In the U.S. today, when infants are born with ambiguous genitalia, surgeons often operate in order to bring the child’s body into accordance with our expectations for “correct” male or female genitalia, even when the actual morphology of their bodies causes no dysfunction or harm.
Some activists, such as those involved with the Intersex Society of North America, are trying to stop these surgeries. The Phallo-O-Meter (found here) is a satirical ruler designed to draw attention to the way in which the surgeries force bodies existing in nature into social categories of our own invention (it is attributed to Kiira Triea here). Here it is:
The ruler is satirical (as you can tell by the tongue-in-cheek “just squeeks by” etc.), but the measurements are based on the kind of decisions doctors actually make. Indeed, if doctors decide that a penis is “too small” or a clitoris is “too big,” an infant is in danger of having corrective cosmetic surgery. The point here is: When bodies don’t fit into our pre-existing notions of male and female, we will force them to, even if it involves a knife. Clitorises that are longer than .9 cm and penises that are shorter than 2.5 must be fixed. As Martha Coventry says in Making the Cut:
The strict division between female and male bodies and behavior is our most cherished and comforting truth. Mess with that bedrock belief, and the ground beneath our feet starts to tremble.
In Creating Good-Looking Genitals in the Service of Gender, Suzanne Kessler found that clitorises that were seen as “too big” were often described by doctors in moral terms. They were “defective,” “anatomic derangements,” “obtrusive,” “embarrassing,” “offensive,” and “troublesome.”
Surgery on intersex infants reflects a taboo on gender similarity; a moral objection to gender sameness. We must be separated… by at least .6 cm.