- Exposing Men: The Science and Politics of Male Reproduction
In the months preceding my daughter's birth I found myself under unexpected friendly fire. When I announced that "we" were pregnant or referred casually to "our" pregnancy, female friends—all intelligent, progressive, feminists—admonished me for what they perceived as a sacrilegious encroachment upon a territory that was not mine. The pregnancy, one friend told me, was actually my wife's and my wife's only. "Yes, this is the twenty-first century, and men must meet their equal share of household and family responsibilities," she said, "but pregnancy belongs to women. Period." The attack was so fierce that I was left without words. The next time that we are pregnant—yes, we—I will keep a copy of Cynthia Daniels's Exposing Men nearby to support my view that men are an important part of the landscape of human reproduction. [End Page 564]
Historians of the United States have also depicted reproducers almost exclusively as women, regardless of whether they have dealt with abortion, childbirth, contraceptives, miscarriage, teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, reproductive rights, or reproductive technologies. In these narratives men have usually appeared as policy makers or as scientists and clinicians, delivering babies, developing and providing (or preventing access to) contraceptives and cutting-edge technologies, and terminating pregnancies (or preventing women from getting abortions). Histories of infertility, like Elaine Tyler May's Barren in the Promised Land (1995) and Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner's The Empty Cradle (1996), have paid attention to men's fertility problems as part of a story about women. Fortunately, in recent years feminist scholars like Judith Walzer Leavitt, Lisa Jean Moore, and now Cynthia Daniels have created fresh and exciting literature about male reproduction.1
At the center of Exposing Men is the idea of reproductive masculinity, a term Daniels coins to mark a set of assumptions about men's roles in reproduction, which too often have been seen as universal truths but are in fact historical constructs. Each of the book's four chapters is dedicated to the deconstruction of one of those core beliefs. Reproductive masculinity's first and principal assumption is that men play a secondary role in biological reproduction. Daniels takes her readers through a speedy journey in time, demonstrating that scientists and philosophers have been arguing for thousands of years whether men are "the creators of life" who have "superior fluids" or whether they play second fiddle (11). Aristotle, for example, claimed that both men and women produced "sperma" from their blood but considered men's fluid as superior. In the late seventeenth century scientists and theologians argued that a complete human being existed inside the body before conception. The question of who created that little person—the mother or the father—was subject to heated debate, but most considered the pregnant woman as nothing more than a passive vessel. The discovery of the human ovum in the early nineteenth century and developments in the field of pathology led to new theories that gave women a much larger role in the creation of life. Still, scientists continued to assign men a critical role in reproduction, arguing that only an orgasm given to a woman by a man enabled the release of the egg. By the late [End Page 565] nineteenth century the formulation of an epigenetic (developmental) model of reproduction and the rise of modern gynecology, on the one hand, and the construction of Victorian values, on the other, contributed to the centering of women's mind and body around the womb. The view that the female and male bodies were characterized by reproductive difference was bolstered by the rise of endocrinology in the 1920s and 1930s. Since feminists began rebelling against cultural norms in the 1960s and 1970s, wives and mothers have been better integrated into the workforce and developed professional careers, while many husbands and fathers are drawn "deeply into caregiving functions" (29). Yet even in the twenty-first century medical researchers continue to assume essential...