Date of Submission

Spring 2013

Academic Program

Anthropology; Psychology

Project Advisor 1

Kristin Lane

Project Advisor 2

Michele Dominy

Abstract/Artist's Statement

My senior project is a joint project combining the disciplines of Psychology and Anthropology. It investigates the medical practices surrounding intersexuality and its treatment in America, and the ways in which these practices are influenced by social, cultural, and psychological constructs. Intersexuality is the broad term used to describe conditions in which sexual anatomy does not clearly fit into the categories of normal “male” or normal “female.” I argue that negative attitudes towards sexually ambiguous bodies, and the treatment of most intersex conditions through early genital corrective surgery is grounded in a societal need to maintain binary gender norms, despite the often harmful nature of the surgeries. My first chapter conducts a close textual analysis of four different medical textbooks, with a focus on the instructions provided for diagnosis and management of intersex births. I found that the medical texts reflected and perhaps contribute to the perpetuation of negative, misogynist, and heteronormative attitudes. These medical texts placed a negative focus on any kind of sexual ambiguity, and represented intersex conditions as emergencies when most of them are not physically threatening to the child’s health. My second chapter delves into the psychological constructs behind the decision-making process at the time of treatment. I describe the automatic process of categorization and schema activation, which may sway doctors’ and parents medical decisions. I use the model of schema activation to investigate how each member of a treatment team might bring his or her own knowledge structures to the decision, and in turn, alter it. My third chapter analyzes current treatment practices and the medical concern with normalizing intersex bodies. I use voices of those who have undergone corrective surgery to show that it is often more harmful than helpful. I then propose alternative treatments and future directions for intersex advocacy and support.

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