Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pg. 69: Lisa Jean Moore's "Sperm Counts"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Lisa Jean Moore's Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid.

About the book, from the New York University Press:

It has been called sperm, semen, seed, cum, jizz, spunk, gentlemen's relish, and splooge. But however the "tacky, opaque liquid that comes out of the penis" is described, the very act of defining "sperm" and "semen" depends on your point of view. For Lisa Jean Moore, how sperm comes to be known is based on who defines it (a scientist vs. a defense witness, for example), under what social circumstances it is found (a doctor's office vs. a crime scene), and for what purposes it will be used (in vitro fertilization vs. DNA analysis). Examining semen historically, medically, and culturally, Sperm Counts is a penetrating exploration of its meaning and power.

Using a "follow that sperm" approach, Moore shows how representations of sperm and semen are always in flux, tracing their twisting journeys from male reproductive glands to headline news stories and presidential impeachment trials. Much like the fluid of semen itself can leak onto fabrics and into bodies, its meanings seep into our consciousness over time. Moore's analytic lens yields intriguing observations of how sperm is "spent" and "reabsorbed" as it spurts, swims, and careens through penises, vaginas, test tubes, labs, families, cultures, and politics.

Drawn from fifteen years of research, Sperm Counts examines historical and scientific documents, children's "facts of life" books, pornography, the Internet, forensic transcripts and sex worker narratives to explain how semen got so complicated. Among other things, understanding how we produce, represent, deploy and institutionalize semen-biomedically, socially and culturally-provides valuable new perspectives on the changing social position of men and the evolving meanings of masculinity. Ultimately, as Moore reveals, sperm is intimately involved in not only the physical reproduction of males and females, but in how we come to understand ourselves as men and women.

Among the praise for Sperm Counts:

"In Sperm Counts, Moore's new book about the cultural meanings of sperm, she tells this story to illustrate her own childhood naiveté about a substance that, as she now sees it, is far from simple. These days, according to Moore, sperm has tremendous cultural meaning — and looking at it in its many contexts, from children's books to pornography, can tell us a great deal about the skittish state of American masculinity.... Sperm Counts is a serious book, and the first on its subject. But it also includes anecdotes from Moore's life, lending it a more conversational tone than most academic works. The book's margins are even squiggled with sketches of sperm — flip the pages and they swim around. (This is a subject matter, after all, that requires a certain degree of levity.) Moore happily lists spermatic nicknames ("baby gravy," "gentlemen's relish," "pimp juice") before skewering, in a later chapter, the burgeoning home sperm-test industry (sample ad slogan: "I don't know how that semen got in my underwear!")."

Cartoon line-drawings of sperm wriggle over each page of text in this dissection of the ways societal views of sperm shape culture. A feminist account backed by sociological and scientific research, Moores academic tome is accessible to the masses.

"A clever yet comprehensive look at the substance of manhood. Moore goes where few scholars dare to tread, and uses bodily fluids as a revealing window through which to observe the current nature of sexuality and gender relations."
—Michael S. Kimmel, author of Manhood in America: A Cultural Study

"In this intriguing feminist sociological account of sperm, Moore takes a subject we think we knew all about and proceeds to examine the multi-dimensional facets of its cultural subtexts. What is so unusual about this provocative book is the way Moore meshes history, technology, medicine, criminology, gender studies, children's books, and porn in her depiction of sperm as a manifestation of masculinity. Sperm Counts is witty, erudite, and informative — a gem of social constructionist scholarship."
—Judith Lorber, author of Paradoxes of Gender and Breaking the Bowls

Moore has crafted a smart and surprisingly funny book about semen. Original and refreshing, Sperm Counts follows the little guys through laboratories, childrens books, sex work, crime scenes, and bodies, illuminating varied meanings and representations of manhood and masculinity. This is engaged feminist scholarship at its best.
—Monica J. Casper, author of The Making of the Unborn Patient: A Social Anatomy of Fetal Surgery

Lisa Jean Moore is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies and Coordinator of the Gender Studies Program at Purchase College, State University of New York. Her most recent book, co-authored with Judith Lorber, is Gendered Bodies: Feminist Perspectives.

The Page 69 Test: Sperm Counts.

--Marshal Zeringue