A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘feminism’

UW’s Women’s Centre

This winter I tried a new extra-curricular activity. I have written a few posts on this blog related to the issue of feminism and gender-related issues, but now I’ve found a way to meet other like-minded people with respect to such issues and to actually advocate for them. I volunteered for the University of Waterloo’s Women Centre this term, which is a student-run organisation on campus that promotes feminism and gender equity. I submitted an application online to them in the fall and heard back at the beginning of the winter term that they accepted me as a volunteer.

I had to attend a one day training session on how to be a volunteer for the Centre. It basically consisted of explaining to us our responsibilities, such as holding office hours in the Centre and how to help students in need who come to the Centre, especially for peer support hours. Peer support hours are hours that run 5-6 everyday where any student is welcome to drop by to discuss any personal problems they have to the volunteer who’s on duty at that time for emotional support and resources. The Centre is in this smallish cozy room with a desk, a library on feminism, and a few comfortable couches and chairs. Besides holding office hours there, I’ve also found it a good alternative space to study.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the volunteers are women. I’ve been involved with activities before where the majority of participants were female (for example, during my Zumba classes) so I was never really bothered by that. I do, however, find it a bit unfortunate that more men don’t get involved with these kinds of things, especially since gender inequity affects men as well as women and indeed affects people of all genders. I know that such issues have touched me as well as others, which further inspired me to volunteer in the first place and I strongly believe that feminism and gender-related issues need gender-diverse supports (besides being diverse in other ways) for its proper activism. The women I’ve worked with this term, however, have been very friendly and welcoming and I’m slowly making friends with some of them.

Besides holding office hours in the centre, I’ve also helped volunteer for various feminist events. My favourite has been the Poetry Slam, which was a night held on Waterloo’s on-campus pub The Bomber where any and all students with feminist poetry were welcome to read them. I loved hearing them all and will definitely participate myself at a future poetry slam event.

I’m glad I decided to get involved with the Women’s Centre and I look forward to continuing with it in the future.

Autism: A Feminist Issue

I’ve read a few blog posts over the past few days that have really opened my eyes to an issue in autism diagnosis. They are here: https://themighty.com/2017/02/autism-feminism-and-bodily-autonomy/  and http://www.loveyourrebellion.org/intersections/autism-is-a-feminist-issue/. I’ve always known that there have been far more males diagnosed with autism than females, but after doing some reading, have discovered that this disadvantages females with autism in a few ways. Regardless of whether there is any biological or psychological explanation for this unbalanced proportion, this unbalanced proportion is unfortunately at times to be taken as encouragement for the prejudice that autism is strictly a male trait. Even professional studies done on autism often focus primarily on males with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), while not addressing the issues that females with ASD face.

Society has an easier time labeling a man as “odd” or socially challenged than doing so for a woman. One of the core defining characteristics of having autism is having social difficulties and, as such, many girls with autism go undiagnosed until their adults with many of them being misdiagnosed when they were younger. Females are somehow expected to have exceedingly good social skills. They must appear kind and gentle and not easily tempered and they can be judged harshly based on how they look and behave. Females with ASD might not adhere to American’s standards of beauty or not appearing “ladylike”. They are particularly vulnerable to such judgement because one of the characteristics of autism is experiencing difficulty in not understanding a lot of the dogmatic social rules that govern society.

I like how one of the authors of one of the post describes bodily autonomy on her own terms and relates it to having autism. One of the major issues that feminism deals with is uninvited sexual advances that many girls and women deal with, such as catcalling and rape, which feminists place under the phrase “my body, my choice”. This author, however, points out that this phrase means far more to her than just the issue of rape culture. To her it means portraying her body through her mannerisms and behaviours, exactly as she sees fit without being teased, ridiculed, or outcasted for it. Even some people who call themselves “feminists” are not true feminists; they are only advocating for the most privileged of women without giving a voice to other women who may experience different issues. Such people frustrate me because they’re completely missing the point of what feminism is all about: equality for all.

Given this analysis of these social factors that come into play in diagnosing boys and girls with ASD, I am a bit skeptical that the diagnostic rates are accurate when it comes to displaying the actual proportion of males to females with autism. I am not dismissing here the negative or unfavourable reactions a male with autism might receive in not having good social skills (a lot of this blog has been after all about my own social difficulties as a male with autism). Rather, I am emphasising how gender roles in society make this especially hard for females with ASD. And this is what makes autism a feminist issue.

On Masculinity

A couple of months ago, I saw a poster in the math building at the University of Waterloo advertising an interesting workshop. It was inviting the male Waterloo students to come to talk and discuss what it means to be masculine and to be a man. As a feminist and someone who’s very interested in the topic of gender, I was very curious and so attended. The workshop was run by a young gender equity advocate Stephen Soucie and it took only two minutes into it that I knew I had made the right decision to attend. Stephen lectured and had a discussion with us on how society (especially in our western culture) has shaped the male and female gender roles in detrimental ways and how this has promoted gender inequity and gender-based violence.

I loved the discussion and completely agreed with Stephen throughout. He started by asking us what expectations society holds on males. We brainstormed a lot and came up with several, including stoic, unemotional, hypersexual, strong, aggressive, etc. and then brainstormed ways in which men are ridiculed if they do not live up to these expectations to a sufficient degree. For example, men who do not fit this stereotype are more prone to bullying. They are often called things like “pussy”, “faggot”, “gay”, “bitch”, or “little girl”. Not only is such name-calling hurtful to the targeted men, but they are also harmful to women because they carry the implication that women are somehow inferior to men. These expectations, however, are a product of society and there is no rational basis for them. One could argue that these expectations come from the biological sex differences between males and females, but as Stephen pointed out, western society has overemphasised such differences. Moreover, male and female aren’t even exhaustive categories when it comes to either gender or sex, giving another reason why these gender roles need to be abandoned. Both gender and sex do not just consist of two categories, but both exist on a spectrum with male on one end and female on the other with a great variety in between.

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how some of my social desires would be classified as feminine, such as cuddling with platonic friends. A little over a year ago, I did attend a Cuddle party once in Toronto (this is a social gathering where people can physically touch each other such as through cuddling in non-sexual ways) and I always find it fascinating that the majority of the attendees are male. I believe this is because society find platonic cuddling between women to be acceptable, but if a man or men are involved in this act, then it’s automatically classified as sexual and two men who cuddle are automatically labeled as “gay”. Society wouldn’t bat an eye if two women were crying in each other’s arms over a romantic movie, yet try replacing those two women with two men and you get something that’s completely unheard of. Our heteronormative society does not encourage homosocial bonding between men, which has a tremendous impact on men’s emotional and physical health.

These gender roles also promote gender-based violence in our society. Often, gender-based violence is portrayed as a women’s issue, often associated with the phrase “Violence against women”. You hear stories, for example on the news or in the newspaper, “Woman raped” or “Woman murdered”, failing to mention the perpetrator in the title (usually a man). But who the perpetrator is is just as relevant and stopping this gender-based violence takes way more than simply informing girls that they need to be careful, or to tell boys they need to behave properly. These, in my opinion, are just band-aid solutions, if they are even any kind of solutions at all.

Who are the perpetrators? Mostly men. Why are so many more men (many with horrible pasts, psychological problems, etc.) than women committing these horrific crimes? This is what the rest of the discussion with Stephen was about. These men weren’t born as killers or rapists. The rub is that it was fed into them starting from an early age, regardless if it was intentional or unintentional. They came to learn that to be a man, you must exhibit certain characteristics. They feel they need to be tough, aggressive, hypersexual, stoic, etc. and it often gets to the point where they feel that the only way they can measure up to these expectations and let out all the negative emotions they are feeling is by committing violence, especially against women. These societal expectations placed on men have affected their well-being very negatively and, as such, gender-based violence is just as much as a men’s issue as it is a women’s issue.

I am not trying to excuse the crimes that men commit here because men happen to be raised in a certain way. Crimes such as murder, rape, and domestic violence and abuse are horrible and should carry a heavy sentence regardless whenever they are committed. Instead, this analysis of the issue should be used when we’re asking what needs to happen for this violence to be resolved. In order to have equality for women, we need equality for men as well and indeed for people of all genders.

Since the workshop, I have stayed in touch with Stephen, and we have talked about these issues further and exchanged books and movies on the subject. One movie that I borrowed from Stephen was called Tough Guise 2 and it’s about everything I’ve written in this post and I highly recommend it.

The world is rife with inequity, and gender is definitely a prime example. I remain optimistic, however, that we as a society can correct this. Simply talking about it and advocating this issue is a definite first step.