I just took a Histology (study of body tissues) test today and while I didn’t study enough to remember some important things we were being tested on, I didn’t forget a certain comment in the female reproduction lecture that was patriarchal.

Here’s how human female reproduction works: genetic females (without developmental anomalies) have about 6-7 million eggs as a 5 month old fetus. By birth, it has reduced to 400,000. Of those, many more die till puberty begins and once puberty begins, a group of eggs compete every month for ovulation and while the winner is ready to be fertilized, the rest die – every month, until menopause. Our lecturer had a comment in the slide saying scientists didn’t know the reason for such “wholesale wastage.” The comment isn’t uncommon. Medical anthropologist Emily Martin wrote convincing theses on the patriarchal language used in science textbooks, that often refer to female reproduction as “wastage,” or the sperm that fertilizes an egg as “victorious.” These aren’t neutral terms. These are patriarchal (perhaps unconscious) interpretations of ¬†biological observations. What exactly makes the sperm “victorious?” Reactions between many sperm and the membrane of one egg start breaking down that egg membrane, and perhaps one sperm gets in by chance, perhaps there’s no victory at all. Similarly, the death of so many eggs in a female capable of reproduction can be considered “fine tuning,” instead of “wastage.” Surely the emergence of dominant eggs could be a great example of survival of the fittest. And why is the term “wastage” not applied to male reproduction, when 20 million sperm per mL of semen is required for a decent chance at fertilization? It seems that non-feminist scientists subconsciously or consciously use negative connotations when describing aspects of female physiology – connotations that are picked up from the larger misogynistic culture, like that of women being wasteful.

So while we may not know the precise reason female egg production is so choosy, this feminist scientist hypothesizes that it is to ensure that the best genes and the best mitochondrial DNA possible at any given month is used to make an offspring. – vidyarthi

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