Without equipment such as microscopes that could detect sperm, for most of human history it was impossible to know exactly how life begins in animals. This did not stop scientists and philosophers from theorizing about conception, however, based not only on their empirical observations but also, as we shall see, on social beliefs, prejudices, desires and fears. In the first part of this module, we will explore how some historical explanations of conception imposed preconceptions about gender onto what were understood as the male and female roles in reproduction. In the second part of the module, we will see that ancient ideas about reproduction have not disappeared, and both cultural and scientific accounts of reproduction continue to be characterized by gender stereotypes.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe several ancient theories of reproduction from feminist perspectives
- Recognize gender stereotypes in contemporary depictions of reproduction
- Explain feedback loops between social roles and scientific arguments