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Lois Verbrugge, Disability Experience & Measurement

The Worms Are Weak': Male Infertility and Patriarchal Paradoxes in Egypt

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Inhorn, Marcia. 2003. "The Worms Are Weak': Male Infertility and Patriarchal Paradoxes in Egypt." Special Issue on “Islamic Masculinities,” Men and Masculinities, 5:238-258.

Male infertility is a major global reproductive health problem, contributing to more than half of all cases of infertility worldwide. Yet women typically bear the social burden of childlessness when their husbands are infertile. This article explores the four major patriarchal paradoxes surrounding male infertility in the Muslim Middle Eastern country of Egypt. There, women in childless marriages typically experience procreative blame, even when male infertility (glossed as “weak worms”) is socially acknowledged. In addition, Egyptian women married to infertile men experience diminished gender identity and threats of male-initiated divorce. Ironically, the introduction of new reproductive technologies to overcome male infertility has only served to increase this divorce potential. Although male infertility also presents a crisis of masculinity for Egyptian men, this crisis often redounds in multiple ways on the lives of women, who ultimately pay the price for male infertility under conditions of Middle Eastern patriarchy.

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