Many people regard science as absolute, and therefore what science says, culture follows. There are many examples of science helping culture and society: science has helped society understand the dangers of smoking, skin cancer and improved the quality of life for many people. Despite the advantages of science, there is a negative impact on society due to science. In Emily Martin s essay The Egg and the Sperm, she investigates the notion that women are being unintentionally oppressed and made inferior in the eyes of science and culture.
Benjamin Lee Whorf s assertion that culture defines language is one of Martin s underlying themes. Martin carries out this theme to show that the models that biologists use to describe their data can have important social efforts (Martin 57). Martin s thesis that science is perpetuating the sexist stereotypes is exemplified in many scientific journals. In Martin s essay, she clarifies Whorf s theory by her examples of biological journals. Martin follows Whorf s theory that the semantics of the science community and journals do distort the role of women. Martin cites extensive examples and particulars from over fifty journals and books about the role of men and women in terms of reproduction; The descriptions imply that a [female] system has gone awry, making products of no use, not to specification, unsalable, wasted, scrap (Martin 50).
Whorf would agree that the language in the journals is reflecting the stereotypes already in place in society. Whorf s view helps to strengthen Martin s thesis by showing that, if culture defines language, then women are portrayed in a male dominant culture as wasteful and inferior. Martin asserts that the imagery keeps alive some of the hoariest old stereotypes about weak damsels in distress and their strong male rescuers (Martin 57). Whorf also alleges that ill-used language can cause behavior... [of]... hazardous forms (Whorf 152).
One of Martin s paramount objections is the marked contrast between the two sex s reproductive cycle. It is difficult to understand how impartial scientists and other professionals can refer to the male process as [a] remarkable cellular transformation, mature, amazing, and remarkable and the female process as ceasing, dying, and losing when written about in the same literature. When viewed in an objective light, none of the texts [express] such intense enthusiasm for any female processes (Martin 50). Martin uses this to illustrate how science is reflecting existing stereotypes. In the same way that Martin sees the imagery of science keeping alive stereotypes, Kuhn sees science as perpetuating existing paradigms. Kuhn defines a paradigm as an enduring group of adherents...
[that is] sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve (Kuhn 50). Scientists, under Martin s thesis are working to make the biological process fit the existing stereotypes that are in place. In trying to make the biological process fit existing stereotypes, the scientist s language in turn is reflecting the cultural stereotypes. Whorf contends that... the real world is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group (Whorf 151).
To get the most unbiased depiction of the reproductive process the world that scientists working must have a revolution. Martin suggests ways of revising the bias in the medical journals by accrediting women with the production of the egg cells and men with the degeneration of germ cells. Martin gives examples of three such revisionists in her essay. The three revisionists revise the description of the reproductive process by giving the egg more of a role in reproduction. But, now the scales are being tipped in the other direction, the female is now an aggressor. Even though the new account gives the egg a larger role and a more active role, taken together they bring into play another cultural stereotype: women as dangerous and aggressive (Martin 56).
According to Martin and Whorf, the new revised models that scientists are using are still reflecting old cultural stereotypes that the scientists were trying to remove. Martin closes the topic of sperm and eggs by noting that the reason for the problem is caused by metaphors used to describe the scientific process, specifically the biological reproductive process. Waking up such metaphors, by becoming aware of their implications, will rob them of their power to naturalize our social conventions about gender (Martin 57). By removing the underlying stereotypes from the scientific study, the negative affects of language on culture will be reduced. Works Cited Martin, Emily.
The Egg and the Sperm. Whorf, Benjamin Lee. Language, Thought, and Reality, ed. John B. Carrol. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1962.