The foul reign of the biological clock

TOK TOPICS : Language , Natural Sciences , Human Sciences


Case Description: The term was originally coined by scientists to describe circadian rhythms and more commonly ‘ Biological Clock’ first appeared as “The Clock Is Ticking for the Career Woman,” in the Washington Post on 16 March 1978. Over the decades, the metaphor invoked the existence of a biological clock as proof that women could not venture too far from their traditional roles, defined female life in terms of motherhood, or the failure to become a mother.


TOK LINK: The story of Metaphor ‘ Biological Clock’ has matured into a story about science and sexism. In the 1950s, the US air force began sponsoring research into how the biological clock worked with the purpose to understand our body so that we could overcome its limitations. Normally metaphors like ‘the biological clock’ were neutral descriptions of facts about the human body.

However by 1970s and 1980s the meaning of the term shifted to a description of female fertility and its close association with culture rather than nature. The metaphor reinforced the ideas of gender difference with moral implications:’if you do not plan your life just right, you deserve to end up desperate and alone’.


Sample KQs:

Does the understanding through Metaphors vary in Science and culture?

Does context shape the overall significance of the Metaphor?