International Women’s Day, through one Asperger’s / autistic lens

In a way, I feel like a bit of an outsider in celebrating IWD.  After all, in order to fully bask in the good vibes, wouldn’t I have to feel more like a woman than I do?  Sure, I have (almost) all the congruent anatomy and all that, but nobody is a sum of their anatomy alone.  There’s a mind and soul in the equation, too.

And that’s where the equation starts to get a little sticky for me. I haven’t ever really felt Fully Woman.  As a non-binary, biological female, I have lived life feeling half bodiless soul/spirit and half machine.  The way I see myself, I’m just Me.  Not a woman, not a lady (I’ve always grown uncomfortably self-conscious whenever anyone referred to me as either one).

So anyway, again, I feel a bit like an outsider.  Like it’s a wonderful concept and I truly should be celebrating it (which I am), but I feel like a non-Christian who celebrates Christmas with their family (which also applies to me): I’m celebrating the day and the concept, I’m taking part in the festivities, and so on, but I’m doing it from the standpoint that I’m a guest.  It’s not for me; I’m celebrating it with–and for–everyone else.

All of this is OK with me, of course.  There’s nothing wrong with any of it.  I don’t even feel weird anymore, now that my truths can be neatly summed up and efficiently explained with a series of labels.  I’m totally cool with that.

So I stand in support and solidarity with my Sisters today, whether or not they share the same neurotype.

Because I share similar anatomy, the surface appearance-oriented NT-dominated society treats me similar to other women.  Women, despite their incredible diversity, often get lumped in with each other based on sometimes-unfair or inaccurate generalizations.  My anatomy often teaches people how to treat me, even if my soul-machine brain begs differently.

With that mouthful being said, I have a few goals that I would like to introduce, in the spirit of bolstering the experience of life for all females, regardless if they identify as female in brain, body, or spirit. 🙂

Goal #1: To Call Attention To, and Put an End to the Gaslighting of Women

Gaslighting is a term that is used semi-frequently among the Asperger’s/autism spectrum community, primarily in reference to females, and the ignorance of their presence perpetuated by the medical/psychiatric/psychological fields.

The term refers to a form of psychological abuse in which the victim is made to feel like they’re the guilty party, that it’s somehow their fault, typically through various forms of denial.  The results are tragic and they include profound confusion (from the perspective of the victim), powerlessness, helplessness, a shaky sense of self-image/self-worth (etc), fear, anxiety, distrust, loneliness, alienation, extreme self-consciousness, and self-doubt.  Given enough time in a situation like this, the victim may even begin to experience disorientation, or even an erosion of themselves.

The victim may be denied their thoughts, feelings, or memories (perpetrator: “you never said that”, or, conversely, “you said/did [x]” when the victim actually had not).  The victim may be cast into a negative light they don’t deserve, made to feel insignificant, insecure, and doubting.

This phenomenon can assume any one of several forms:

  • Relationship
  • Medical
  • Societal
  • And so on, and on, and on.

I’ll tackle the relationship form first, because this is likely to be the most relatable among the most people.

An example of gaslighting in relationships might involve one partner who cheats on another, and the other begins to suspect.  We’ll call them the Cheating and Non-Cheating Partners.  Cheating Partner is indeed cheating, but denies anything and everything when confronted by Non-Cheating Partner.  The evidence, however, is beginning to pile up for the Non-Cheating Partner, and the periodic confrontations continue.  At some point (either during earlier or later conversations), Cheating Partner will make Non-Cheating Partner out to be “crazy”, claiming “you’re imagining things”, “you’re overreactive”, and so on.  Cheating Partner will make Non-Cheating Partner feel controlling, snoopy, suspicious, even paranoid.

Although this definitely happens to partners of either (all) genders, it seems to happen most often to the (a) female partner.  Females are typically groomed by society to be subservient, passive, tolerant, “nice”, and whatnot.  They’re taught not to “rock the boat”, to “give the benefit of the doubt”, and to “keep the peace”.

And they frequently follow this misguided advice.  Often, they couldn’t have done much about their situation anyway, as they might be dependent upon their partner, whether financially, legally, mentally/physically (such as in a case of disability), or there are children involved, etc.

Medical gaslighting illustrates the difference, generally speaking, between male and female experiences seeking medical care.  If a male walks into a primary care medical office and tells the conventional doctor that he’s having shortness of breath and getting dizzy, he’ll be easily granted a cardiovascular work up, full physical exam, and perhaps some laboratory testing, diagnostic imaging, and other investigative procedures.

In other words, he’ll be taken seriously.

On the other hand, if a female walks into that same office with those same symptoms, chances are fairly solid that she’ll be told “it’s ‘just’ anxiety”, given a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication, and sent on her merry way to the pharmacy.

But what if she was actually having a cardiovascular issue?

This happens routinely in the medical field.  My own practice is predominantly women (interestingly enough), and 100%–yes, 100%–of them have experienced the old song and dance of, “well, your labs are normal; there’s nothing wrong with you.  Here’s an antidepressant”.  When actually, they had gastrointestinal malabsorption, severe electrolyte imbalance, a stealthy intestinal parasite infection, and a low-functioning thyroid gland.  That’s not “‘just’ depression”; these are physical issues.  And they’re easily actionable.

So, naturally, I would like to see a more equality-based treatment of females in the medical field.  I would like to see them be taken much more seriously than they usually are at this time.

Medical/psychological gaslighting occurs especially towards women seeking Asperger’s/autism spectrum diagnosis.  There’s enough of a shortage of autism being detected in young girls–many will go undetected throughout their entire lives–but receiving a proper diagnosis often gets much harder with age.  After all, “well, you’ve made it this far; you can’t be autistic” or, “you’ve made it this far; a diagnosis at this point is useless/isn’t necessary/is a waste of time/fill-in-the-blank”.

Well, I’d like to fill in the blank myself – with equal treatment.  With “yes”s instead of “no”s.  With “let’s look into this”s instead of “meh–you’re not autistic”.

Despite various waves of women’s liberation movements and the long history of feminist ideology, not to mention the fact that it’s–dude–2017 already, women still face lesser status and treatment throughout the world, including, even, in the United States.  I’m in the US, so naturally, that’s where my sphere of familiarity is centered.

Although women are no longer quite so expected (and assumed) to enter “helper” positions or have children (thanks to movements under way to bust these stereotypes and increase options and acceptance of choices), the truth is that women still make up the majority of these fields; you hardly ever see males entering them.  Males are still offered higher salaries for the same positions during salary negotiations.

There’s a pervasive double-standard that irritates me particularly: if a male speaks his mind, he’s assertive, and this quality is actually perceived as a positive trait.  “This guy is nobody to mess around with.”  “This is a guy who can get things done.”  This trait might open the door to high-paying, well-respected leadership positions, and he’ll be seen as a solid, steady rock who doesn’t take any fuss from anyone.

On the other hand, if a female speaks her mind, even if she makes the same point, using the exact same wording, she will more than likely get looked down on as a “bitch”.  She will get (even if mildly, subtly) shunned, gossiped about, and so on.  Her mental health may come into question.  She may be perceived as having “anger issues”.  She may be interpreted as “mentally unstable” and her entire character called into question.  Rather than instilling trust in others, like the male in the last paragraph, she might actually generate distrust.  Instead of making allies, she may make enemies.

Society still teaches females that they need to be docile to be accepted.  But being docile won’t get you where you might want to go in the world.  Sometimes it takes a little push, a little shove, a (non-empty) little threat, or what-have-you, in order to Make Things Happen.  There’s nothing wrong with being passive, pacifist, or anything along those lines; it’s just that those may be the only options she has, if she wants to be deemed “acceptable”.  She may often have to make the subconscious decision between “being healthfully assertive” and “being liked”.  Her most intelligent decisions and remarks may actually earn her the most enemies.

Females are bombarded with an endless onslaught of messages almost every waking hour of every day–messages that say, “you’re not good enough on your own”.  And then society implies that it has the solution.  These solutions aren’t solutions at all, because there never was a problem in the first place.  The “problem” is merely an illusion, created by an artificial, financially driven social construct.  The “solutions” being touted for these imaginary problems include lipstick, cell phones, cars, processed foods, household cleaning products, and so much more.

The commercials/adverts featuring household cleaning products and processed foods are particularly disturbing to me.  They insinuate that every woman is not complete unless she is a mother (bonus points for being a mother several times over), is doing all the cooking and cleaning herself, at home, for everyone else in the family.  They insinuate that a happy family is one in which the mother alone does all these things.  Complete with the estrogen-soaked, uber-cheery-soothing female narration, these commercials from start-to-finish are aimed exclusively at cis-gender, heterosexual, childed women.  Which makes the rest of us biological females (those of us who are nonbinary, transgender, gay, single, child-less or child-free by choice, or otherwise non-domestic) a little self-conscious at times.

Gone is “The Waltons” stereotype of mother-in-a-dress-in-the-kitchen stereotype; Western females in many regions of the world lead all kinds of other lives that have nothing to do with children or cooking or cleaning.  And yet, advertising hasn’t caught up.  (Not to mention, what about the divorced, single, widowed, gay, or transgender males raising children?  Where’s their voice?  Who’s bothering to try to appeal to them?  I wonder if they feel a little put out by these female-exclusive commercials, too.)

I would like to see females NOT be chastised for not knowing how to cook.  I would like to see them NOT to have to confess sheepishly that their partner does the cooking.  Because before the confession, came uncomfortable exposure, and behind the sheepishness, lives shame.  Shame that might not otherwise have existed had the subtle judgments not been rendered by everyone else, had the opinions of the majority not been intrusively foisted on them.

This phenomenon reveals itself particularly well in certain religious realms.  For example, Christianity, especially when practiced through a fundamental approach, often interprets the Bible very literally, claiming that the first female was created from a male’s rib, and demanding that females today, in 2017, continue to act that way.  Essentially, fundamental-approach Christian women were sent the message that their entire being is worth little more than a tiny insignificant part of a man, and that their duty in life is to act the part.

I tend the view the world more as a yin-yang.  There is no light without darkness, no sky without earth, no hell without heaven, no happiness with no sadness, no heat without cold, and of course, no male without female.  And all of the statements in their vice versa form are true as well.  The important part for me is balance, for if there’s imbalance anywhere within any ecosystem, the entire ecosystem suffers.

I would like to see females be able to do what males can do, and with equal respect.  I would like a society that doesn’t bat an eye when a female dresses comfortably or chooses not to wear makeup or chooses not to get married or have children.

I would like to see a world in which a female can speak her mind just as a male can, and not have it come back to bite her in the butt.  I would like to see females be able to make the same decisions as males, without worrying about a loss of acceptance, without having to sacrifice “being liked” in order to do what’s best for her.

The truth is, in 2017, we’ve come a long way already.  The phrase “rule of thumb” is now merely a figure of speech, as opposed to a literal woman-whipping permission.  There are indeed some strong females in the movie industry (for example, Jodie Foster is totally hot, but I don’t mean it in the (sexual) way that one might assume it to be).  There are indeed even some female superheroes (hello, Lara Croft!).  Even Disney got in on the action a while back, with “Kim Possible”.  Lisa Simpson has always been a lovable brainy introvert.

So actually, we do have a lot to celebrate in 2017.  But we can’t forget that we also do have a long way to go.  I hope that I can play my part, however tiny, in helping to make that happen. 🙂

 

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7 Comments

  1. i didnt know you considered yourself non-binary. thats awesome. i dont really identify very strongly with gender. i look like a guy, i do some things in a “typical guy way” (wtf that means, it doesnt bother me) and no doctor would mistake me for anything else.

    on the inside, im a person– guy is this concept i relate to because its there. all these things “for girls” i have mixed feelings about, not because i identify as a girl, but because why divide the lines so cleanly and arbitrarily? we just got dont talking about black-and-white thinking, and yet society (that word again) is very black-and-white about gender. you know that the “girl” legos (i use the phrase ironically) are the coolest ones theyve made in years? i mean unless you love movies (which i dont.)

    i dont consider myself non-binary, because for me thats just one more label. but i never loved anyone more than i loved “tomboys,” theyre just the greatest thing on earth. i dont know who is still out there that considers themselves one, but girls that worked on farms? yep! awesome. and im not even an outdoorsey sort of person, but farmgirls are the greatest. theyre just somehow “a little more human” or something.

    anyway, youre my favorite woman, my favorite person, and one of the dearest people in my life. however you identify now or ever– youre always you– and thats what matters most about you to me. ❤

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    MY OWN FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE WAS FAR DIFFERENT–MORE POSITIVE BY FAR, BUT I SEE HER POINT IN GEVERAL! DEFINITELY WORTH READING THE WHOLE THING, EVEN IF DISAGREEING ON SOME POINTS. MY MOTHER WAS ONE OF THOSE STRONG PIONEERS IN ADVOCATING THE EQUALITY OF MEN AND WOMEN IN WORK—THROUGH HER OWN EXPERIENCES.

    Like

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