Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity

Liberty Walther Barnes. Temple Univ, $29.95 trade paper (226p) ISBN 978-1-4399-1042-9
University of Cambridge sociology research associate Barnes presents a compassionate and substantive analysis of male infertility. Her ethnographic work is two-pronged: first, it reveals the history of male infertility and the responses of modern medicine; second, it studies the ways in which this oft-hidden precinct of medicine works overtime to bolster the masculinity of its patients. Barnes explains how being infertile is often seen as a lack of virility that threatens the patient’s masculinity and sense of self. According to her research, as much, if not more effort, is spent socially ameliorating this wound to masculinity as treating it medically, which takes its toll on the men involved. She argues persuasively that the relative lack of attention and scant medical infrastructure devoted to male infertility are perverse side effects of historically blaming women, often in brutally misogynist ways, for all cases of infertility—in the process, more medical research was done on them. Barnes weaves a bounty of analytic threads into a compelling ethnography whose interviews with infertile men and their (mostly male) doctors make the story come richly alive in this overdue study. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/24/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
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