I thought I’d write more about Fun Stuff today. And I think I’m indeed going to have some fun writing this post. 🙂
The other day, it occurred to me, while driving down a neighborhood road, that the 1990s was indeed a somewhat Asperger’s/autism-friendly decade. At least, the way I see it.
I know that for some (a lot?) of us (including myself, during various parts of the decade), our lives might have sucked in the ’90s, so I completely understand if your initial response is, “wait–what? The ’90s were spectrum-friendly? No way!”
Yes way . I’ll ‘splain.
As fun as I thought those ’80s neon day-glo colors were and as much as I liked them, they might have been a little sensitive on the eyes, depending on the intensity of the brilliance of the colors. The attention-grabbing antithesis to camouflage gave way to a muted sea of mature “earth tones”, of olive green, brown, navy blue, light gray, charcoal gray, tan, and a non-assaulting brick red. The world learned the word “khaki” for, what was for most of us, the first time.
(There were indeed brighter colors, too, but many of them were shuttled in an organized fashion into complex mathematical equations that produced fractals, such as the image used in the header. And poof!–art went geek-chic, much to my flappy joy.)
Confining spandex and sticky patent leather and other textile blends gave way to lose, comfy layers of soft flannels. Tight “skinny jeans” loosened up into bell-bottoms (a throwback to leg-flared 1970s jeans) but updated with a ’90s flare. Sweaters became permissible again, and cardigans (“sweater lite”) became A Thing. Suddenly, it was OK if pants were looser. Baggy clothes, long the butt of many fashion jokes, became acceptable. Yay!
Grunge taken to extreme might be borderline gross and unhygienic, but taken in stride and moderation, it came as a relief for me. No longer must my hair be squeaky clean every single day (which dries it out into a mat of wavy straw, not to mention it consumes too much time), but it suddenly became unfrowned-upon to go a day or two in between washings, much to my relief. You didn’t have to smell intensely fruity (I’m speaking as a biological female) or douse yourself in perfume or slather yourself in makeup if you didn’t want to. And did I mention that clothing became much more comfortable? (Hello sensory relief!)
Up until the end of the 1980s, there seemed to be much more of a one-size-fits-all ideal, much more so than there is now. This happened on multiple cultural planes and in multiple ways. Some examples include:
- Closeted LBGTQ individuals began, cautiously, to come out about their orientations and identities, and form a community. Recently, I read that people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are about seven times more likely to report variants in gender identity (link at the bottom).
- Music written and performed by people of ethnic minorities finally hit the mainstream with some kind of consistency (which, no matter what color(s) we may be, appeal gratifyingly to our sense of justice).
- Music that would have never seen the light of day before (due to its lack of “mass appeal”) finally got heard. Demo tapes of such music were finally listened to, and those artists or bands were finally signed, some landing decent deals with major record labels.
- There was an uptick in the proportion of movies that did not necessarily have a clear hero or villain, causing the public to think deeper and consider that the world is not as simple as a pre-assumed “good vs evil.”
- A sizable chunk of the nation heaved a sigh and dropped their polarized politics into a sea of libertarian “live and let live”, realizing that each person’s choice should be nobody’s business but their own, which suits a lot of the more nonchalant/pure-logic-based people on the spectrum.
- Independently-produced and -circulated magazines (or “zines”) of low-budget charm covered topics of heavy-hitting reality. The writers/publishers were individuals who would not otherwise have been given a voice, but rather, seized their own from their basements, putting their self-taught collage skills to work with ransom-note lettering, candid photography, and a black-and-white copy machine.
- Picking up where the Haight-Ashbury scene (link to decent Wiki entry) left off in the late-’60s/early-’70s, notable generational spokespeople (for Generation X, mostly) describe their lives in studio apartments, composing music, working odd jobs, even speaking plainly and openly about their emotions or addictions. Yes, even the guys got in on that one…
- Males became, by and large, more “in touch with their feelings”, or more openly expressive. More of them began to tiptoe timidly into the torrent of emotional upheaval and talk about it. “Boys don’t cry”, a once-common admonishment, became more of a thing of the past.
The world at large began to pay attention, even if, at first, the initial reaction for many was a disrespectful scoff. Over time, people began to dilate their minds and soften their hearts (I know that I did, as did the majority of people I know).
Much or all of this is music to the ears of many people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. Not only were these advances significant, but they also paved the way for more after the decade drew to a close.
And of course, there are many exceptions to these trends; many still grew up in families where, despite the relative Kum-ba-ya going on around them, their crew-cut father still took out his belt when they came home with school grades/marks of anything lower than an “A”. But, overall and generally speaking, the state of things is a damn sight better than what the world had put up with before.
And if the various straight-and-narrow thinking began to blur into a mosaic of possibilities, and individuals/groups mentioned above could finally grasp the mic and be acknowledged, and the public is comparatively malleable, then maybe…
…we, the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, just might be able to get heard, too.
Increased Gender Equality:
I’m not going to say that we’ve reached a perfect equilibrium between the perceptions of males and females yet. I admit and recognize that we still have a long way to go before we do. But we did come a long way in the ’90s, too; the ’90s saw a much-needed and long-overdue quantum leap in females actually being taken seriously, something akin to a higher octave of what was achieved in the ’60s and ’70s, but taken to the next level. Much like the age-old tale of the frog in boiling water, it can be difficult to recognize just how much progress we’ve made. It’s usually undetectable until you peer backward in time.
For example, the other night, I watched the movie “Working Girl”, released in 1988, starring Melanie Griffith as a front desk receptionist (“secretary” back then) who claws her way to the top by circumventing her shark-like, back-stabbing supervisor. Melanie’s character is a passive, people-pleasing person with a faint streak of New York spitfire that never gets recognized or appreciated until the final moments. Plenty of scenes and lines from this film are the starstuff of sexual harassment suits and corporate HR department nightmares, but it was “how life was” in the ’80s. Contrast that with the ’90s movies “Terminator II”, “The Silence of the Lambs”, and “GI Jane”, in which, respectively, Linda Hamilton plays a bad-ass assault-rifle-toting warrior, Jodie Foster is the FBI agent-in-training who brings down one of the most sought-after serial killers, and Demi Moore ends up in the military with “the big boys”, scoring on par with them and making it on her own. By the early 2000s, we were watching TV shows like “House MD”, in which there are plenty of female doctors, and we don’t think twice about it; in fact, we take it for granted and we don’t bat an eye. But if you compare “House” to its 1970s counterpart “Emergency” (a medical drama with a slightly different focus: emergency services), you probably won’t see a single female doctor.
So what happened in between 1970s “Emergency” and the 2000s “House MD”? Why, the ’90s, of course! (Yeah, I know that the ’80s also occurred in between, but given that “Working Girl” didn’t come out until 1988, and the fact that Sigourney Weaver’s role in the two “Alien” movies (which came out in the 1979 and 1986) was still quite the Hollywood anomaly even in progressive California, I think we can safely say that all of the real progress had been made in the ’90s.)
Similar to the late-’60s, the ’90s saw a resurgence of protests, as people felt more emboldened to paint a sign, put it on a stick, hit the pavement, and finally be heard. With all of the different viewpoints budding, and the initial hard-stone resistance from others, it was going to have to get a little “ugly” if anything was going to change. And some things did need changing. Although the 2000s and probably 2010s would see even more by way of opinion diversity and vocalization of those opinions, the ’90s revived the possibility of taking it to the streets, by making it more acceptable again to do so, which might not have been possible after the complacent, compliant ’80s.
I agree that “PC” shouldn’t be a characteristic of speech; that would separate it from “general” speech, which means…what?…that you’re mean or rude? “PC” should be the default of speech; it’s not about tiptoeing around the “minefield” of various “groups” (as I’ve heard some say), but rather, it’s the idea that when speaking, Be Nice. It’s a pretty easy thing to do.
Political correctness probably got started in the 1980s, but I didn’t hear too much about it until the ’90s were well underway. Suddenly, it became A Thing, something that the “average Joe” made fun of. It might have possibly gone a little overboard in the beginning, but arguably, we might have needed that stark contrast (that clashed with everyday language) to serve as a wake-up call that average speech often got pretty…belligerent. And as many of us on the spectrum lean toward hyper-empathy and extra-sensitivity, toning the volume down on the rudeness and causticity of everyday spoken language had an especially calming effect for us.
Birth of the Internet As We Know It:
I was in Grade 8 during the 1991-1992 school year. In one of my classes, we had to research a particular topic, and I remember one kid bringing in about 10 pages of computer-printed text. Apparently, it was the encyclopedia entry on his computer about this topic. He mentioned something about having gotten it off of “CompuServe”. I’d never heard of CompuServe. Turns out that his family had had one of the only home-based internet connections in town, and that was his provider. I personally wouldn’t even hear the word “information superhighway” (early lingo for “internet”) until sometime in 1993, and I wouldn’t even have my first dial-up telephone-mediated internet connection for another five full years after that.
The “information superhighway” sounded exciting. It was both cryptic and utopic. All of the world’s information, at your fingertips, from your own home? No more scouring the library’s reference sections, poring over encyclopedias, and flipping through periodicals? Really?? You mean that my little computer could probably hold all of that data? It seemed unreal. I got dazed just thinking about it.
The 1990s also saw the rise of Usenet groups, chat rooms, online discussion forums, and a lot more. It didn’t matter what topic you wanted to research; there was probably information out there, waiting for you to find. Oh, and usually an entire global group of people that were interested in that same subject, too. So not only did you get to devour the information, but you got to make friends with people who shared commonalities you didn’t know existed. “Wait–you mean I’m not the only person who feels this way??” is a familiar exclamation now…but a similar wave happened in the 1990s, and has been happening ever since. The internet was a miracle for introverts everywhere, as is also true for other marginalized people, such as the disabled, chronically ill, other mobility issues, or other challenges.
Those reasons (and probably others) are why I think that the 1990s was an Asperger’s/autism spectrum-friendly decade; it may not have been shiny and perfect, but it paved the way for much of the openness to alternatives and acceptance (in several areas) that society enjoys now. It established many of the platforms, arenas, ideals, values, connections, information, and conveniences we share today. It’s more open, real, honest, and unguilded. As I stated in the beginning, we still have a long way to go, but strong roots have taken hold, and the ground has been made more fertile for the neurodiversity seed to become one big-ass oak tree. 🙂
“Gender Variance and Autism Spectrum Disorders Often Overlap” – Reuters.com; March 4, 2016.