Where is the queen? Human sexual cells and sex organs in Icelandic scholary and educational literature

During the last two decades, new theories about conception have merged. Emily Martin (1999) has argued that prototypes of the two sexes are apparent in old and new texts on conception. Moscovici (1993) has studied how ideas of new and unfamiliar phenomena are coloured by existing ideas of a concept. Although new knowledge is created, new discourse may not be used simultaneously to describe this  new knowledge. Old metaphors are used, and the textual structure even reminds one of well-known tale telling. The risk is that the new knowledge will be shaped by acknowledged ideas at each point in time. The article argues that this is the case with the discourse about conception by scientists and by authors of educational texts. This qualitative research applies discourse analysís to sexual cells and sex organs in Icelandic educational texts. This article compares the theories about conception with fairy tales where the principal ideology behind the descriptions of conception resembles a fairy tale on dating, rather than a scientific narrative of cells. What has proven to be the most long-lasting typology is a kind of Grimms’ fairy tale where the knight on the white horse saves the helpless princess from eternal condemnation. With new discoveries that proved the functionality of the ova, Martin (1999) analysed new prototypes in the scholarly literature; the second fairy tale emerged. The ovum was referred to as an aggressive sperm catcher, covered with adhesive molecules that can capture a sperm with a single bond and clasp it to the ovum’s surface. She concluded that the attempt was to make the ‘active’ modern woman mistrustful, as she was dangerous and mistreated men; a true ‘femme fatale’. The third fairy tale is Scott Gilbert’s theory (reference?), which reminds one of the relationship of Romeo and Juliet, where the functionality of both and the attraction that both sex cells have on each other is acknowledged.

This research indicates that the prototypes of the sexes can be found in the bulk of educational literature, through the selection of words, views and the ideology that underlies the description of sexual organs and genitals. Icelandic school biology texts most commonly used from 1914 to 2001 were examined. Most drew up an exaggerated version of the Grimms’ fairy tale, where the sperm is the sole doer. Several had less glorified descriptions of the sperm’s heroic achievements with the focus more on the merge of sperm and ovum. Only one book approached the ovum positively, as the doer, but without further explanations. In some books it was apparent that male sexual organs were considered more important and were supreme to those of women. These conclusions were derived from the research questions of the schoolbooks’ authors, the approach used by the authors, and the concepts used to describe sexual organs. For example, the upper part of the penis is called the king in Icelandic but where is the queen in women’s sexual organs?

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