This week’s topic surprisingly leaves me with an indecisive conclusion towards how gender is designated. As we know normal gender differentiation is selected within the embryonic environment, where chromosomes (XY for males and XX for females) elaborate specific hormones to establish gender selection (Reiner, 1996). But when a failing occurs within this environment, such as the story of Emma Mcdonald who was born a hermaphrodite (an infant born with a mixture of both female and male anatomy, or genitals that appears different from their chromosomal sex). Fausto-Sterling, (2000).
Over 65,000 babies born each year (1 in 2,000) are intersexual and are usually assigned female genitalia by surgeons because the surgical techniques are better (Nussbaum, 2000). With surgeons making the final decision on gender allocation it is little wonder why there are many intersexual people who later reject their assigned gender. These people have created groups to campaign against the corrective shame surgery in newborns without the surgeons firstly understanding the child’s preference towards their own chosen gender (Fausto-Sterling, 2000). This form of surgery should combine medical and ethical principles, and should only be done when the child/adult is aware of their own gender preference. In certain cases there may be a medical need to assign the gender early into the life to reduce the risk of health problems. Perhaps as a society our views towards intersexual babies are clouded by our own perception of social norms. We are quick to stereotype this as an abnormality and immediately assign a gender, almost as a means for the child to become socially accepted.
Studies on gender stereotyping are often aimed at young children, and their preference towards toys made specifically for boys or girls. According to Martin et al (1997), children as young as 2 years old have acquired the knowledge of their preferred masculine and feminine activities, which have been identified by their preferred choice in toys according to their stereotypical roles. (Martin, Eisenbud, & Rose, 1995; Leinbach, Hort, & Fagot, 1997; Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, & Eichstedt, 2002 as cited in De’caroli & Sagone, 2007). However, such studies cannot suggest intersexual children share the same behaviours, or could have the mental capacity to demonstrate their own preference towards specifying what gender selected traits, they should adopt at such an early age. Martin & Halverson, (1981) argued, “these toy preferences are down to the child’s knowledge of these stereotypes” (as cited in Serbin et al., 2001), assuming this is correct, the child’s preference could be more consequential of social influence, rather than of natural innate responses.If intersexual gender groups were successful in their campaigns, would this create further problems where children could be at a greater risk of ridicule and social rejection? Although it seems wrong for surgeons to decide a person’s gender, it does psychologically protect the child from societies normative view and labels them into either category male or female, which will help the child/adult to explore their own sexuality in their own time. With the increasing number of intersexual babies further longitudinal studies should research into the development of these individuals. These studies should identify psychiatric therapies aimed to support those with gender dissociation enabling individuals to secure their own sexual identity.
De’caroli, M.E., & Sagone, E. (2007). Toys, Sociocognitive traits, and Occupations: Italian children’s endorsement of gender stereotyping. Faculty of Educational Science. Psychological Reports, 2007, 100, 1298-1311
Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). The five sexes revisited. Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from http://abouthomosexuality.com/five-sexes.pdf
Nussbaum, E., (2000). A Question of Gender. Discover magazine. Retrieved from
Reiner, W.G. (1996). Case study: Sex Reassignment in a teenage girl. Retrieved from http://people.uncw.edu/bruce/psy%20265/pdfs/inter%201.pdf
Serbin, L.A., Poulin-Dubois, D., Colburne, K.A., Sen, M.G, Eichstedt, J.A. (2001). Gender stereotyping in infancy: Visual preference for and knowledge of gender-sterotyped toys in the second year. International journal of behavioural development. DOI: 10.1080.01650250042000078. Retrieved from http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Human_Development_Center/Roundtable/Serbin2.pdf
“Gender stereotyping.” Google; questgarden.com. 2009.