In the fall semester of 2013, I signed up to take the Vertebrate Biology course offered at my school for two reasons: one being that I would get to dissect a shark and the other being that I would get observe a human cadaver. The latter definitely serves as a highlight of the career of any life science undergraduate student and so when the day came, I was most definitely excited. But when I finally saw it (or her, actually) with my own eyes, my classmate beside me was compelled to pat my shoulder asking me if I was okay. Apparently, I had spaced out for a bit without fully realizing it which is slightly embarrassing.
Eventually, going to the observation room every lab session since our first exposure to the cadavers became more normalized and the shock factor disappeared. Though we had brief lectures at the start of some of the courses, we were free to observe the cadavers for the majority of the lab time, studying their anatomies with hopes of doing well on our final lab practical.
Among the fascinating things I learned from that course was on the day when the female reproductive system was the point of discussion. The uterus wasn’t present in one of the female cadavers that the school owned but my professor told us that the human uterus is the size of our fist. Naturally, all of my peers and I put out our fists in front of our faces. And in that moment, I was seriously in awe.
Of course, the ability or inability of a woman to have a child does not define her womanhood. But I find myself flabbergasted to know that what is usually the size of a fist has the potential to house a growing human fetus full term and become the size of a watermelon when observed from the outside. While the male sperm is needed for this to be possible, either fallopian tube (or even both of them) house the fertilization process that can result in the birth of a human being. That truly amazes me.
All over the globe, manhood and maleness are equated with bravery and stoicism. And we have certain phrases we use that liken their reproductive anatomy to bravery and stoicism while using vulgar language to refer to female reproductive anatomy to a person’s weakness and cowardice. But if you ask me, the fact that women can release eggs from the pair of ovaries they have and bleed once every month if no fertilization occurs; the fact that they have a pair of fallopian tubes that have the potential to house the fertilization process that results in a 9 month process of body organ shifting, nutrient sacrifice, and hormonal frenzy in order to accommodate the development of an embryo to fetus; the fact that childbirth is a seriously brave undertaking — all of these (and more) serve as grounds to rethink some of the phrases we use to qualify manhood, womanhood, and bravery and the nuances that surround those phrases.
Something tells me not many have thought of it the way it has been presented here. But then again, not very many people derive feminist epiphanies from cadaver labs.So the next time I hear someone say “grow a pair”, I’m going to ask them, “Of what exactly?” My asking is not because I am gravely offended but because I am genuinely curious of their thoughts and implications of phrases like this as it applies to both men and women.
Do you think these phrases point to the patriarchy at play in society? What other ways has the male-dominated society we live in influenced some of the language we use?