Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Summary Post: Fausto-Sterling Chapters 3 & 4

Of Gender and Genitals:
In this chapter, Fausto-Sterling notes that many physicians and scientists in the field believed that nurture mattered much more than nature when it came to gender roles. They claimed that a child's psychological health depended on their body image which is why they so quickly adjusted the "abnormalities" that children were born with. Physicians especially stressed the fact that it was necessary for the parents to have no qualms about the sex of their child because if there was doubt then they might raise the child differently. Doctors have continually told white lies to parents and used clever wording to keep them in the dark about the true condition of their child. Doctors have stated that "environmental forces clearly trump genetic makeup" (67) however, this implies the possibility that children are born "gender neutral" at birth. Any child, whether male or female, with enough cultural pressures to be a certain way, will develop the gender that s/he is raised as. This claim seemed somewhat unsteady to me.
The other emphasis in this chapter was the common practices and how doctors make medical choices about what to do with intersex babies. One rule of thumb is based on the size of the phallus (oversized clitoris or penis). Doctors say that in general, the phallus is considered a penis if the boy will be able to pee standing up and if it is large enough for vaginal intercourse. To them, a penis is more of a social thing. The concerns are more social than medically based because often, even if the penis can function, if it is too small it is removed and the baby is changed into a girl. As one physician said, "you can make a hole but you can't build a pole" (59). Also, even if an intersexual has female sex organs (like a uterus and ovaries) if s/he has a penis of adequate size it will often not be removed. I think this really emphasizes our cultures problem of male dominance. The fact that doctors find it ludicrous to remove a perfectly good penis, even though the child has the structures to have children and be a female, hints at the patriarchal set-up in our society. The other thing that I found really upsetting was that doctors were mostly concerned about appearance in female babies with oversized clitorises and seemed to care little about maintaining their function. Oftentimes, if a clitoris is too large, doctors perform a clitorectomy where the entire organ is removed meaning that the woman no longer has the sexual abilities of a regular woman. The ignorance of doctors, thinking that the clitoris was unnecessary, also highlights things from our discussion on the sexual revolution. Men (and sometimes women) seemed to know nothing about female bodies sexually, and this is a great example of the ignorance surrounding female pleasure.
I think it is clear after reading this chapter that intersexuals in fact do form another category of sex. I found it really interesting that we recognize albinos as a normal phenomenon even though the frequency of albino births is much lower than that of intersexuals. I think it is extremely important that we reexamine our world view that there are only two sexes, male and female.

Should There Be Only Two Sexes?
Fausto-Sterling beings chapter 4 by listing 3 things that need to change in the medical field when it comes to intersexuals. She believes there should be no unnecessary (aka non life threatening) surgery on babies, that doctors should apply a provisional sex to the child based on the probability of the gender s/he will grow up to be, and that information and long term counseling should be provided to the parents and the child when the time comes. The chapter mostly focuses on the issues within the medical field and outside of it that intersexuals face. The lack of information and the secrecy surrounding the issue only makes it harder on the child and the family. She notes that although the surgeries are performed to keep children from having psychological difficulties, often children are traumatized the most by the "parade of medical students" who sit in on their medical examinations and the examinations themselves which are very invasive (86). The likelihood of success in these surgeries is also very low and often intersexuals are left with scarring and are overall unsatisfied with the results. 9 out of 10 women who had had vaginoplasties believed that it shouldn't be done until adolescents. I thought one of Fausto-Sterlings quotes was extremely powerful, she states that we "protest the practice of genital mutilation in other cultures, but tolerate them at home" (79). Especially since there is no evidence to back up the claim that intersexuals can't lead normal happy lives, it seems strange that we immediately jump to "normalize" their genitalia.
Fausto-Sterling claims that we need to start recognizing sex as variable. Perhaps we still have male and female, but just recognize a larger range or genitalia as such. In order to do this we would need legal support. She says it would mean taking "sex" off of licenses and passports and pledging to in a way, place less emphasis on the sex of a person. There clearly is a large range of sexes and sexual orientations. One part I found really interesting was about transexuals. Although they don't necessarily believe in the 2 sex model, they were forced to view the system that way in order to get surgical help. This made me think of the article, "The Master's Tools Will Never Destroy The Master's House" because in order to make change, we have to change the system entirely.

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