Thursday, December 07, 2006

Autistic Girls and Gender Stereotypes

My Mom just got this book about feminism, intended for teachers of women and gender studies, and told me I could read it. It had a section about disability, but I was dissapointed to find they were only talking about physical disabilities and body image. Pretty much every feminist analysis of disability is about physical disabilities and body image. So I thought about what I'd write about in terms of autistic girls and women.
The thing that came into mind was 'gender roles and gender identity'. So here's what I think about autistic girls and gender stereotypes:
Firstly, there are rules about what kinds of things boys and girls are interested in. Boys are supposed to be interested in war games and sports and so on, girls in 'playing house' and being beautiful and nurturing. Both transgender and autistic kids don't fit that, but in different ways. Transgender kids fit the general framework, they pick from the same list of standard interests, but they pick from the other side. A girl who likes transformers, like my brother's tomboy friend, or a boy who pretends to be a mommy. Autistic kids have interests that don't fit either gender. I heard of one autistic boy who was asked by some girls to play the daddy in a game of house. He decided he'd rather be the radio, and stood there reciting radio things. Gender roles underestimate the variety of things children can be interested in. Is pretending to be a radio a boy thing or a girl thing? Neither. It's an autistic thing.
Gender roles are also defined by disinterest. Boys aren't supposed to be interested in babies, girls aren't supposed to be interested in sports. Autistic girls may be thought of as boy-like because they aren't interested in girl things, while autistic boys are considered effeminate because they aren't interested in boy things. Once, I told a girl I was a tomboy, and she said I wasn't. I was thinking of the girl things I wasn't interested in, like my appearance, she was (I think) thinking of the boy things I wasn't interested in, like sports. Autistic teens are often thought of as gay because they aren't interested in the opposite gender, never mind that most of them aren't interested in the same gender either.
Autistic girls are more often thought of as boyish than autistic boys thought of as girlish, it seems. This is because there is a space in the gender roles for a male nerd. A smart, socially awkward boy is more typical than a smart, socially awkward girl, because boys are supposedly smarter and less socially skilled than girls. Math and science are supposed to be boy things to be good at, but they are also common autistic strengths. The 'mad scientist' is generally a man, I haven't seen many depictions of a female mad scientist. I've often indentified with the mad scientist stereotype, understanding the obsessiveness and delight at discovery ("It's alive! It's alive!") and dreaming of making my own monsters (which I wouldn't be scared of, unlike Frankenstein).
Lastly, autistics are less likely to absorb social norms (not that we don't - I've seen the same attitudes towards physically disabled or developmentally delayed people from both NTs and autistics) and autistic girls are often natural feminists, since gender roles are so illogical, especially if you're a girl with 'male' strengths.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. Luckily my neurotypicals don't 'conform' either. Lucky me.

3:26 PM  

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