not a Philosophy class but a Women’s and Gender Studies class, you will not be expected to report on subjects such as the Four Causes or the tripartite soul. What we are interested in is the ways that Aristotle sees the contributions of male and female to reproduction through a patriarchal lens, or in which he projects sexist ideas about gender roles onto biological processes. Since this is a course on Feminism and Sexualities, we are also interested in the ways in that menstruation (“catamenia”) and female sexual pleasure are discussed by Aristotle. Finally, we are reading Aristotle to see an example of what will be described in the next module as a “one sex” model of the body, and to be able to discuss the extent to which contemporary scientific and popular culture representations of sexual reproduction have changed.
The Aristotle reading can be found here.
“It is remarkable how ‘femininely’ the egg behaves and how ‘masculinely’ the sperm. . .”Emily Martin, “The Egg and the Sperm”
Emily Martin is an anthropologist of science, medicine and gender and Professor Emerita at New York University. She became interested in gender bias in scientific representations and description of reproduction when she was pregnant with her second child, and began noticing the ways that reproductive processes were described in gendered and sexist ways. In the article we will read, for instance, she looks at the language used in biology textbooks to describe male and female gametes, and argues that biology may not be the neutral enterprise we imagine it to be. Martin noticed that sperm, for instance, were described as aggressive achievers who penetrate eggs, while menstruation was described as a dirty indicator of failure on the part of a woman to conceive. Martin also observes that 20th-century scientists described females “shedding” gametes at a paltry pace, while males “produce” theirs at astronomical rates! The male role in conception was celebrated, in other words, while the role of the female was described in terms of shame. Similar to what we saw in Aristotle, Martin also found that contemporary descriptions of reproduction presented sperm as agents and eggs as passive, although this is not actually the case. These ideas are explored in the assigned reading by Martin, “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles.”
*The reading by Martin is on the list of eligible readings for the Rhetorical Summary assignment.