9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN33 Women's and Gender Studies

2009-09-05 13:30:00 2009-09-05 15:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 13:30 - 15:00 Fertility, Reproductive Decisions and Childbearing Building II, C4.01

The Stigma of Male Infertility: Historical and Contemporary Examples

When it comes to human reproduction, feminisms have elaborated well how women are subjugated to men within the patriarchal system. Focus of medical science on women that made them objects of scientific inquiry rather then subjects, as well as the load of responsibilities without rights when it comes to giving birth and child rearing are just some of the issues that were explored and criticised. Regarding infertility, women were the ones that were traditionally blamed for it and often publicly condemned and scorned as the sole culprits. Their primary role was the one of a mother and a child bearer, and if this role was unattainable, than they were not considered as "proper women". Men on the other hand, seemed to have avoided such stigmatization, at least in most of the cases. But that does not mean that there was no pressure on men to be fertile. To the contrary, I would argue that the cultural pressure on men to be fertile was even greater than on women, although on the manifest level this might seem quite the opposite. In order to preserve male dominance, pressure exerted on men was of such extent that it made the very topic of male infertility a taboo. Consequences of such attitude are visible in the neglect of male reproductive health, as Cynthia R. Daniels has shown in her work.
In this paper, I will try to prove this thesis through three points. First, by showing how the medicine has treated male infertility throughout the history (Daniels, Pfeffer, Farley). Second, by establishing the importance of fertility in the construction of masculine identity (Gilmore, Connell). And third, through the empirical research about the issues that medical professionals in Croatia are facing when treating infertile couples. By comparing historical data with my own research I will show that on the symbolical level, the stigma of infertility for men is of such intensity that it threatens not only personal masculine identity, but also patriarchal order as such.