This week on things that women have to deal with we have Bodily Integrity! Bodily integrity is the idea that a person’s autonomy and ability to control what happens to their bodies without any outside influence is important. (Miller) This basically means that people should be allowed to have full authority over their bodies, and that for others to decide for them would be violating the importance of such autonomy. On the whole, it seems obvious that a person should have complete control over their own bodies, but this is not always the case. Children, for example, are wholly under the influence and authority of their caretakers—the younger the person, the less control they have over their lives and what happens to them.
For example, intersex children. To be born intersex is to be born with “genitalia medically categorized as both male and female”. (Thorn) Intersex children sometimes undergo medical procedures shortly after their birth in order to ‘normalize’ their genitalia; they are forcibly placed into categories that fit the heteronormative gender binaries that are so heavily enforced in our society. (Ammaturo) Not only are these surgeries inherently denying these children the right to their bodily integrity (as they are too young to understand what is going on, too young to understand the significance of the surgeries, too young to make an informed decision for themselves, and too young to have a fully formed identity and by extension a preferred method of self-identification and presentation to the general public with regards to their gender) these surgeries can also be harmful to the children who undergo them. Thorn writes that “it is common for doctors to recommend surgical alteration of the child as early as possible to identiy the child as either only male or only female on their birth certificate.” Thorn continues to say that these surgeries, aside from having no real medical benefit towards these children, can also have harmful side effects such as “loss of sexual function and feeling in ones’ genitalia”.
So why do these doctors suggest these surgeries? What could possibly be so important to have them undergo these procedures, and why must their genders be assigned at birth in such a literal and potentially harmful fashion? These children are being denied the chance to wholly express themselves as individuals—by targeting them at such a young age, by forcibly assigning them genders and by association gender roles and expectations, they’re pushing onto these children the bonds demanded by society. The thought that children, and humans, can only be one of two genders is harmful and so pervasive that it begins from the very moment a child enters the world. From the moment they take their first breath, babies are assigned genders via nature of their genitalia, and if their genitalia don’t fit the preconceived notions of gender, they are forcibly changed in order for them to fit the criteria. Instead of thinking of the wishes of the child, instead of waiting for the child to have the ability to make an education and informed decision about the way that they want to present themselves to the world, their bodily integrity is instead violated in order to perpetuate the cycle of the gender binary/gender roles/gender stereotypes.
Bodily integrity is a noble concept; the thought that every single human being should be able to have complete authority over their persons is something that most people would agree with. After all, no one likes the thought of having the basic right to control one’s own self being taken away. However, such bodily integrity is taken away at birth as soon as it is discovered that the person in question doesn’t fit certain heteronormative ideals. Intersex children are being denied this basic human right by the literal virtue of their birth. If we are to progress as a species, if we are to become the educated, accepting, open-minded people we dream of, we must start at the very beginning. We cannot judge or forcibly place our own values and ideals upon those that lack the power to make an informed choice. We should allow all people, from the moment of their birth to the moment of their death and beyond, to have the right to their own bodily integrity.
Miller, Ruth Austin. The limits of bodily integrity: abortion, adultery, and rape legislation in comparative perspective. Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2008. Print.
Ammaturo, F. R. “Intersexuality and the ‘Right to Bodily Integrity: Critical Reflections on Female Genital Cutting, Circumcision, and Intersex ‘Normalizing Surgeries in Europe.” Social & Legal Studies 25.5 (2016): 591-610. Web.
Thorn, Erin D. “Drop the Knife! Instituting policies of Nonsurgical Intervention for Intersex Infants.” Family Court Review 52.3 (2014): 610-21. Web.