Autism and Sexism

Many times, I’ve been told that autism presents differently in girls.
Many times, I’ve been told that girls are less likely to be autistic.
Many times, I’ve been told that male autistics are different.

I’m here to tell you that’s sexist.

Autistic girls are NOT different from autistic boys.

Autistic girls do NOT “present differently” from autistic boys.

This is sexist.

At one point, I thought it was eye-opening to read articles about how autistic females presented differently. And then I realized that was my own internalized ableism and sexism talking. Now I am ashamed of myself.

By saying it presents differently, we are erasing non trans and non-binary experiences. What does it say to someone non-binary, if we constantly talk about the diagnosis within the gender binary? We say that autistic males are xyz. We say that autistic females are abc. But what about those who are not? If you fit in those boxes, well, good on you. But we weren’t made to fit in neat little boxes. In fact, by clinging to these things, we are enforcing gender stereotypes. Which is bullcrap.

I know people who have come to their autism diagnosis by reading about how it presents in girls. Which is fine and dandy. But realize that those lists come rooted in sexism. You now know better, so DO better. A female doesn’t need a different form of support than a male because she’s female, she needs different forms of support because she’s HUMAN.

I don’t fit the neat checkboxes of autism in girls – I don’t have a high IQ because my learning disorders make IQ tests impossible. Despite being a straight A, honor roll student my IQ is actually quite low. This is called being twice-exceptional,  where I am so-called “gifted” but struggle with multiple learning disabilties (and the concept of gifted is problematic but that’s another blog post).

Many of my so-called “special interests” (oh mylanta, I hate this term. This is another blog post. That’s two, two blog posts promised in this one. -count von count voice-) line up more with what is considered boyish. If you google “autism in girls checklist”, you get dozens of super gross checklists.

Because I present as female, it doesn’t mean my autism is different than someone who does not. It means it is different because I am human. Just like anything else on my massive checklist of “how many things Nora has been dx’d with”, it is different from person to person. There is nothing unique about my autism solely because I have a vagina. It’s different because I am Nora. Yes, autistic girls sometimes present differently from autistic boys. But autistic girls present differently from each other, just like autistic boys do.

That isn’t to say there aren’t atypical autism traits. There are. That isn’t to say autistic women aren’t disabled. They are. That isn’t to say it isn’t sexist to say that girls are less likely to be dx’d than boys are. They are.

I’ve talked about this with my friends. Some of us male, some of us female, some of us non binary. My friend Leila said in one of our discussions that “all the articles etc. that I’ve seen about “Autism presents DIFFERENTLY in girls!” is all about how autistic boys are mathematical and logical and emotionally withdrawn, and autistic girls are creative, intuitive, emotional artist-types, and, like… that’s just regular old sexism with “autism” in front of it.”.

This is true. Think about it. If we remove the word “autism”, people would be PISSED. “But my son is a creative artist!” “My daughter is a brilliant mathematician!” Yep. But yet, somehow it’s magically okay when we try to make an autism dx fit gender stereotypes. We must question ourselves. WHY? We get pissed off when we try to assign stereotypes, but when it comes to neurodivergence, it’s somehow magically okay?

Why? Do we feel that autistic girls need coddled more? Do we need to make sure we know that they aren’t like THOSE autistics? It’s a form of supremacy, to be honest. And that’s ableist, sexism, bullcrap. Do we feel that they’re superior, because they pass better? (Newsflash: autistic females don’t. Some autistic females pass, some autistic females don’t. Some autistic males pass, some don’t. Some non binary pass…oh, I could go on all day. You get my point).

That’s not to say it isn’t okay to talk about autism and gender. It is. That isn’t to say that it isn’t important to boost female autistic voices. It very much is. Everyone’s voice needs heard – no matter what their gender is.

But when we say we want to smash gender stereotypes, when we say we’re feminists, when we say we’re for equality…we’ve got to include disability in that. And disability includes autism.    It includes realizing that even when we don’t realize it, our thoughts are often rooted in sexism. I’m guilty of it. I’m not immune to call outs. I even used to like and share those posts that talked about how different autistic females are, thinking I was helping my friends. Thinking I was helping making voices heard. Until I realized and questioned why I was sharing it. Until I realized that I was contributing to sexism. Until I realized that no one fits into that neat little box – myself included. Until I accepted that I don’t have to keep lying to myself, to who I am, to make myself fit into the “autistic female presenting” box. I’m still autistic. I still present as female. It’s okay that I don’t meet everything on that checklist – it doesn’t make my DX any less or different.

It’s sexist, plain and simple, to say that autistic females present differently. I think it’s important for us to discuss this. I think it’s important for us to boost female voices, yes. But that doesn’t mean that that, in and of itself, has problematic roots. It means that we realize that we don’t present differently because of what our bits and pieces are or because of what our gender is, but it’s simply because we’re HUMAN and we each have our own jam

One thought on “Autism and Sexism

  1. Hmm, I’m not sure what I think about this. I definitely see where you’re coming from, having seen gender essentialist and wildly over-generalising discussions of autism in girls and women. There was one video in particular I saw that claimed that females with autism don’t show social impairment because they’re so good at ‘masking’, which is just absurd; how can you claim that a major part of the diagnostic criteria simply can’t be observed in females?

    However, I’m not sure it’s inherently sexist to say that autism presents differently in females to males. Stating that autistic females are more likely to present in a certain way isn’t saying that autism is *inherently* different in females. For example, I’ve seen various different people attribute ‘masking’ in autistic females to them being under more pressure to perform socially.

    In my view, as someone who has been a feminist for many years, stating differences between males and females in general isn’t *necessarily* sexist, because within our society males and females behave in different ways due to powerful gender norms. Obviously there are men and women who don’t conform to their gender roles to various degrees (myself included), and people who don’t identify as male or female at all. But ‘male’ and ‘female’ are still socially meaningful categories. So to me ‘sexism’ is more about believing that men and women are naturally and unchangeably different than about making observations about how they do/experience things differently.

    With regard to the claim that women don’t need different support, I’d say there are a few gender-specific considerations to make about supporting autistic women in particular. I won’t list them all here, but relationships is one issue that comes to mind. From what I’ve observed autistic men and women (as groups) have somewhat different experiences in sexual and romantic relationships, and due to the general increased risk women have of experiencing intimate abuse, rape, etc, combined with autism-related difficulties with reading people, autistic women are statistically at a particularly high risk of experiencing those things. Autistic men also have an elevated risk of experiencing these types of violence, but autistic women have gender as a risk factor that men don’t have. This is something that it’s important for service providers to know, and it’s an issue that there isn’t enough awareness about.

    Going to end this here before I ramble on forever, but before I finish I want to acknowledge that I’ve only addressed gender in a binary sense here, and that you are right that the ‘autism in females’ discourse does little to address the concerns of non-binary individuals. However, I don’t think that means it shouldn’t exist at all. I feel like the solution to that would be to amplify the voices of non binary autistic people in order to get a better understanding of how they experience autism.

    Also, I know this comment was quite critical but I want to reiterate that I see where you’re coming from! I definitely agree that sexism in posts about ‘autistic girls’ traits’ and the like is a problem, and that statements about autism being different for girls etc shouldn’t be uncritically accepted without thinking about how they might be informed by sexist gender norms. I just wouldn’t personally argue so strongly against the claim that autistic females present differently.

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