Gendered Expectations and Asperger Syndrome

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for the longest time, but was always held back by anxieties in regards to openly discussing my disability. Reading Renee’s wonderful post on disability at Womanist Musings inspired me to take a stab at this particular part of my life and how it’s shaped my feminist views.

I’ll start off with this simple fact: I have Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, which usually manifests itself into a narrow range of interests, limited social abilities, and, most relevant to this post, difficulty expressing emotions, for me, empathy and sympathy are exteremely difficult to articulate. Asperger Syndrome/autism is typically more common among males than females, though some believe this may be due more to misdiagnosis and ignorance on female behavior than anything.

With that preamble over with, I must admit that females on the Austistic spectrum face unique challenges that our male counterparts do not deal with, owing to society’s expectations of women. Many times, I have been accused of being "insensitive" "rude" "cold" "heartless" "bitchy" and other unsavory adjectives, because I have difficulty displaying empathy, I dislike being hugged, and I am far from the "nurturing" type. I thought it was simply a part of the emotional baggage of having Asperger Syndrome, but upon questioning my male peers with Asperger Syndrome, I discovered this treatment was unique to me. Men with Asperger Syndrome told me that their behavior, while standoffish and socially awkward, was regarded as the norm for men when dealing with a difficult situation. But I, as a woman, was expected to emotionally plunge myself in with the people who were experiencing the situation, and offer myself as a beacon of comfort and sympathy.

My reaction to this is to want to bang my head against the desk and scream. My vagina does not mean that I am your soft pillow to cry against during your moments of anguish! This is probably applicable to neurotypical women as well, I’m sure many of you have felt this desire to tell someone the same. It appears that women have been handed the unfair expectation to be people’s shoulder to cry on. For me, this is simply unrealistic, I cannot properly read body language, facial expressions, or tell when people’s tone of voice is meant to reflect anger, sadness, or happiness. For me to be someone’s "rock" is to expect too much out of me, or any woman, either with or without an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

Realizing how different I was being treated based on being female was the reason I began calling myself a feminist. People on the autistic spectrum often have to fight tooth-and-nail to be treated as respectable adults, and for the rare handful of us who are females with Asperger Syndrome or Autism, we have to work twice as hard to prove we are capable, grown people who can make our own decisions about our lives. There are many issues besides the sympathetic/comforting mother hen expectation which I would like to address some day, but for now, I hope that my post helps people realize that these unfair expectations women are supposed to shoulder are wrong on many levels, and should be reconsidered for the better of both women on the autistic spectrum and neurotypical women.

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