New Attempts to Disparage Maleness
Lab mice can produce offspring with just two genes from their Y chromosomes, but what does that mean for men?
Every once in awhile, science commentators try to say that males are insignificant, because they don’t bear offspring directly. A new study fueled those fires of sexual prejudice. The study, published in Science, showed that just two genes from the Y chromosome of mice were sufficient to fertilize the female’s egg and lead to fertile offspring. The researchers were attempting to determine which genes on the Y chromosome are essential. They did not claim that the other genes are unnecessary or unimportant in natural reproduction:
Considering that we have obtained live offspring using germ cells from males with only two Y chromosome genes, one could question the importance of the Y chromosome in male reproduction. We believe that the answer lies in defining the need. Human Y chromosome is not on the way to oblivion, as has been implied in the past, and its genetic information is undoubtedly important for many aspects of reproduction involving the development of mature sperm and its function in normal fertilization. Most of the mouse Y chromosome genes are involved in spermatogenesis and sperm function and, as such, are necessary for normal fertilization. However, when it comes to assisted reproduction, our mouse study proves that the Y chromosome contribution can be brought to a bare minimum consisting of Sry and Eif2s3y. Indeed, it may well be possible to eliminate mouse Y chromosome altogether if appropriate replacements are made for those two genes.
In other words, the male mice lacking a Y chromosome would never have produced offspring without the assistance of the scientists. Other genes participate in the creation of mature sperm and their function in fertilization. Serendipitously, in the latest issue of Science, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel warned of times “When Mice Mislead.” The subtitle says, “Tackling a long-standing disconnect between animal and human studies, some charge that animal researchers need stricter safeguards and better statistics to ensure their science is solid,” adding in the article, “Many animal studies are poorly done, they say, and if conducted with greater rigor they’d be a much more reliable predictor of human biology.”
Nevertheless, some reporters interpreted the report to mean that males are close to irrelevant. The BBC News, in particular, stated, “Scientists have practically obliterated the ultimate symbol of maleness in DNA, the Y chromosome, and believe they may be able to do away with it completely.” Accompanying the article by James Gallagher, (who renders himself obsolete in the process), is a gross photo of a fat shirtless oaf with a TV remote in his hand, as if waiting to be put in the museum or slaughtered like a cow for meat.
The researchers were actually more interested in helping infertile men whose Y chromosomes have been damaged, or who are unable to produce sperm cells, so that they can become fathers. The BBC News, to its credit, did quote a scientist from the Wellcome Trust who said, “But it is important to bear in mind that other mouse Y genes are needed for natural reproduction in mice and as the authors carefully emphasise, the conclusions cannot be applied directly to humans because humans don’t have a direct equivalent of one of the key genes.” That’s way below the headline, though.
Live Science quoted lead researcher Monika Ward:
We’re not trying to eliminate Y chromosomes with our work — or men, for that matter,” Ward told LiveScience. “We’re just trying to understand how much of the Y chromosome is needed, and for what.”
Undoubtedly many of the other genes on the Y chromosome are associated with male traits other than ability to fertilize eggs. Nevertheless, the story gave birth to the “obsolete male” narrative among low-information reporters, like Maureen Dowd at the New York Times, who asked, “Why the Y?” – why does nature bother with males? Parthenogenesis (virgin birth) would be just fine, she implied. The only justification she could find for males is that they provide spare parts.
On the cultural front, reactions to a new “jingle balls” K-Mart commercial range from chuckles to outrage, as six men show themselves to be a bunch of ding-a-lings (see Kansas City Star). For many years, the “male doofus” theme has characterized many TV commercials. Suffice it to say such depictions would never have survived in the post-WWII age, when men were honored for their intellect, their sacrifice, and their leadership. Now, they appear to some to be merely jigglers of parts that produce useless Y chromosomes.
This is a classic example of reductionism. See our Baloney Detector for more examples, like “marriage is just sex,” or “the Constitution is just a piece of paper,” or “a bird is just an egg’s way of making another egg.” What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Who would endure a statement implying a woman is just a baby incubator? Obviously both men and women, boys and girls, grandfathers and grandmothers have infinite worth in the eyes of their Creator – with or without complete sets of working parts. A man is a man whether or not he is infertile. A woman is a woman whether or not she has had a mastectomy or is barren. Each sex has its strengths and weaknesses, its glories and its needs. Thankfully, after a long period of wussification of males, many men are once again standing tall, asserting their masculinity in productive ways. Men have vital, irreplaceable roles in the family, the culture, and the world. Men are natural leaders. Some might find in Dowd’s article hints of the longing for myth of the goddess, or a world of Amazons where the males are sex slaves or mere sperm donors. That would be just as putrid as a male-dominated society that mistreats women. In Genesis, by contrast, man was created first, then the woman; yet both are equal in God’s sight. Let the differences and the equalities neither be disparaged nor overemphasized. Maximize the strengths of your sex while appreciating the infinite value of the other.