Sunday, August 27, 2006

Response to Comments on Subject: Parthenogenesis

A reader has some challenges to my last post, and since they're common responses, I thought I'd bump them up so the additional information doesn't get buried in comments.

Noumena said...
`Maleness is derived from the female. That's science.'
Q: It's real bad, circa 1955 science.


That's odd, since the sources I use date from the 1970's to 2004. Are geneticists currently working using a "bad 1955 Model"?

From Adam's Curse by Bryan Sykes, 2004:
"a cascade of other genes, as yet unknown, that diverted the embryo from it's natural course of development into a female and instead channelled it onto a different path, the path that leads to maleness."


From Steve Jones, in his book Y:The Descent of Man, published in 2003:

Intro, page xiiii
"switch the embryo from its first and feminine state."

Page 1 :
"...biology proves that man, and not woman, is the second sex. His sole task is to fecundate his spouse, but quite why he does it remains a mystery. To divide is more efficient than to unite, and everyone has a history of a single sexual event when sperm met egg, followed by billions of cell divisions without its benefit. Untold numbers of species manage without even that masculine moment and for most of the time do not seem to mourn its absence"

From The Redundant Male, published in 1983 by Jeremy Cherfas and John Gribbin"
Page 6:
"Females could reproduce on their own if the egg cells could be induced to develop on their own. But males can never do so. Their sex cells, or gametes, have no store of food to use in the first stages of development. Males, from the level of gametes upwards, are utterly dependent on females in order even to enter life's lottery, and at a fundamental level the egg cell can be regarded as a resource for which sperm cells compete. If, for whatever reason, sexual reproduction loses its evolutionary edge and an asexual mutation arises, it must always be the female that provides the basis of the new line and the male that falls by evolution's wayside. This applies to our own species as much as any other. Men are at best parasites on women, and at worst totally redundant in the immediate evolutionary scheme."

Page 51:
"we want to repeat that, in some fundamental sense, women, like all female mammals, come first; the old Adam and Eve story is precisely wrong, even as an allegory.

Back to our commentor:
Q:Since then, lots of research has been done (by feminist biologists) showing that the formation of sex characteristics in female infants is just as dependent on an intricate biochemical sequence as it is in male infants.

Can you name a couple? I'd love to read their work. In the mean time, all of my sources indicate that an embryo not beset by virilizing hormones will always be female. None of the biologists or geneticists I've read indicate that there is any additional process required to produce a female. Additional processes do take place, but they are in response to the presence of the active X. Even in their absence, the child will be female. A cell with no Y will be female; a cell with no X will not survive.

The Redundant Male, page 51:
"If the fetus shows no signs of maleness by six weeks, then it is definitely female."

Q:How would you respond to feminist biologists and philosophers of biology who object to the `woman as default' model on the grounds that it draws too heavily on the Aristotelean notion that women are `underdeveloped' men?

By replying that man is an imperfect woman. The y chromosome is much smaller and incomplete. Men are mutated women.
“You can think of maleness as a type of birth defect.--Dr Stephen Watchel

Q:The problem with adopting this model shows up when you mention intersexuals. You give the following, incredibly incorrect definition and explanation: `An Intersexual is an individual in which both male and female genitalia are present. In humans, the change was interrupted and because they failed to differentiate completely they are usually sterile.' Let me simply stress that I have never seen a contemporary biologist who works on embryological development, &c., describe intersexuality this way; and many in the intersex community would take great offense at your characterising them using inferiorizing language (developmentally `interrupted', `failed').

There is no doubt that defining and describing Intersexuality is a problem. Let's consult Wikipedia:
An intersexual or intersex person (or organism of any unisexual species) is one who is born with genitalia and/or secondary sex characteristics determined as neither exclusively male nor female, or which combine features of the male and female sexes. The terms hermaphrodite and pseudohermaphrodite, introduced in the 19th century, are now considered antiquated, misleading and stigmatizing, and patient advocates call for these terms to be abandoned. The phrase "ambiguous genitalia" refers specifically to genital appearance, but not all intersex conditions result in atypical genital appearance.

There is currently a move by some activists to eliminate the term "intersex" in medical usage, replacing it with "Disorders of Sex Development" (DSD) in order to avoid conflating anatomy with identity. [1] However, this has been met with criticism from other activists who question a disease/disability model and advocate no legal definition of sexes, no gender assignments, no legal sex on birth certificates, and no official sexual orientation categories. [2]

You can see that my definition is taken directly from this page. You can also see that the Intersex community is at odds with the medical community as to how to describe their condition. I have stated many times that I believe there are more than two genders, which is one reason I oppose the use of patriarchal dichotomies - they deny the true diversity of Nature. The physical reality of Intersexualty is that masculinizing and feminizing influences exist in tandem because the change from male to female stopped short along the line to maleness. That doesn't have to be defined as a disorder - it can simply be taken as a chronology with no negative connotations.
Q:I suspect that you would object that I am thinking `exclusively', not `inclusively'. However, your own reasoning seems to draw on exclusivist models from biology, which involve a sharp dichotomy between Woman (defined as some sort of biological source) and Man (defined as the ultimate, ie final, product of that source). I also find your reference to Mary Daly notable in this respect, as the wikipedia article on her indicates that her active exclusion of men from her classes was the grounds on which she was forcibly retired. (I'm not saying BU was justified in doing this; merely noting that the article does not make her sound in any way `inclusive' of all sexes and genders.)

First, as you can see from my citations above, this is current biological and genetic theory. It is inclusive rather than exclusive in viewing the genders as variants having a common female source.

Mary Daly's problems at BU were political, not biological. It's not really relevant to this discussion, but I happen to side with her. The issue was that she would not admit males to her classes along with women because women, having been raised in a patriarchal system, are actively oppressed and trained to defer to men in debate. She did offer to provide males wishing to study with her separate accomodations. I can tell you from personal experience that men in a women's studies course are disruptive. They are aggressive and belligerent and intimidate females in the class who then suppress their contributions and questions in order not to add to the conflict. Within the context of our political reality, Daly's solution was the best possible situation, however imperfect, in the realm of 50/50 thinking. It would be great if women were not intimidated by men, but they are, so accomodations needed to bend to allow women to discuss women's issues without constraint.
Q: My approach to feminism is repulsed by an approach that takes, as its fundamental principle, an identification of Female with Mother, but exploring this disagreement would only make this comment even more unwieldy. Let me say simply that I recognize and respect your decision to object to patriarchy on these grounds, even as I radically disagree with it, and I believe your position would be much stronger if you did not try to appeal to biological models long since criticised as sexist.

Criticised by whom? You gave no references. I have given several sources showing modern scientific thoughts expressing these concepts. The basis of my religion and politics is that the Goddess is a physical reality and that everything is a part of Her. She encompasses all aspects of potential - Birth, Nurturance, Love, Anger, Destruction, Death, Mother, Warrior, Queen, Nurse, Lover, Sister, Friend. I focus on positive aspects because I live in a patriarchy that never fails to express its opposition to the feminine principle and to paint it in the most negative cast possible. I don't believe every woman needs to be a mother - I'm certainly not. I do believe that every human needs a loving Mother, as many of us do not have because our mothers have been damaged by patriarchy, and I address that part of Existence that expresses that Universal Love so vital to our survival.

Now I have a question for you. Why do you feel that considering the female to be the original gender, which is known science you seem to have missed, is sexist? It's not as If I'm claiming men were fashioned from a rib. Merely that they are a variant evolved to provide variety to the gene pool.

Could you be expressing an unconscious fear of female dominance? Because that's not what this is about.

Namaste



5 Comments:

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Molly said...

You know, there are a lot of legends in primitive times about people turning one substance into another substance, like water into wine or lead into gold.

Clearly, this means that the patriarchy has stopped us from performing alchemy, which is just at the boundaries of our knowledge!

Look, I am a feminist. I am a radical feminist. But saying that homo sapiens women are capable of parthenogenesis is ridiculous -- especially on the basis of dubious historical records.

Remember, "virgin" is a relative term. It's possible for a woman to become impregnated without the hymen being torn -- for instance, if a woman makes contact with fresh semen and then touches herself. "Virgin birth" could be many things -- an excuse to avoid social ostracism, a man with ejaculation premature enough to manage not to tear the hymen, etc. But until you show scientific evidence that women are capable of parthenogenesis without the benefit of advanced technology (cloning doesn't count, since you seem to believe that women have been doing this for ages), this is ridiculous, unscientific, and makes a mockery of feminism.

The fact that you believe males are further unnecessary and that parthenogenesis is perfectly adequate for maintaining a species also shows a lack of scientific knowledge bordering on painful. If you'd like to know why parthenogenesis is so bad, look up the history of the Cavendish banana (your ordinary supermarket banana), which is in danger of extinction because of a lack of genetic diversity. Genetic diversity isn't some nice add-on that is sort of okay to have, it's critical to long-term species survival once you're a large, specialized creature. There's a reason only a few vertebrate species (an east asian gecko, among others) replicate parthenogenically -- it's not a valid long-term reproductive strategy for complex organisms.

A republican's worst nightmare? Hardly. You're a republican's wet dream -- they wait for people like you so they can say all the rest of us are as batshit crazy.

 
At 10:55 PM, Blogger Morgaine said...

***
Look, I am a feminist. I am a radical feminist. But saying that homo sapiens women are capable of parthenogenesis is ridiculous -- especially on the basis of dubious historical records.*****

Dictionary :

ves*tig*i*al: |ve?stij(?)?l| adjective *Biology* (of an organ or part of the body) degenerate, rudimentary, or atrophied, having become functionless in the course of evolution : the vestigial wings of kiwis are entirely hidden. DERIVATIVES vestigially adverb

Now, I must ask you to define "radical" - you seem to be toeing what I call the "mushroom feminist" line - the dominant culture keeps you in the dark, feeds you bullshit, and you swallow it whole.

I haven't listed any historical records yet, so how do you know they are dubious? The fact is, you don't, you're just having that knee-jerk fear response you've been trained to have.

******
But until you show scientific evidence that women are capable of parthenogenesis without the benefit of advanced technology (cloning doesn't count, since you seem to believe that women have been doing this for ages), this is ridiculous, unscientific, and makes a mockery of feminism.********

Not very good with reading comprehension, are you? I said we had the potential - I didn't say we could still do it unaided, and I haven't talked about the mechanism yet. All I have listed so far is statements from modern scientists.

What is "ridiculous and unscientific" is you accusing me of making claims I didn't make and assuming I'm wrong because you haven't considered the possibility or studied the same sources I have.

*****The fact that you believe males are further unnecessary and that parthenogenesis is perfectly adequate for maintaining a species also shows a lack of scientific knowledge bordering on painful.****

In fact, there are species which have been maintained by parthenogenesis, so it would seem to me that your scientific knowledge is in question. I never said it was adequate for maintaining the human species right now, only that it is possible to produce female children without male contribution. This is fact.

As a matter of fact, scientists recently produced mice with two mothers and no father. Yes, this required laboratory intervention, but I never claimed it none would be required for us to do it now. Bryan Sykes does state in his book that this will certainly happen in humans and that men are "on notice" that it is inevitable.

I didn't say males were undesirable. I did say they served the purpose of providing variety to the gene pool, and of course, for heterosexual sex. I'm rather fond of that last one. I just think we need to stop thinking of them as conquerors of the Universe and start seeing them for the procreative adaptation that they are.

*****Genetic diversity isn't some nice add-on that is sort of okay to have, it's critical to long-term species survival once you're a large, specialized creature. There's a reason only a few vertebrate species (an east asian gecko, among others) replicate parthenogenically -- it's not a valid long-term reproductive strategy for complex organisms.****

We aren't a specialized organism - we're an adaptive one. Parthenogenesis has the disadvantage of being slower in terms of adaptation to changing environs. Sexual reproduction has the disadvantage of reducing the female's investment in the offspring and the return on her considerable investment. In the Redundant Male, the scientists think that is an inefficient trade off, and that parthenogenesis seems the preferable method of reproduction.

****A republican's worst nightmare? Hardly. You're a republican's wet dream -- they wait for people like you so they can say all the rest of us are as batshit crazy.****

And I don't give a flying fuck what they say about me, because they are at best deluded into believing the great lies of patriarchy, at most they are active proponents of those lies.

You, on the other hand, make me sad, because you're confronted with new information and react with anger and fear instead of doing your own research. As long as you care whether people think you are "bat shit crazy" you can be controlled by the male power structure.

Now go to amazon.com, get a copy of The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis (out of print, but available) and The Redundant Male (ditto) and don't come back until you've done your homework. A feminine brain is a terrible thing to waste, and yours is suffering from lack of circulation. You should have better things to do than attacking a sister with whom you disagree.

 
At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's an interesting question, but going to Wikipedia it would seem that at least part of the biological capacity for either sex is within all of us.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_differentiation

"A sufficient amount of any androgen can cause external masculinization. The most potent is dihydrotestosterone (DHT), generated from testosterone in skin and genital tissue by the action of 5?-reductase. A male fetus may be incompletely masculinized if this enzyme is deficient. In some diseases and circumstances, other androgens may be present in high enough concentrations to cause partial or (rarely) complete masculinization of the external genitalia of a genetically female fetus."

At least in terms of external genitals (and some other aspects of development) the big known difference is whether or not the male hormonal trigger comes on. If it does then XX become as "male" as XY can become female.


However in at least one respect this model is superficial.

For example in androgen insensitivity,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Androgen_insensitivity_syndrome

symptoms the most extreme form is:


"1. Complete AIS (CAIS): completely female body except no uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries; testes in the abdomen; minimal androgenic (pubic or axillary) hair at puberty. OMIM 300068."

In
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_alpha_reductase_deficiency

"Individuals with 5-ARD have XY chromosomes and testicles, and tend to have a vagina and labia, but with a small penis capable of ejaculation instead of a clitoris (this penis, however, appears to be a clitoris at birth). These individuals are normally raised as girls."
r, and wi

In your earlier post you wrote:


"Every human being begins as female. In order to produce a male, a fetus has to be exposed to certain virilizing hormones at certain times. If that doesn't happen, a fetus with an XY chromosome set will remain female, in spite of having a Y. If the testes fail to produce the Mullerian Inhibiting Factor, the male will grow a womb..."

I'm not finding cases of XY individuals growing wombs. I'm not finding cases of XX individuals hit with testorone in the womb developing testicles.

From an evolutionary view the key factor of sexuality is lacking.

It seems a good chunk of what we associate with male and female are standard to most people, but not everything. And you are correct in noting that if the male switch is not turned on then the default is towards the female tendencies.

The Y chromosome could be simpler if much of it is a switch and of course the biological process of having children does involve a lot more.

And parthenogenesis does exist in some vertibrates, it is theoretical possible in humans. The claim that it occured in the past among us is controversial , it does require proof and it does hit taboos.

An interesting feature (taken from the wikipedia article):

"An interesting aspect to reproduction in these asexual whiptail lizards is that mating behaviors are still seen even though the populations are entirely female. One female plays the role formerly played by the male lizard and mounts the female that is about to produce eggs. The reason the animals act this way is due to their hormonal cycles, which cause some to act as males when levels of estrogen are low, and others to take the role of female when estrogen levels are high. Lizards that act out the courtship ritual have greater fecundity than those kept in isolation due to the increase in hormones that accompanies the mounting. So, even though asexual whiptail lizards populations lack males, they still require sexual stimuli for maximum reproductive success."

So we are finding the sexual dichotomy tied into "post sexual" species. And again there are indicators that "male" as well as "female" behaviors are intrinsic to individuals.

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger Athana said...

It's a problem, Morgaine. What's the best way to respond to people who are so afraid of your information that they come out swinging with both fists? Who are so frightened they aren't able to read correctly what you write?

Well, you know it as well as I do: the harder they come out swinging, the more likely it is you've hit upon a deep, important truth. Keep it up, girl! You're my hero!!

 
At 11:38 PM, Anonymous Hecate said...

Bless you, Morgaine, for being so pragmatic! Science is the last thing you usually hear come out of my mouth...I defend the soul and nothing in this "physical" world can define that. Yet, in light of what I've read, I wonder why you have left out a basic fact...DNA "tracing". Every person in this world can be traced back to one woman.

Goddess Bless
Hecate

 

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