Gender in the Autiverse . . . A Girl’s Perspective!

Kirsten, our female aspie blogger, has this to say!

Gender is a pretty big issue in the autiverse. Are there more aspie girls than we realize? If so, why? Do girls really present symptoms differently than boys? Do aspie girls just have “hyper-masculine” brains, as is often suggested? What’s the deal with gender and autism?

As many of you may have realized, I am female. I’ve been an on-and-off tomboy, but on the whole I have had no struggles with my gender identity. However, I have had troubles fitting the female role.

Women are seen as the empathetic and emotional sex. We’re the mothers, the girlfriends, and the nurturers. Women are supposed to speak with subtlety, and go about their daily business with a ladylike grace. Girls are supposedly much more adept at reading facial expressions, body language, and reading between the lines during social interaction. Men are given a bit of leeway with this; an aspie male who can’t tell that when his girlfriend says “nothing” is bothering her, she really means “everything,” doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Men are supposed to be confused baffled by women and their secret code of subtext.

When I was little, I made mostly male friends. The female friends I had in preschool abandoned me come primary school because I wasn’t cool enough. Over the years, the girls who I befriended were either misfits themselves or charismatic individuals who didn’t care whether I was “weird” or not.

Reading Tony Attwood’s research really struck home for me. He says that girls with Asperger’s are often have friends and are able to develop social skills thanks to “mother hen” friends, who take them in under a wing. Because girls are seen as the emotional and empathetic sex, it is far more acceptable for girls to befriend outcasts and nurture them towards social competency. In elementary school, I met a girl who shared all my obsessive interests (mostly involving animal behavior and ecology), who was intellectual and nerdy, but who was undeniably neurotypical. She was strong-willed and loud, and socially sensitive and kind. She made friends wherever she went, and I came along for the ride. Come high school, I had a new mother hen. She was tall, ambitious, and charismatic. As time past, I gathered several social friends. My inner circle was built of a couple of very open, charismatic people, and several shy, introverts. These were people who could talk to anyone, even a shy kid, and everyone knows at least one. I developed socially in a way I never would have, were it not for these people who helped me along. I was never friendless, even in my darkest days as a melodramatic 13-year-old.

My passion had always been art, and drawing taught me to read faces. I analyzed the muscle structure of the human face, and which places were contracted or relaxed in different moods. To draw something, you have to really understand it, and I liked to draw people. I was also pretty into anime and manga, which place a heavy emphasis on facial expressions. Anime faces are stylized, caricatures of real faces. I feel sort of lame admitting it, but a lot of what I learned about non-verbal language came from my consumption of Japanese media as a teenager. The down side was the anime faces I started to imitate, thinking they were natural.

I don’t know whether female aspies really do present differently, as I’m no expert. But the general consensus seems to be in favor, and I would agree, using my own anecdotal evidence. Male aspies and female aspies are no different inside, but I believe that cultural engendering is very different for each sex. What is ok for a male aspie might be discouraged in a female aspie, and vice versa. Within the coming years it is likely that we will see a rise in the number of female aspies, and a more even ratio. There are many autistic women out there who are simply overlooked, or misdiagnosed.

2 thoughts on “Gender in the Autiverse . . . A Girl’s Perspective!”

    Comments

    • Thinking_Thoughts on October 16, 2016

      I’m a young(ish) female Aspie and all – all – of my friends growing up, and even now, are 5, 10, 20 years older than me. Why? Mother hens.

      I found that, with older individuals, I could get the intellectual stimulation and challenge I needed, but also that these were women who were older, more comfortable with themselves, didn’t need my validation or doting like most of my female age-peers did, and were therefore comfortable with letting me be me and better, were impressed by me. Most importantly, they noticed when I was lost in a social situation, and would kindly point out to me that, no, so-and-so wasn’t being serious, and yes, while so-and-so was logically incorrect, smiling and nodding is more socially acceptable than pointing out their error. These more “charismatic” types could glide effortlessly through social events while I tagged along. I was introduced to people I wouldn’t have ever thought to speak to, and taken to events I probably wouldn’t have gone to if let on my own, and it lead to decent connections being made.

      I was fortunate enough to be taught the “basics,” having grown up in an academic, wealthier family. I learned it was proper to shake someone’s hand with a firm grip and look them in the eye, if only briefly. I could wax elegant if I needed to, but as soon as other people started conversing I’d glaze over.

      Honestly, if I hadn’t been for the “mother hens” I’d still be holed-up, playing video games and reading for hours, wearing sweatpants and t-shirts and unkempt hair everywhere, and likely very lonely.

    • momomoon on December 23, 2016

      I VERY MUCH relate to this! Right down to learning about social cues and faces through drawing anime and other intensely stylized cartoons. (And imitating them for practice and definitely coming off as weird for it.) I moved a lot when I was a kid and endured a lot of harsh bullying but I would usually end up with one mother hen friend, and/or a handful of kinda geeky, outcasted male friends.

      My gender identity is somewhat negotiable. I was assigned female at birth and didn’t really assert otherwise until recently, but internally I’ve always felt pretty genderless 90% of the time. Though being agender/non-binary wasn’t a term I was introduced to until a few years ago. I just thought I was doomed to be a freakish girl who didn’t feel much like a girl. Or a boy. I definitely had phases of playing with my gender presentation before I even realized that’s what I was doing. (Trying to look more boyish, or mixing elements of masculinity and femininity in to how I dressed i.e. an army jacket over a sundress and keeping my hair very short, for convenience and appearance.) It was always just what felt natural to me.

      A lot of what I’ve read about how autism presents itself differently in girls mention that many girls with autism are tomboyish, or feel detached from gender or being exclusively girly. Learning this, as well as pretty much everything else that you talked about, has helped me begin to figure out a lot about myself, including gender identity.

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