Despite Common Gender Stereotypes, Infertility Does Not Mean a Person Isn’t Complete
Throughout most of history infertility was thought to be a female problem, at this time women stereotypes were based on fertility and motherhood since almost all women were housewives. Women who weren’t mothers were not conforming to gender stereotypes and often marginalized by society, especially if they weren’t married. Men were always considered to be fertile and masculine and both were intertwined.
Today things are different, we know that infertility problems can occur in both sexes and most couples going through infertility treatment know where their problems originate. This new knowledge, however, has not done much to change the infertility stereotypes that still exist. In the U.S. today approximately 12% of couples have infertility issues.
That’s a larger percentage than any other time in history. This is affecting enough people that everyone knows at least someone suffering from infertility and has gone through treatment. With this large a percentage of the population touched by infertility, we need to start breaking down the old infertility stereotypes as we adjust to this new norm.
Infertility is hard emotionally on both men and women, but the sexes process hurt and disappointment differently, often playing right into the male stereotypes and female stereotypes. Studies have shown that men, when processing their thoughts about something big and life-changing like infertility, usually use their spouse/partner as their main source of emotional support.
They will generally share their feelings and discuss things with their spouse, but don’t feel the need for emotional support from other people. Men prefer not to share their infertility journey because they feel infertility equates with being less masculine. With many people still believing the typical male stereotypes it’s no surprise that men don’t want to share their challenge with infertility.
Women Bear the Emotional Brunt of Infertility
Women have always taken the emotional brunt of infertility because the ideal female stereotypes all revolve around motherhood. While both people in the relationship feel stigmatized by their reproductive issues. Women are more concerned about how people will react to their infertility. Many women feel that infertility makes them feel like the odd one out in their communities because many communities revolve around children and their activities. If you’re a mom, your part of the club.
One interesting thing that has come from recent research is that women are more concerned about how people will react to their infertility diagnosis. Both partners might share more with friends and family. Men are more willing to share their wife’s infertility issues than their own. With society and gender stereotypes still leaning toward people who are parents being in the mainstream while non-parents are considered outside of the norm.
Because of this, some infertile people make a point of explaining to people, especially friends and family, that they are childless because of infertility, not by choice. If they’re actively trying to change the situation, by fertility medicine or pursuing adoption, so much the better. With these activities they’re on the outer edge of the tribe and are not considered outside of the norm.
Common Infertility Stereotypes
A common infertility stereotype, that infertile men and women are less masculine and feminine than fertile people, is still prevalent today. This stereotype doesn’t correspond with what medical science knows about infertility, but cultural norms haven’t caught up with medical science. As society, and reproductive medicine, advances and more people can have biological children. Gay couples are a good example of a stereotype that is on its way out. Thanks to changing attitudes in society and advances in reproductive medicine, many gay couples now have the option to have biological children.
Many of these people don’t conform to their gender stereotypes and are putting a whole new face on parenthood. Another form of parenthood that has become more common is being a single mom, which they become mothers by choice. These women and men are adults with jobs and support systems who want to parent and can give a child everything they need. Parenting and reproduction has changed, now we’re just waiting for society and gender norms to catch up.
Recent studies have shown that there is a significant relationship between gender role conformity and infertility-related distress for both men and women. This would seem to show that people in the society that identify more closely with the gender stereotypes prevalent in society will exhibit more distress when discussing or thinking about their infertility that people who don’t tie their identity so closely to gender stereotypes. People are heard animals and want to blend in with the crowd, this is how we manage to live peacefully in societies.
In societies, most of the people identify with the typical male stereotypes and female stereotypes so to break infertility stereotypes we have to change the way we think about male stereotypes and female stereotypes. We must start valuing people for everything they offer, not just their reproductive abilities.