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Topic: Gender Disparities
July 15, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Despite the fact that fertilization requires mutual, active participation by both eggs and sperm, gender roles are often projected onto reproductive biology, leading to the portrayal of eggs as passive and sperm as active. For example, the opening credits in the 1989 movie Look Who’s Talking portray a common perception of fertilization. As the Beach Boys’ song “I Get Around” plays in the background, we see sperm inside a women’s reproductive tract moving toward her egg. The scene is narrated by one of the sperm, though we can hear some of the other sperm talking. The narrating sperm tells the others, “Ok, follow me … I know where we’re going … I’ve got the map. Follow me kids, keep up.” Upon seeing the egg, the sperm says “I think I see something … this is it, this is definitely it … jackpot!” to which another sperm relies “Yee haw!” We then see a bunch of sperm on the outside of the egg, seeking entrance through the egg membrane – a difficult task as evidenced by the lead sperm stating, “kinda tough here.” The egg then envelopes one sperm as it cries “Ohhh, ohh, I’m in, I’m in.” In this scene, the egg is portrayed as passive, merely drifting along waiting to be discovered by the sperm, whereas the sperm is active, strong, and on a mission to reach the egg. 

A colleague and I were interested in seeing if this misperception of fertilization is limited to the media or if it is also seen in scientific writing. We analyzed science textbooks from the middle school to the medical school level to determine if fertilization in human reproduction is described in gender biased language regarding the sentence structure, amount of information provided for female and male processes/parts, and neutrality in describing female and male processes/parts.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

March 7, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

One of the reasons pharmaceutical companies give for not pursuing male contraceptive research and development is that there is no market for it. However, recent empirical studies have shown that men are concerned about pregnancy prevention and are interested in using male contraceptives. For example, a survey of 9,000 men in 9 nine countries in 2005 revealed that 55% of men were willing to use male hormonal contraceptives, while only 21% were unwilling. Another study showed one third of men would use male contraception as their main form of contraception. Further evidence that there is indeed a market for male contraceptives is the fact that men are already responsible for contraception, as approximately 27% of heterosexual couples in western nations use a male-dependent form of contraception (condoms or vasectomy).

Despite this empirical evidence, however, there remains a strong cultural belief that men won’t use contraception because they don’t value the end of preventing pregnancy as much as women do. This cultural trope is usually presented as fact without much or any empirical backing in the lay literature and even in the academic literature. One explanation for this phenomenon is that reproductive prowess is an important component of masculinity. It’s true that fatherhood, especially biological fatherhood, is important to many men. However, the desire to be a father should not be conflated with a lack of reproductive responsibility or with the biological determinism to “spread one’s seed” and have as many children as possible mentality. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

January 29, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

An article published this week documents the “criminalization of pregnancy” in the US over the last four decades. The main reason used to support the arrests of and forced interventions on pregnant women is that these women are causing fetal harm through their poor choices (e.g. using drugs, denying medical treatment, and engaging in risky behavior). The 413 cases described in this article highlight the common social belief that women cannot be trusted to make good decisions for their fetuses and that infringing upon these women’s rights is justified for the sake of the fetus. 

This social distrust toward pregnant women to prevent harm to their fetuses is found in various aspects of life. For example, warnings on alcoholic beverages caution only against pregnant women drinking. There is no similar warning for men seeking to become fathers even though alcohol use in men increases the chance of birth defects and low birth weight. Nor are there any warnings about all the other harms that occur due to alcohol consumption, harms that often cause more overall damage and affect more people, such as drunk driving and crime. Similarly, warnings on cigarettes only mention the harms women can cause to fetuses, even though secondhand smoke from male partners is also bad for fetuses and men who smoke are more likely to have children with birth defects and low birth weight. While such warnings are generally good and useful for the public, what I find problematic is that they ignore paternal fetal harm on only focus on maternal fetal harm.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

December 10, 2012 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Over the last thirty years or so, eating disorders have received increased attention both clinically and in the mainstream media. The apparent surge in diagnosing eating disorders has long been blamed on unrealistic social pressures, media representations equating body type and attractiveness, however, the effect on males has gone largely unnoticed until recently. A paper published in the journal Eating Disorders in 2012 offers some useful insight into the problematic gender disparities for men who have eating disorders. 

In the paper “Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood” by Strother, Lemberg, Stanford, and Turberville several issues that are unique to males with eating disorders. In order to address the issues specific to men, the authors propose several key topics which are notably relevant in these patients. First, understanding the patient’s weight history is presented because the research has indicated men who develop eating disorders were often overweight at one time in their life, unlike women with eating disorders who often have normal weight histories. Weight concerns for men are often associated with avoiding health problems experienced by their fathers or athletic achievement, unlike the goals of “achieving thinness” in females.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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