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In Conceiving Masculinity, Liberty Walther Barnes gives us an illustrative example of how bodies, technologies and gender get entangled in ways that make it difficult to figure out where one ends and the other begins. Take the ‘problem’ of infertility. It turns out that a certain segment of the American public not only believes it is their right to reproduce, but also sees the lack of reproduction as a real threat to their sense of being a man or being a woman. Because of new technologies, this problem can now be diagnosed and sometimes even resolved with pregnancy. This long and arduous process of resolution—from semen donation to IVF—must do the emotional labour of protecting heterosexual masculinity from any sense of failure.
As Barnes points out, protecting hetero-masculinity is why it is generally assumed that failure to get pregnant is the woman's fault. It is also why there are five times as many female infertility specialists as male infertility specialists and why infertile men are more or less invisible in our culture, the lack of pregnancy seen on the woman's (not pregnant) body. Yet according to the WHO and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, infertility is just as likely to be male as female. Despite men's equal responsibility for infertility:
(w)omen are more likely to bear the social stigma of childlessness and are more …
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.