The social constructions of stereotypes are central to our perception of the world around us. As explained by Emily Martin in The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles, culture shapes how even biological scientists describe what they discover about the natural world. Further, she examines the scientific accounts of reproductive technology and explains how gender stereotypes are hidden with the scientific language of biology. Through analysis of the representation of the egg and the sperm, Martin notes a marked contrast between the descriptions of each reproductive organ.
The sperm is commonly illustrated as the superior reproductive organ while the egg is seen as the degenerate and expelling reproductive part. Further, the egg is portrayed to behave ‘femininely while the sperm behaves ‘masculinely ‘as an active participant. It is evident, these illustrations imply typical gender stereotypes and continue to reproduce them through these powerful representations. In addition, implanting of social imagery on representations of nature lays a firm basis for reproducing exactly the same imagery as natural explanations of social phenomena.
Implementing socially constructed stereotypes in natural science constitutes a powerful message suggesting these ideas are natural and beyond alteration. Natural science carries a certain value in today’s society and it is often presupposed that what it claims must be true.
Therefore if natural science is projecting messages and illustrations that support and enhance social constructions, it is only likely that these ideals will be internalized by society and its individuals. The internalization of socially constructed stereotypes is further reproduced in the ways our bodies behave.
Males and females have adapted to occupy their space in different ways. For example, females commonly sit with their legs crossed while males usually sit with their legs spread further apart, therefore occupying more space. It is small subconscious acts such as the ways individual genders carry themselves that portray the internalization of stereotypical notions. Further, gender stereotypes can be influential on sensory perception. For example, the sense of touch has been historically developed in accordance with gender associations. Females are commonly associated with soft-touch while males are commonly associated with a rough or tougher sense of touch. The sensory perception of sound has also been shaped by gender specifications. Loud and harsh sounds carry an underlying male connotation to it, while soft and soothing sounds are often perceived as more feminine. While these associations are not natural, they have been constructed and internalized through the implementation of gender-specific stereotypes.
Further, as individuals internalize stereotypes, they begin to behave according to these misconceptions ultimately shaping how their bodies operate in space. The process of implementing gender-specific stereotypes can have extreme social consequences. It goes beyond the perception of reproductive organs as passive or active. It is the projection of cultural imagery that not only influences our understanding of the world and nature but influences our actions and behaviors ultimately making them seem as natural. As Martin suggests, it is essential to become aware of the socially constructed imagery that exists as by becoming aware of its implications, we gain the power to de-naturalize the social conventions about gender. However, I view her suggestion somewhat problematic. It becomes questionable whether we can truly de-naturalize social conventions about gender by becoming aware of their implications. If social stereotypes have become so deeply embedded in our culture that they occupy the realm of natural science, can this impact be reversed?