Here we go again – well-meaning misrepresentation in portrayal of #Autistic #women — i.e., #thebigthings

Girl standing with an umbrella in a storm with fire Artwork by Mirella SantanaWell Autistic Bewareness Month isn’t yet over, clearly.

And I feel a big bad about writing this post, but I have other things I need to do with my life, today, and I need to get this out of the way.

So, there’s this play called “The Big Things” that’s running in London. About a man and his Autistic wife who has all sorts of reservations about becoming a mother. I haven’t seen the play, which somewhat limits my ability to comment exhaustively. I have read a review of it, as well as seen a fair amount of blog posts and Twitter conversations about what a disservice it does to Autistic mothers — and, from what I’ve ready, Autistic women, as well.

The one thing I have experienced directly is a SoundCloud recording of a Q&A session this past Friday evening. Paul Wady of the Guerilla Aspies performance group was on the panel to discuss Autism and the effects the play has on the Autistic community as well as women. You can listen for yourself below. Or not. Your choice. (Piece continues below the SoundCloud player)

A lot of things in the panel discussion raise “red flags” with me. An Autistic man speaking for Autistic mothers… the way he typified the Autistic community… the way that old pain from a really… unfavorable experience dating an Autistic woman, years ago, obviously colored his discussion about Autism and women in a larger sense.

The Q&A was held on a Friday night, and we know how many Autistic people are up and at ’em on a Friday night, after a loooonnnnnngggg week of dealing with the non-autistic world… not to mention Autistic mothers who, um, are likely mothering, fer Chrissakes. Sheesh, it just gets worse.

One of the things that bothered me the most about the recording — and I had to sit through something like 40 minutes of increasingly irritating / distressing discussion to get there (I know… poor me, right? 😉 ) — was a woman at the end saying that, surely some discussion about Autistic mothers is better than none! And we should just be grateful that we’ve been included.

Ugh. I don’t even know where to start with that. But let me boil it down:

  1. The idea that we should just be grateful to be included smacks of 1954. Back when well-coiffed women typically had their arms grabbed by men who steered them in the direction they wanted. (I’m thinking of all the scenes in Sabrina, which I watched the other night, when men were grabbing women’s arms and hustling them through some door, or in this direction or that — yeahhhh… cringeworthy, by today’s standards.) The idea that women should just be grateful to be included — and Autistic women, no less — to have a chance to participate. What year are we in, anyway? I don’t get that.
  2. Yes, raising awareness about the existence of some people can be beneficial. But what kind of awareness? Back in the early 1900s, there was a lot of awareness being raised in America about immigrants entering the country. This is what that awareness looked like: See what I mean? Now, to be clear, the kinds of cartoons cranked out around the turn of the last century were specifically for the purpose of inciting anti-immigrant sentiment. And Kibo Productions’ intentions were nothing like that. At all. But when we talk about “awareness” we need to be clear about what’s being communicated — and that there’s actually some truth to it.
  3. As for discussion, my main question is, how much actual discussion can or will truly take place? Are all audience members going to attend discussion groups or engage with others about the validity of this play? What’s more, let’s think about where we’re starting the discussion — in this case, from a deeply flawed and limited standpoint, which doesn’t give us much ground to stand on, or build a decent discussion on. It’s like trying to have a discussion about a butterfly, when all you see is a caterpillar, and nobody talking about the butterfly has actually seen one in real life, just memes on Twitter.
  4. The woman speaking up appeared to be speaking from the perspective of a non-autistic individual. She got a round of applause. Mmmm-okay. So people want to talk about this stuff. Great! Let’s start by understanding what the actual objections are, validating them, and working from there. Not saying the equivalent of, “Oh, you’re getting all worked up over nothing.”

Autistic women have been dealing with this kind of stuff — invisibility, being discounted and dismissed, people telling us “why are you so upset?”, not to mention being gaslighted about “making stuff up” — seemingly since the beginning of time, and it gets old. How unfortunate, that no Autistic mothers were actually able to attend the Q&A discussion. Woulda been great, not to mention valid, to include them in the discussion.

I’m not an Autistic mother (I deliberately chose not to have children for personal reasons), so I’m not going to put words in anyone’s mouth. Sonia Boué and Katherine May and others have done a fantastic job of responding. I’ll post their work on this blog when I can — it’s really, really good.

This of course is an ongoing situation and new developments are happening, every time I go back to Twitter. Which is both bad and good. It’s bad because it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, and it’s good because now we get the chance to turn things around.

If only we hadn’t been put in this situation, to begin with…

Live and learn, I guess.

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5 thoughts on “Here we go again – well-meaning misrepresentation in portrayal of #Autistic #women — i.e., #thebigthings

  1. How can any discussion about any “group” not include members of that group? Unless the point is to insult, minimize further, trash talk etc…

    I know of another autistic mother doing work in UK against bleach “cures” and the anti-vaxers, Emma Dalmayne. Just FYI if you’re looking for other autistic Mamas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It sucks that autistic women were left out of the conversation. I am not a mother either and my autism does happen to play a part in why I chose to remain childless. This play could’ve been good, but it probably isn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

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