Penetrate science: Gendered descriptions of reproductive biology in online resources

Ayden Thomas Loughlin


Textbooks on reproduction have been found to be gender-biased in four main ways: (i) Passive voice used for the female reproductive system (e.g., is swept, is transported, is fertilized) and active voice used for male reproductive system (e.g., penetrates, enters, fertilizes); (ii) The sequence of terms puts the male term first (e.g., sperm before egg); (iii) Direction of comparison is most often female compared to male, with less information, or misrepresented information, about the female system; and (iv) The usage of metaphors, such as vestments for the egg and quest for the sperm, mirror gender-biased roles. These representations do not convey the reality: the female reproductive system is more active, and the male system more passive, than has been portrayed (see Lawrence & Bendixen, 1992; Martin, 1991; Metoyer & Rust, 2011). How are descriptions of reproductive systems represented in different online resources? This question was explored in three online sites: Wikipedia, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and Urban Dictionary (UD). Wikipedia webpages were quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed in a similar way as in textbook studies. UD and OED were analyzed based on a word search of reproductive terms. Collectively, these three online resources complement previous studies by illuminating more evidence about how gender biases within the field of biology via language usage have been pervasive historically, and continue to this day. In sum, the male reproductive system has a longer history of usage, people discuss it more on UD, and Wikipedia provides more information on it as opposed to the female reproductive system.


Gender; language; egg; sperm; reproduction; Wikipedia; Urban Dictionary; Oxford English Dictionary

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Working Papers of the Linguistics Circle

EISSN: 1920-440X
ISSN: 1200-3344

University of Victoria