A narrative analysis of videos of human conception from medical and non-medical sources aired in the democratic space of YouTube finds that stereotypical gender roles are consistently assigned to cellular behavior. Sperm are represented as little men and embodiments of hegemonic masculinity, with heroic sperm winning the egg prize after a competitive athletic contest fraught with peril. Eggs are represented as featureless planets floating in a murky voice and are without agency or action.Almost every video is about the “journey” or “adventure” of the sperm; the egg has no adventure. These videos represent a view of a persistent gendered narrative of human fertilization that does not coalesce with emerging scientific narratives that appear to attempt to be more gender-neutral in accounts of conception. The imposition of gendered social scripts onto biology—even pop culture biology—may work to obscure common understanding of the nature of gender and of humanity, and reveal vivid and enduring stereotypes.
This article will appear in November 2014 in Feminist Formations.
The illustration is from the YouTube video “Sperm: The Easter Musical.”