The challenges of communicating as an Asperger’s / autistic female (Intersectional)

Over the years, I’ve come to notice that there seems to be a double-standard in terms of male and female communication.

It seems that often, females are not quite allowed to say some of the things that males can say, or perhaps women can’t say them in quite the same way as men can.

(Very) generally speaking, males seem to be able to “get away with” a lot more than females.

I’ll explain…

Men generally tend to make more matter-of-fact statements.  When they do, it is usually accepted at pretty much face value.  Less is read into their statements.  The listener reads hidden meanings into those statements less often.

This is not so much the case for females.

Some might groan or roll their eyes at this idea.  That’s OK; they might never have perceived or experienced this phenomenon before.  It might have never happened to them, or if it has, it might have slipped through unnoticed.  After all, this is largely a Nonverbal Thing, and the listener’s response can be quite subtle.

I’m keenly aware of some aspects of nonverbal communication. Probably excessively so, to the point of potentially coming across as jumpy, over-reactive, or possibly even paranoid.

This may or may not be the case; I’m often too frayed to tell.  Frayed by past experience, most of which has taught me hard lessons.  It’s the accidental misstep into a proverbial, relational mine in the social mine field.  The first sign of such a misstep is that one figuratively loses half of one’s face before they know what hit them.

Welcome to my world, and that of many on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.  This is a long and thick chapter in the story of many of our lives.

The sharp watch for nonverbal responses was ingrained and learned over time, because it did not come easy to me.  I have seen people of any gender react differently to the same statement made by males vs females.  I’ve experienced the (surprising) negative responses when I’ve told someone something versus when my male partner tells them the same thing.  So I know that this situation is real.

For example, someone in my workplace made a request that went against policy.  I was the first to tell them, politely enough, that no, what they wanted could not be done.  This person got unreasonably huffy, feathers ruffled all over the place.  They tried to do an end-run around me and talk to my partner (who works in the same office as I do).  He told this person the same thing, only not quite as diplomatic as I did.  I was “masking”, well-seated in my public acting role, pretending to be a neurotypical female.  My partner has no need to mask; he tends not to care as much about what other people think of him.  So his denial of the person’s request-turned-demand was far more matter-of-fact.

This person kept trying, though; they kept asking him every week or so until finally, he got tired of the antics and put his foot down.  He told them firmly that NO, that is not going to happen.  Ultimately, this person (finally) took “no” for an answer.  I thought for sure that we’d never see them again, but they kept coming back–and they still do.  Not to me, even though they originally started out working with me–but to him.  The person still won’t talk to me much, but remains among my partner’s regular clientele.

Numerous examples of this type of situation exist.  They’ll generally be more obvious and memorable for those whose anatomy includes female parts.  Biological females likely know what I’m talking about; males might as well.

In short: if a biological male says something, especially if that “something” is not pleasant to hear, the man more often gets a “pass”.  The listener takes the statement “as is” and often doesn’t think anything less of the guy.  They don’t tend to assume that he’s an asshole (quite as often).

If a biological female says the exact same thing in the exact same tone of voice, with the exact same body language, she’s not quite as well-received.  Suddenly, she’s perceived as a “bitch” or a “hard-ass” or whatever other term fits the bill.

This is likely because females are “socialized” to be more “agreeable”, to “let it go”, and to “keep the peace”.  They’re taught to be more “diplomatic” and “sociable”.  They’re taught to go along with…whatever.

And “whatever” is right.  Where does society get off by using this kind of double-standard?  In 2017, there should be no double-standard and yet, there is.  It glares at certain people.  And that glare is a frosty one, when you’ve drawn the short end of the biological stick.

Now, enter Asperger’s/autism.  Not only is there the potential for the nonverbal/body-linguistic misread, but there’s also the tendency (which applies very strongly to me) to “tell it like it is”.  When I do this, I’m not trying to be mean, harsh, cold, or distant; I’m just saying what I mean, without beating around the bush or risking sending double-messages.  I simply want to state my thoughts in pure form, to maximize the odds that they’ll be received the way I intend them to be.

No more, no less.

But apparently, that’s “not allowed” in neurotypical, stereotypical gender-divided society.  I was born with female parts and thus, it is assumed almost universally that I will also act, think, and communicate in a certain way.  Peoples’ expectations are different.  Because females are typically socialized a certain way, the world often gets a little bent out of shape when a female acts or communicates in a way that doesn’t jive with their social indoctrination.

That’s a fundamental ingredient in my difficulties relating to the world.  It’s not that either side is wrong, per se; it’s just that we’re different.  The problem is, other people don’t know that, and they expect you to be the same as they are.  And up until a little over a year ago, at age 38.5, I didn’t have that information in hand, either.  That left me wondering what the hell was wrong, why I couldn’t achieve the same success when interacting with people on a plain, regular, everyday level that everybody else did.  It seemed so basic, so easy, so fundamental.  I got the impression that everyone else had been doing it for years; they made it look so easy.  It wasn’t so easy for me.

My Asperger’s/autism makes me much more likely to say what I mean without first putting what I planned to say through a mental neurotypical-friendly filter.  When this happens, people are taken aback, surprised.  In turn, I’m surprised by their response, wondering what I did wrong this time.

My Asperger’s/autism also makes me a lot more internal than the average bear, which also thus translates to my internalization of peoples’ negative responses.  It monkeys with my processing speed and procedure, which then involuntarily replays the conversation over and over in my head, making mental “edits” to my side of the conversation as I go, knowing that it’s a fruitless activity because the conversation is long over and the other person long gone, and it always surprised me how fast other people could “get over” things, at least for the moment.  In similar situations with loved ones, I’ve called them back later to get–and put–closure on the conversation, only for them to be all bouncy-back-to-normal, like nothing had ever happened.  Oh, they’ll often hold my statements against me later, but at that moment, they seem happier, even if their feelings toward me haven’t changed.

Trying to make the sudden jump up to their comparatively care-free mood requires yet another adjustment on my part.  I don’t want to seem “too down” or, heaven forbid, “difficult”, or someone who can’t let go of something that’s long over with.  So, I feel I must adjust up to their level, to try to match my frequency to theirs, to try to mimic them in order to establish some kind of artificial rapport.

I’m always the one doing the adjusting.  And I often feel artificial.

When will I ever get the hang of this thing?  All these social rules are confusing.  What had I even done wrong in the first place?  I hadn’t lied; I had told the truth.  I have learned that sugarcoating what I say too much leads to people getting the wrong message, and I didn’t want to be misleading in any way.  I hadn’t raised my voice (that I’m aware of); I had remained as calm as possible.  I didn’t hurt anyone or lose my cool or fly off the handle.  I didn’t hurl any insults or swear words.  So what did I do??  What else is there to do wrong?  Does this mean that, even after all this time and effort, my mental checklist still isn’t up to par?  Sometimes, I never actually find out.  At times, my gaffe remains a mystery.  I often don’t even know where I went wrong.

It can be tough enough being part of a society in which, because of your anatomy, you’re expected to play a second fiddle of sorts.  It gets even tougher when your neurotype bestows upon you a natural inclination to think act, and communicate in ways that run directly opposed to those anatomy-based expectations.  And it gets even more challenging yet, when the fact that anatomy-based social and psychological expectations exist, doesn’t even make sense in the first place and you see no need for such concepts and customs to even exist.

Being female in a society such as this one carries with it a certain set of challenges.

Being on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum comes with its own, different, set of challenges.

Sometimes, this creates an ocean of choppy waters and potential undertows that can be hard to navigate.  Society, with its nonsensical rules, often gets in my way–my way of being me and getting on with living my life.

I’m not sure I’ll ever “get it”.  I don’t do what I do for the purpose of shocking others or rebelling in nonconformity or raging against the machine; I do what I do because that’s just how I roll.  But if the world wants to be shocked in response to the fact that I do what it is I do while acting naturally, then so be it.  🙂

***

(Image Credit: Holly Sierra)

 

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30 Comments

  1. Ooh, interesting points! Yes, I have experienced this more than a few times in my life. I have a reputation of quiet gentility. Some of that is natural, much of it is positive, but I think some of it is very much conditioned. A “smart mouth” in my home was a very bad thing, so I learned to hold my tongue a LOT.
    Except when I couldn’t anymore…then, it would burst like a dam. I wouldn’t intend to be rude, but it was my chance to finally be blunt, usually about some injustice or other in my jacked-up home life. But, then, I’d really catch the wrath of whoever was on the receiving end. My older brother was mistreated terribly, too, but I DID see his bluntness being excused as “just how he is” in way mine was not. Still see some of that today. Because I am usually “such a nice lady”, people expect that I will never “create waves”. Makes for a lot of frustration in my efforts to stand up for myself. Thank you for sharing this. It’s an area I had not examined in quite this way before.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ah yes, the whole “double standard” bit. Oh my, that can be cruel. One sibling gets away with stuff that you didn’t, because they were male, or in my case, my sibling was younger (even though she knew better and used our age difference to her advantage lol), or because they have something in common with one of the parents that the parent prizes, etc etc. Yep, it bottles up and eventually explodes. Gas Laws involving pressure and volume and all that 😉💖

      So happy that the post spoke to you! Thank you for your lovely compliment on it 😘. Here’s to healing! 💞🌷💞💖🌟💖

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, exactly. My mother was always more connected to my brother. They are both fast-paced folks. I was slower, like my dad. And you’re welcome! Yes, healing is an awesome thing-definitely getting further! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I totally get this! My husband and I own a business together and when I bring anything up for discussion at meetings , I get a lot of eyes looking at each other silently shouting, “oh no, here she goes again.” Blank stare. No response. For instance, I brought up the common courtesy of cleaning up after yourself. After several meetings and no change, my husband comes in and flatly states, “I’m sick and tired of cleaning up after you guys! This place looks like a pigsty! Don’t you want to take pride in where you work?!” Which is immediately met with a chorus of “I’m so sorry! I will do a better job.” Um…really?!!😤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh wow, seriously?? Omg 😳. Yeah, what’s up with that? I can totally relate. Why is that even acceptable? Ugh. I think I’m going to start talking like my (male) partner, come what may, eye rolls be damned lol 😈💞💞

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve had to take my husband with me on Dr’s appointments for a while now just to be listened to. It’s infuriating to be in desperate need of help, knowing exactly what I actually need most of the time, and be written off as crazy or attention-seeking, etc. all because of my gender (feminine men/males get this treatment, too). #patriarchy #misogyny

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, absolutely agreed! Ugh. I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this crap. And what they do *is* total crap. Always has been, always will be (except that I hope it falls off ASAP). Yeah, I can’t tell you how many females end up in my office, having been prescribed antidepressants for their low energy, weight gain, hair loss, and sensitivity to cold, which is what they told their GP, only to run tests of my own to confirm what I suspected: a thyroid gland problem! Ugh. But it’s a “there there; you’re just depressed” pat on the head from the GP. I want to holler, “no, you nitwit. The thyroid tests are 40-50 bucks US and insurance will cover them. Take the lady seriously and run the damn test!” Gah 🤔🙄😡💞

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve just accepted that I’m the bitch who refuses to take their BS. Just bites that it rattles me enough to interfere with processing so then I start sounding some version of “off”, and I get even more dismissed. Still fighting damage from inappropriate treatments for so long. You might find one of my older posts interesting – F***ing Arrogant Ignorant Doctors. It’s very angry and not about sexism, but it’s about being taken seriously.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Omg, luv, that SUCKS. I’m so sorry to hear about that! I’m angry for you, on your behalf. That’s just plain-ass malpractice!! Can you file a complaint with their regulatory licensing board? As a doc myself I can tell you that the board will investigate every complaint, and docs get really nervous when people start mentioning their board 😈😘💖

          Liked by 1 person

  5. same problem. the annoying downside of living in a sex-bipolar culture (where persons assigned with maleness and femaleness are supposed to act in opposite ways).
    i was assigned female sex when i was born and i have the lady parts, however that does not mean i use the genitalia as part of identity or a reason for any behaviors that usually are assumed or expected. i use “tone of voice” thing only to pass and willingly only when talking to cats or dogs.
    i find the way NT persons with femaleness think and act to often be very alien. too much unspoken and just assumed. i donʻt need any of that

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hear, hear!! Absolutely. I wonder what’s up with society’s preoccupation with a binary structure?? Couldn’t it be analog, like a spectrum? I know that some segments of society are starting to see it that way, which is good. 😊. But we need more! 👏🏼👏🏼

      Like you, I was born with female parts, but I don’t “get” NT females. I just plain don’t. Yeah, I wrote them off years ago, as a matter of resignation. I had tried, but couldn’t understand them. I liked guys much better, in general. They were more straightforward, no head games. I chastised myself for being what I thought was misogynist, because other than a few really cool earthy (NT) females, I pretty much shied away from women–but then I found fellow females on the spectrum and everything changed. Everything 😊. Oh, I still don’t get NT females, but I know it’s not just a gender thing; it’s a neurotype + gender thing. And there’s more to it, too, an element I can’t yet identify. There has to be more to it for me, because there are a precious few NTs with femaleness whom I get along quite well with! They’re awesome. Some of them are the cool commenters on here (!). 🤗. But yeah, few and far between. They’re certainly not the norm 😊.

      Oh and I love engines! I watch “male”-oriented shows a lot 😉❤️. Too much drama in the “female”-oriented shows 😉🌺

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      1. my (step) sister suffers from NT spectrum disorder. shesh… everything from communicating between lines to discussing tmi female bosily functions (yuck). and she always whines about mumʻa sensory issues… mum was (posthumously) an aspie, and iʻve cut away anything with sis. i just donʻt get her. i just donʻt understand her, other than having 1,5 languages in common.
        guys are nicer, all my friends have been guys. no drama, better articulation of problems and also no emotional dumps poured on you habitually. another group easy to understand and fit in is the blind – no obsessing about eye contact and people get the sleep issues being a bit weird. i also try to hang out with people a lot older as it can be interesting to learn of how they used to do stuff or how they think. so much easier than trying to understand NT females of around my agep

        Liked by 1 person

  6. There certainly is a lot to digest here. Human dynamics and interaction is extremely complex because we all have our disabilities we believe. Your summary to us is the reality “…I do what it is I do while acting naturally, then so be it.” It gets back to what we have noted before we have a responsibility not to be nasty but also must express our thoughts within the parameters of the situation we are in. Sometimes compromise is not an option and as a boss that is sometimes that doesn’t always set well with others but this is where the ole saying comes in “I may not be right but I’m the boss”. This may sound crude and rude but sometimes the boss has a bigger view of the situation. Just a thought.

    Like

  7. Linguistics major here! Your observations are scientifically proved 😀 Which is awful really, because it has probably to do with who we value (white men) and who needs to stay in their place unless they want to be punished. D:

    Like

  8. There are many issues with communication as an autistic female. I work with mostly males, so I cherish their straight up speak. Does not work the other way round.

    I am routinely spoken over, ignored, misunderstood and misquoted. Being female and older, with different ethics and social expectations, adds to my quandry. With my autism, I struggle to: 1) formulate my thoughts, 2) make a complete sentence out loud, 3) process at ‘normal’ speed and 4) not stammer, slur or mumble.

    Like the marginalised and disempowered elsewhere, I find unique ways to make my points. I utilise the suggestion box, I talk to others in power after I have rehearsed in my head, I use subvertive techniques in my work, and I get others to advocate for me.

    No one has any inkling of the brain pain I suffer in just uttering a sentence in a room full of youngr males.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Truth!! Agreed. The world at large can be so closed off, preoccupied with superficial things like traditionally-expected gender roles, not granting any exceptions or leeway to diverge from the “norm”. Ugh. The suffering is real. I’m totally with you💐💐. Thank you very much for sharing your story; I think that with each person who shares theirs, we could/can/do collectively become stronger inside 💞💞

      Like

  9. Oh the number of times I got told off at work for being ‘too sharp’ with people, that my email was too blunt, “you cant say it like that”. It would then get rewritten by them and I’m damned if I understand the difference other than they have written twice as much as me. I frequently have had it made known that I should not say the things I have, the way I have, but its been clear if it was a man who said it, it would have been ok. I dont understand it, really dont. I dont get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, we can’t win, can we? 😊. It’s like we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t lol.

      “That’s too blunt”

      ok, I’ll fix it.

      “No, that’s too vague”

      well, you didn’t want it to be that blunt. 🤔❣💓

      Liked by 1 person

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