- Exposing Men: The Science and Politics of Male Reproduction
Through the years, a popular tactic of feminist scholars has been to select a topic of interest and research it with the question, "And what about the women?," as a guiding force throughout the process. For the past half century, use of this technique has led to the production of some of the best scholarship the social sciences has to offer. In an interesting twist, Rutgers University political scientist Cynthia Daniels has essentially turned this approach on its head when it comes to the topic of human reproduction and reproductive health. "And what about the men?" is the overarching question that guides Daniels as she meticulously examines reproduction – heretofore overwhelmingly focused on women by social researchers. The result is a book that public policy, health and gender scholars are sure to reference for years to come. [End Page 855]
The heart of the book is Daniels' concept of "reproductive masculinity" (i.e., a set of beliefs and assumptions about men's relationship to human reproduction). She identifies four underlying assumptions of men's relationship with reproduction and then systematically and painstakingly presents "the history of each of these assumptions, the conditions under which each has come to be challenged, the social and political resistance to such challenges, and the implications of these assumptions for how we understand men's and women's relationship to human reproduction."(7)
The first assumption is that men are secondary to women in biological reproduction – an assumption seemingly supported by the primacy of women's roles in gestation, birth and lactation. A second assumption is that the male reproductive system is less vulnerable to the harms of the environment than that of women. This assumption has been perpetuated by the paucity of attention devoted to – and the marginalization of – andrology (i.e., the study of male reproductive health). The third assumption is that men are virile and capable of fathering their own biological children – an assumption propped up by the publicity surrounding medical and technological advances in fertility. The final assumption is that men are distant from the health problems of the children they father. In other words, birth defects, miscarriages and other reproductive disorders are due to women's exposure to environmental hazards, drugs, alcohol and other toxins – and not men's exposure. This assumption has persisted due to a seeming lack of research and shared information in this area by those companies and government agencies responsible for exposing men to environmental harms.
After identifying the assumptions, Daniels devotes a chapter to each. She painstakingly pores over the political, social and historical record in these particular areas and conducts meta analyses of medical research findings related to the assumptions – all the while challenging, contesting and outright debunking them. Why, then, do these assumptions persist in light of empirical evidence to the contrary? According to Daniels, much of this can be attributed to the traditional ideal of masculinity; an ideal that is socially constructed, culturally (re)produced, and leads men to conclude that, "To be a man is to be distant… invulnerable… virile." As such, masculinity functions as a straight-jacket for many men, with one of the consequences being no less than an impending male reproduction crisis.
What is to be done, then? Daniels suggests greater emphasis on research surrounding male reproduction and reproductive illnesses and disorders, greater governmental oversight of male reproductive commodification (e.g., the sperm bank industry), and greater regulation and penalty of industries that produce environmental toxins. But perhaps more than anything, Daniels suggests the "end of masculinity" [End Page 856] as we know it and the tacit acknowledgement of men's and women's common humanity – with its attendant privileges and burdens, rights and responsibilities – that all must share.
As this is a social sciences journal whose core audience is social scientists, it is my expectation that at this point in the review, you readers are eagerly expecting "the big critique." Surely, there must be flaws in Daniels' argument or gaping holes in...