Researcher ORCID Identifier


Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Reader 1

Findley Finseth

Reader 2

Piya Chatterjee

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Rights Information

© 2023 Kirsten ET Engber


Once upon a time, the courageous sperm braved the dangerous journey through the dark and treacherous reproductive tract and beat out his competitors to rescue his damsel-in-distress, the princess ovum. The gendered language of biological literature describes human fertilization through the narrative of a fairytale. As Emily Martin highlights in her landmark 1991 publication “The Egg and the Sperm”, this fairytale mirrors the socialized gender roles of men and women present within the society in which it was conceived. The primary intervention of this investigation is to elaborate upon Martin’s original text by synthesizing modern biological research to deconstruct the three primary narratives of the gendered fairytale of human fertilization further scientifically. The three myths extracted from Martin’s text are 1) the sperm in shining armor, 2) the evil uterus, and 3) the damsel-in-distress egg. First, the sperm is found to lack the mechanical force necessary to penetrate the egg coat alone but rather ovum’s zona pellucida is responsible for many of the functions attributed to the sperm alone, including sperm activation, the acrosome reaction, sperm selection, and protein evolution. Second, the female reproductive tract is an intricate and deliberate environment for sperm preservation and storage, sperm movement, oocyte maturation, and female-mediated mate selection. Last, the ovum has been proven to be far from passive through its implications in polyspermy blocks, sperm chemotaxis and chemokinesis, and cryptic female choice. Only in counteracting these gendered narratives can the egg and the sperm live happily ever after.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.