Is There True Equality During Pregnancy?


Reconceiving the Second Sex: Men, Masculinity, and Reproduction (2009), was written by anthropologist Marcia C. Inhorn. The title alone gives an overview of what the reader should expect to see throughout the book. Men and Masculinity are understood to be the Second Sex in Inhorn’s title when the topic of reproduction occurs. The book cover consists of a female egg being fairly lager than the sperm that are surrounding it. The cover also portrays a sort of male dominance, yet at the same time, it could be interpreted as the males being left out and secondary. Inhorn writes about a variety of topics dealing with reproductionn and how men are always put on the back burner as the “The Second Sex” (Inhorn 1). She did a thorough job on observing men and their involvement during pregnancy.

Inhorn’s book has four different sections: Masculinity and Reproduction, Fertility and Family Planning, Infertility and Assisted Reproduction, and finally, Childbirth and Fatherhood. The chapter that conveyed her book as a whole, and what I would like to focus my analysis on is chapter 11 in the Childbirth and Fatherhood section. This chapter resonated with me as Inhorn analyzed the male role in reproduction and gave me a focus on male gender roles during pregnancy.

More recently, there has been conversations in the scientific field that men are becoming more involved during pregnancy. They are more likely to accompany women during doctor visits (especially ultrasound screenings), major decision making (such as amniocentesis), and even birthing courses. But pregnancy is still not fully equal amongst men and women. Inhorn questions the man’s involvement during pregnancy by explaining how she observed the cover of a Hebrew textbook on gynecology. The cover has a pregnant woman and her gynecologist physically touching while the woman’s partner is standing on the side. Inhorn questions the view of the male perspective on his female partner by asking “how does she look from his perspective” (Inhorn 281)? Through the lens of an anthropologists, Inhorn shifts her focus onto Israeli men in chapter 11 to “add a culturally situated account of men’s involvement in pregnancy” (Inhorn 282).

In chapter 11, “We are pregnant”: Israeli Men and the Paradoxes of Sharing, Inhorn immersed herself in the Israeli culture in 2003 as well as 2006 (287). She observed 39 couples, most of whom were married except for one. Most of the couples were first time parents with different social statuses, different ages, and different religious backgrounds (288). Inhorn conducted her work through an anthropological perspective which I appreciated because it allowed for in depth research. Since she was there once, she could observe changes during her return and analyze the differences between her 3 year gap. Inhorn refers to anthropologist and feminist writers that mention “various tensions, paradoxes, and contradictions” when men were involved during pregnancy (283).

During Inhorn’s analysis, she viewed the couples without interrupting their natural thinking process. Instead of conducting interviews, she sat in on birthing courses to hear couples speak. For these birthing courses, the brochures provided had images of men physically involved with the woman unlike Inhorn’s observation of the Hebrew textbook on gynecology. One of the brochures had the name of “Giving birth together” in hopes to make men feel included (285). These courses were all about establishing equality and were more academic rather than relaxing. Inhorn observed American birthing classes as more relaxing techniques and a “rite of passage” (286). On the other hand, Israeli birthing classes were more academic, but not strictly medical (300). Having larger groups rather than having just the woman, her doctor, and her partner, allowed for a more social atmosphere, as Inhorn noticed while attending these birthing courses.

Furthermore, Inhorn’s research provided some interesting topics that I agreed with. A gender role that is usually accepted throughout pregnancy is the woman researching and gaining knowledge about giving birth while the man is only expected to participate once the woman goes into labor. In the course of her observations, Inhorn became aware of the many tensions that occurred while getting men involved. For instance, a couple named Yoni and Tali presented a central tension which usually deals with a “shared pregnancy” problem (298). The couples issue has to deal with the fact that the pregnancy takes place in the woman, not the man, so how can it be shared? These tensions happen frequently, but they are usually resolved later on. Inhorn goes on to describe an experienced midwife’s “interesting” birthing courses that gives the couples a tour of the “birthing room” that would be in a hospital with medical equipment. However, Ruth was being stereotypical because she saw men as observing the monitors on the medical equipment instead of using the massage techniques she taught them.

Nevertheless, there were a few instances I did not agree with during one of Inhorn’s observations. Inhorn viewed men being accommodated during the birthing courses. On the day of the World Cup soccer tournament, the couples decided to come to the birthing courses regardless of the hoopla that surrounded the soccer game. At the beginning of the course, the instructor goes on to say “They must love you a lot, girls, you should appreciate them” to affirm the men and their bravery for missing the World Cup (289). I disagreed with this appreciation of men because if they wanted to be a part of the pregnancy they had to be willing to be there and it was not a “special effort” to miss a soccer game (289). In addition to the male accommodation, some Israeli men felt that there was too much fuss about pregnancy and that the women are being “spoiled” with all of this attention (296). The men saw some pregnancies where women gave birth and continued working right after. What they fail to understand is that every birth is different. Some births can be smooth and within a few hours while other births can be tedious and long. The accusation of the Israeli woman being “spoiled” was constructed from both genders because they both view Third World countries as people who can go through these experiences with less focus or fuss about them (296). Furthermore, when the Israeli men tried to understand pregnancy, they compared it to physical work they have done. One main example men try to compare pregnancy to is their work in the army. They undermine the importance of woman’s pregnancy by trying to make it seem easy because they went through something similar (293-4).

Overall, Inhorn did a great job providing in depth research about male participation during pregnancy. This was a well informing book for those who did not about male involvement during pregnancy. However, I wish Inhorn would have answered the question as to whether men should or shouldn’t be involved in pregnancy, but from her information that was given, and my personal observances of male involvement during pregnancy, it is a tricky question to answer. Many women believe that pregnancy is a woman’s field and no matter how much people try to involve the male partner, there will never be a true understanding of each other. A man cannot understand the physical demands that a woman’s body goes through. A woman cannot understand the loss of connection a male has during pregnancy, but they can be equal in other ways. The road to equality should be to start the journey of pregnancy together. Learning and growing at the same time would help cut down on the misunderstandings they have between each other.

Works Cited

Inhorn, Marcia Claire. <i>Reconceiving the Second Sex: Men, Masculinity, and Reproduction</i>. New York: Berghahn, 2009. Print.