Feminist Aspie

Does what it says on the tin.

Angry Feminists Are Not Your Playthings

(Content note: Discussion of anti-choice rhetoric, general abuser dynamics, and brief references to rape, abuse and harassment)

Here’s something I’ve seen in literally every online feminist discussion space I’ve ever been in:

  1. Someone (almost invariably a man; sometimes, but not always, an actively malicious troll from the start) says something problematic.
  2. The issue with what they’ve just said is pointed out to them, directly but politely.
  3. Because there’s this general idea that accusing someone of an -ism is worse than the thing that led to the accusation (and it isn’t: only one of those things promotes a real, harmful power structure), the person takes this as a personal attack, and becomes defensive rather than maybe consider that they need to change their behaviour/language/viewpoint.
  4. They continue this until a long, unnecessary, derailing comment thread develops.
  5. They paint the people who called them out as the problem for “making such a big deal of it”, and are often believed, because feminists are so angry and aggressive and argumentative amirite? This is called gaslighting. Google it.
  6. The majority of threads, in which genuinely-well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake are nudged in the right direction without major drama and discussion remains civil because there’s nobody deliberately trying to aggravate it, is disregarded, either deliberately or just because it isn’t as memorable or likely to repeatedly show up on the news feed.
  7. Suddenly, the whole group is criticised for being too argumentative, hostile, full of personal attacks (which on further inspection boil down to “pointing out something problematic”) and silencing “different opinions” (often code for sexist/transphobic/homophobic etc. views which literally cost lives). Nobody considers who actually started the arguments.
  8. People become scared to contribute because they don’t want to get caught up in arguments; with the actual cause of the conflicts long forgotten, this eventually becomes “scared to contribute because they don’t want to get called out” because of the aforementioned gaslighting.
  9. The conversation becomes one about how to avoid hurting the feelings of well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake, which was never the problem, rather than the actual problem of how to deal with the trolls.
  10. The confirmation bias phenomenon kicks in; feminists are seen as irrational and overly aggressive, so when the next man-starting-shit comes along, they’re more likely to be able to paint feminists as the aggressors.

Seriously. It’s the same thing in Every. Single. Forum. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was something similar going on in offline spaces, too.

Telling a man that maybe he might need to re-consider is eventually exaggerated into aggression and some angry-mob-of-irrational-feminists-with-pitchforks. Dale Splender once noted “The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence” and I think the same might be true more specifically when a woman confronts someone; her level of assertiveness is not compared to what is expected of men, it’s compared to what is expected of a silent, compliant, smiling background decoration. I know that personally, offline at least, I spend a lot of time being that “polite” silent woman because I’m too scared to confront people, and consequently I have certain male friends/relatives/etc who see me as some sort of “acceptable feminist” because I’m not like those feminists they see online. (Oh, if only they knew…) This really saddens me, because although they might not know it, the message I get from this is “women who stand up for themselves are okay, as long as they only do it in their own heads because of huge underlying anxiety issues” (stay tuned next week for more on that, by the way) and hopefully I don’t need to explain all the different levels of why that’s not okay.

Anyway, enough about me – let’s look at the bigger picture. 1 in 3 women will be abused by an intimate partner in her lifetime, and 1 in 5 women will suffer rape or attempted rape. Too often, these women are then blamed for the violence against them. We live in a world where men feel entitled to our lives and our bodies; we’re harassed in the street, in the workplace, everywhere, coerced into just-giving-in, or risking literally being killed for saying no. We’re paid less for equal work outside the home, and often still left to do virtually all the unpaid and undervalued work within it. We’re criticised for having children and going to work, for having children and not going to work, and for not having children. In media, we’re an afterthought, reduced to archetypes, and the structural violence against us is sometimes glorified. We’re underrepresented in politics, in law, in science, in virtually all positions of power. As noted above, we’re talked over. We’re shouted down. In many cases, we’re literally silenced. It’s normal. It’s something we’re used to. It usually goes completely unnoticed.

And you’re outraged because a woman disagreed with you on the internet?!

Yes, feminists are often angry – there’s a lot to be angry about. As we’ve seen this week, certain cis men think they can have a say in what those of us with a uterus should do with it. Even if we ignore the fact that this “debate” was organised by a pro-life group, frankly, our healthcare rights should not be up for debate, at least not between people that can only see it as an intellectual exercise – a sport, even. And no, they’re not “objective”, because nobody can be. After opposition and a planned protest, the college due to host the event pulled out.

“Students are killing freedom of speech!” the men declared to the world, from their fucking newspaper columns. Seriously. You couldn’t make it up.

“But why wouldn’t you allow a debate?” Maybe because to us, this is not a game. We might be seen as argumentative, but I for one don’t enjoy having to “debate” my own human rights. It’s demeaning to be constantly asked to justify why we deserve to be seen as full humans. Or maybe it’s because we know how this “debate” is going to end before it even starts; we’re not silent, complaint background decorations, so we’ll be seen as an aggressive irrational mob compared to the calm and rational cis men – who, of course, are calm because they’re not the ones who constantly have to put up with such constant policing of their bodies and life choices. We’d be laughed off.

Which brings me back to those men who like to deliberately stir up arguments on online feminist discussion groups. Because to them, it’s funny.

It’s funny when feminists get angry.

It’s funny when women get angry.

And I am so, so fucking tired of being seen as a wind-up toy.


“Innocent Until Proven Miscarriage Of Justice”: Ched Evans, rape apologists, and a sudden silence on the legal system

(Trigger warning: Rape, harassment, victim-blaming, rape culture generally)

The criminal system in England and Wales operates under the legal principle that a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty; as anyone who’s ever publicly believed a rape survivor will know, because no doubt you’ve been told this a thousand times over by people who see it as a get-out-of-jail-free card (literally) for all those accused of a crime that really isn’t taken seriously enough as it is. Really, though, these people care more about maintaining the status quo of rape culture than any legal principle – otherwise, they wouldn’t be simultaneously presuming the accuser to be guilty of making a false accusation, and they’d join everyone else in condemning accused rapists if and when they are convicted.

In April 2012, Ched Evans was convicted of rape. Convicted. The very definition of “proven guilty”.

Evans himself maintains his innocence, as do his fans, and other people who are generally vocal about not believing rape survivors ever. “Miscarriage of justice” apparently. Whenever an acquittal of rape hits the headlines, or a case that never reaches trial, many of these same people don’t acknowledge that miscarriages of justice exist; he hasn’t been proven guilty in a court of law, they say, therefore he must be innocent (and by extension, the accuser must be lying) – this, despite the current shockingly poor conviction rate that so often discourages survivors from coming forward in the first place. So it’s telling that, when a guilty verdict happens, the world suddenly notices that the legal system is flawed. There’s a support website with the aim of clearing Evans’ name. “Judge for yourself” it implores, invoking the usual tropes about women generally and rape survivors in particular being irrational, liars or just plain wrong.

Proven guilty – but that didn’t stop people harassing the survivor. Accusing her of lying for money and attention, although in reality there’s no money coming from anywhere and the woman is anonymous; in fact, it’s those who accuse her of lying for attention that have tried to reveal her identity, to give her the attention she doesn’t actually want so they can use it against her. The sadly commonplace victim-blaming; she should take responsibility for being drunk (note that she feared her drink had been spiked), she shouldn’t have been alone at night, she shouldn’t feel entitled to exist whilst female in a public space, the works. The threats – some explicit, some more subtle about speaking out against a convicted rapist having “repercussions they could regret”. This woman – the victim of the crime, not the perpetrator – was eventually pushed to flee the country and change her identity.

Evans, having been found guilty, was sentenced to five years; last month he was released from prison after half of that sentence. Just to reiterate: Two and a half years, for rape. Apparently, he’s “learned his lesson” and so deserves to walk straight back into his professional football career. How someone can maintain their innocence and at the same time claim to have learned their lesson is beyond me. He’s apologised… but only to his girlfriend, for cheating on her. He has yet to apologise to the woman he raped (express language I still find difficult to use because, despite being convicted in court, the media continue to use words like “alleged” and “claimed” and put details of the crime in quotation marks), who in contrast has to spend the rest of her life living with the consequences of somebody else’s actions against her; not only the trauma of the rape itself, but the effects of the harassment and victim-blaming that followed.

Those constantly silenced by the manipulation of innocent-until-proven-guilty to defend accused rapists have found themselves having to carry out the same level of campaigning even when the situation involves a convicted rapist. Or, according to the rape apologists, “looking for attention”. Yes, we do want people to pay attention to us, because frankly the whole situation is just awful – others, on the other hand, would prefer this to just blow over, like so many other “isolated incidents” of sexual violence before it, because otherwise we’d have to start challenging current gender politics and we don’t want that, do we? There are claims – making national headlines – that Evans, the convicted rapist, is a “victim of feminists”. Let’s not forget that this isn’t some hypothetical debate, but a real incident of violent crime that happened, and Evans was the perpetrator, not the victim.

Today, Sheffield United indirectly referred to the change.org petition calling for the club to drop Evans as “mob justice”, despite taking no action whatsoever, not even so much as a statement, when a section of their fans harassed a rape survivor who dared speak out, revealed her identity online, and continue to send online abuse to anyone supporting her. But an online petition calling for a legally proven crime to be taken seriously? That’s mob justice. A letter to a local newspaper, published as the “Star Letter”, reduced this petition to “supporters of other clubs who have ‘clicked a mouse’ against him, not once but many times”. I’ll ignore the fact that you need to enter your details and an e-mail address to sign the petition and instead focus on this: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOUR FOOTBALL RIVALRIES. This is a pattern I’ve also noticed with the recent high-profile incidents of racial abuse; many fans decide who is and isn’t blameworthy in a way that conveniently has positive consequences for teams they like, and negative consequences for teams they don’t. It’s why my brother thinks the racial slurs by Luis Suarez were just blown out of proportion but John Terry deserved everything he got, whereas my dad thinks exactly the opposite. The oppressions behind the incidents – the very real, very damaging oppressions – are ignored entirely.

There are also claims that preventing Evans from return to his high-profile role, in which he and his colleagues are seen as role models by many, is the same as preventing him from integrating into society. Not so. Football is just one job. You wouldn’t re-employ a teacher, or a doctor, after being found guilty of rape, and besides, the media have happily called for the sacking of employees for much much less, and even for the deportation of immigrants they accuse of committing much lesser crimes; with Evans being white, male and famous, though, we are instead being asked to offer him a second chance even when he has been convicted of his crime.

It’s also worth noting at this point that being prevented from integrating into society is actually what’s happened to the woman who reported the crime against her, but I suppose her welfare won’t affect the League One table so maybe that’s why people don’t seem to care as much.

So, it looks increasingly likely that Ched Evans, found guilty of rape, will make a return to football. There are already terrace chants referring to the rape, mocking it, mocking the survivor. Aside from that, the focus will probably return to his actions on the pitch, his rape conviction will fade from the public eye, and the world will forget.

Imagine being the victim of sexual violence at the hands of a perpetrator who happened to be famous, reading the newspapers, knowing how these events have played out. Would you still report your rape? I highly doubt I would.

And this is what happens when the person accused of rape is proven guilty. Because these people aren’t really interested in innocent-until-proven-guilty at all, unless it suits their rape apologism.


Autistics Speaking Day 2014: Human

(This post is my submission for Autistics Speaking Day. There are loads of great posts on there already, and many more will be added today and over the next few days, so please go and have a look!)

Hello there. Let me introduce myself. I’m a human.

I have a name, although I don’t really use it on here. I’m a student, a blogger, a feminist, a sister, a daughter, a grand-daughter, a friend, an autistic. Not mutually exclusive.

Right now, I’m typing this because I lack the necessary executive function skills to stop what I’m doing and actually get a good night’s sleep. That, or I’m just enthusiastic about this post. In reality, it’s a bit of both. Also, like so many of my fellow humans, I spend far too much of my life procrastinating from studying. I take BuzzFeed quizzes, I tidy up, I play 2048, I make tea, I listen to music, I pace and pace and pace across the floor on my tiptoes because that’s what music does- sorry, does that sound weird? Fair enough, I suppose some people prefer coffee. But at the end of the day, I almost always somehow manage to get that essay written on time, and I tend to last longer with actually going to the lectures than a lot of my friends too; maintaining the routine helps me feel safer.

Outside of that, I play guitar (or rather, I should practice more often!), I go to a few student societies, and I quietly blog, mainly about feminism and autism, under the world’s least imaginative pseudonym. I’m currently catching up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I also really like Doctor Who. Really like Doctor Who. Nonononono but you don’t understand. Actually, I think you might; there’s no bold obvious line where the “slightly above average level of fandom enthusiasm” ends and the “autistic special interest” begins.

When you first meet me, I am almost definitely quiet. Nervous. Awkward. I’m better at the whole “people” thing some days than others, depending on a million and one other factors. Sometimes I feel like I can take on all the world, sometimes I feel like it’s all going to crash down on top of me, most of the time I’m somewhere in the middle. This doesn’t make me “high-functioning” nor “low-functioning”. I don’t suddenly regress, or am suddenly cured. I have varying emotions, and I have varying energy levels, being a human and all. Having said that, I find online interaction far easier even just amongst people I know in real life. On Facebook, I’m known for my love of and constant use of reaction GIFs, despite sometimes finding real-life, real-time facial expressions impossible to navigate; I don’t have any logical explanation for this, but maybe that’s okay. I mean, most people don’t find themselves having to explain their personality to people like that.

Let’s go back to emotions for a second. There still seems to be some confusion on this re: autistic people for some reason, so just to confirm, I do have them. It’s just that they’re often over- or under-expressed. I cry with laughter far, far more often than I cry with… um, crying, which is a rare occurrence. Unless, of course, I’m having a meltdown. Anger, frustration, lashing out was a real problem when I was younger, but these days I’m better able to nip those situations in the bud before they arise, and rant freely into the void of the internet instead. These days, I think it’s fair to say that my primary emotion is fear. I’m scared of talking to people, family arguments, sudden loud noises, sudden total darkness, crowds, my ex-boyfriend, and yesterday I managed to creep myself out – intentionally, in a sort of fun way – watching YouTube videos of game corruptions. But my biggest fear, for some reason, is probably that pesky heat/suffocation/being-trapped combo that, combined also with an actual over-sensitivity to temperature and humidity, just sort of gets in the way of everything far too much. But I’ve totally missed out on the whole bugs-and-spiders thing so, y’know, swings and roundabouts. Anyway, sometimes I panic and/or get too overloaded with sensory input, so I have a meltdown or, more commonly, a shutdown. If I can get out and get back to my room or somewhere else that’s nice and safe and quiet, these days I can generally handle it myself. What I can’t handle is your judgement.

Yet, despite the perceptions of autism as a tragedy, I find that the good is at the very least equal to the bad. Sound hypersensitivity means that music is even better, for one thing. Special interests are just the best thing, many of which have stemmed from music, although of course there’s Doctor Who too. And I’ve grown to love my neurodivergent body language, even as those around me don’t understand it or, in some cases, want to suppress it because it’s weird and therefore bad or because they think some other group of people won’t like it (and they say autistics don’t have a concept of irony…). My fingers flutter or fly inwards in defence, I tap the walls, the tables, the floor, my toes bounce with my full weight whether I’m pacing in my room or exploring the outside world and I’ve never had to think about high heels, I repeat words and phrases to myself and rehearse and perfect my lines for the conversation I’m about to have, I’m jumpy and twitchy and sorry sorry sorry sorrysorrysorrysorry. Okay, so that last bit’s sort of a pain, but I’ve even found it to be a great conversation starter. It’s a thing I do; it’s a part of me as much as everything else I’ve mentioned. I’m not perfect. I’m human.

I worry about how I’m going to get my work done on time, how I’m going to talk to whoever I need to talk to without drawing a complete blank and not being able to use words, my family and friends back home, what to have for dinner, how on earth I didn’t immediately realise that remark was sarcastic, the weather, the weather, what I’m going to do this weekend, if that guy could even possibly like me back, if I could even possibly risk going to that social event that sounds really fun and exciting but also loud and crowded and scary, whether or not the world and its people can overcome and recover from the effects of kyriarchy, whether or not I can overcome and recover from the effects of that constant, constant, constant feeling I’m being judged for not being neurotypical.

My autism cannot be separated from my humanity; my autism is a part of my humanity. To me, all person-first language does is imply that my autistic traits need to be somehow isolated from the rest of my personality for me to be seen as, well, a person. But they’re not. I am multi-faceted. I can be good, bad, flawed, happy, sad, angry, scared, so so scared, strong, weak, changing, all of the above. Most of the time, my general state of being has been influenced by my being autistic, positively, negatively, sometimes both. So, because I’m often afraid to be visibly neurodivergent in public, I’m often afraid to be multi-faceted around other people too. Of course, then I’m apparently too robot-like and stereotypical and feel bad for that too, but I digress.

I’m autistic. I’m also a person. An autistic person. And if that doesn’t make sense to you, perhaps you need to re-think your idea of what is required to be human.


“But won’t SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?!”

(TRIGGER WARNING: Mention of sexual abuse, including child abuse. This post may be NSFW [although text-only]. Also, I’m heterosexual and cis, so please feel free to let me know if I’ve messed up in any way with regard to people who aren’t!)

Earlier this week, I came across this great Vice.com article by Cliff Joannu on the massive need for sex education in the UK to acknowledge same-sex relationships. A few minutes later, I came across the comments on the Facebook post that directed me to it. And I started reading these comments. A word of advice – don’t.

Currently, in so many places, what passes for “sex and relationship education” is little more than the biology of penis-in-vagina sex and pregnancy, and if you’re lucky, contraception. Nothing about relationships, nothing about communication, nothing about consent, nothing about any aspects of sex other than PIV, and nothing at all about marginalised sexualities and/or gender identities. This is woefully inadequate. Yet, calls for any sort of improvement on this, however minor, are invariably met with similar responses: children and teenagers are apparently too young to understand, teaching children this stuff is somehow imposing opinions on them, it’s seen as something children aren’t supposed to be aware of, won’t SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?!?!

Firstly, in the context of the more explicit stages of sex education, when someone mentions “children” it’s likely that they mean teenagers or at least children who are nearing the end of primary education, not four-year-olds as the naysayers tend to wilfully misinterpret. Secondly, the existence of trans people, non-binary genders, and sexualities other than heterosexual is not up for debate, and definitely not just an opinion. Thirdly, those who claim we should not be teaching this stuff to children forget that we are already teaching this stuff to children.

With the state of media representation and what passes for SRE as it is, we’re teaching children that only straight cis people exist, and anyone else – and it’s likely that at least one person in that classroom is, or will grow up to be, in a marginalised group - is not only inherently bad, but totally alone in their experiences. Won’t somebody think of those children, or is it just the cis heterosexual ones that matter? It seems we’re happy to teach heteronormativity and cisnormativity; it’s only when someone suggests we start including everyone in SRE that people are suddenly up in arms about imposing particular views and children not being able to understand. Here’s a thought – the only reason children would currently find marginalised sexualities and gender identities confusing or inexplicable is because they’ve grown up in a world that systematically denies their existence.

Roughly the same argument can be applied to consent – we’re already living in a rape culture, we’re already teaching children these myths, victim-blaming tactics and total disregard for consent, but nobody complains about imposing these views on children at too young an age. Children who never learn about their inherent right to say no grow up into adults who don’t feel able to say no. Unfortunately, not only will many adults encounter sexual abuse in their lifetime, but some children already are, and they need to know – we all need to know – that what is happening to them is not okay, not “just normal”, and certainly not their fault.

“Thinking of the children” requires thinking of all children, not just a hypothetical class full of straight cis children who have somehow grown up without being informed by the current general bigotry of the world. Sex and relationship education – and I don’t just mean a quick biology lesson on where babies come from – is so, so important.

Otherwise, we’re just passing on these heteronormative, cisnormative, and patriarchal attitudes to sex and relationships by default.


Weight of Living: Executive function, routine, and sorting my life out

(Trigger warning: discussion of food, specifically the issues I have in making food happen. Oh, and today’s song-title-used-as-blog-title comes from here!)

In a shocking plot twist, I promised blog posts in a certain time-frame and have actually delivered for onceIf all goes to plan, blog posts will be written and published on Wednesday evenings like clockwork until at least Christmas. Well, almost clockwork – at some point I’m bound to miss one, or I’ll be busy doing something else, or something along those lines – but to start with, I need to follow my new “on Wednesday evenings, I blog” rule so that it becomes a norm. Because at the moment, I am in serious need of some routine. So, why is it that many autistic people often plan and stick to fairly rigid routines? Obviously I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I have a number of reasons. Long-term, one major reason is fear of uncertainty which essentially boils down to fear of sensory overload/not handling it/whatever else – in other words, problems with the nature of the deviation - but in this post, I’m going to focus on the routines themselves. It might be helpful to first read Musings Of An Aspie’s summary of executive function and recent post on the spoon theory.

At the moment, I’m on a new course in a new university in a new city in a new country, so in many ways I’m starting from scratch. The baseline – the straightforward bit - is formed by everything that needs to take place at certain times, so in my case that’s lectures and classes. They’re all planned out for me. But once they’ve been slotted in, I’m left with a finite block of time in which to do the work for the classes, socialise enough to not feel massively left out, blog, complete a couple of application forms for summer internships, vaguely attempt to keep up with Tumblr and my main fandoms, buy and cook and eat food, sleep, keep the place clean… Yep, it looks like I’m officially grown up. Contrary to popular belief, autistic adults exist! Anyway, if I leave it at “this is your time, this is what you need and want to do with it, go”, I will forget things. I’ll forget to blog, and then end up leaving it for weeks at a time. Or I’ll forget about applying for internships, so they won’t happen. Or, who knows, I might forget to eat, which evidently shouldn’t happen. Setting up vaguely regular times at which to do these things means I’m more likely to actually do them. The other issue with leaving myself with just an amount of time and a list of things to do with it is overload – half the time I already feel like there’s too much going on to process, so the sheer number of things I need to keep in my head means it all seems completely impossible and consequently none of it gets done. To the point that yesterday, when a special interest decided to rear its head completely out of the blue, my immediate thought was “great, another thing I’ll have to deal with” and clearly that’s not ideal!!

As a student, I’ve got used to regular cycles of new baseline of contact hours -> previous routine no longer available -> PANIC -> eventually create new routines and consequently sort my life out. The current situation is of course a little different – I’m not in the same place with a different timetable, I’m somewhere completely new and that means the general sorting-my-life out is a slow and ongoing process – but the principles are the same. It often takes quite some time to sort out; one Friday evening, I cleaned the room and thought “I’ll clean my room on Friday evenings after the lecture” but the following week, it became apparent that if I was going out on a Friday night cleaning probably wouldn’t happen so cleaning day was revised to Sunday, only for that day to end up being really busy in terms of doing the reading for the classes, so it’s been revised (as of today) to Wednesday. Meanwhile, last week, I realised I’d have my essays out of the way by Wednesday, and therefore I’d have a decent block of time to write a blog post; so now posts will be published on Wednesday evenings, and this set time should hopefully ensure that I actually do bother to write posts regularly! Everything else, over the coming weeks, will gradually also begin to slot into place.

…And once all that’s sorted, there’s the small matter of the self care stuff you literally have to do to survive. Like eating. Food is hard. On the one hand, the standard vague socially acceptable mealtimes means there’s sort of already a routine in place for remembering to eat. On the other hand, first you need to work out what you’re going to have. And buy everything you need, if you don’t have it already. And then have time and energy left over to actually make it. Sounds simple, but for some reason it never has been. The solution, as thought up earlier today: like everything else, planning ahead. I should know, when I’m buying food, what I’m going to have for dinner for the next couple of days. I should consider that on Tuesday I only have just over an hour in between classes in the evening, on Wednesday I’ll have just finished two late nights writing essays, on Thursday I won’t get home until fairly late, etc, etc. My cooking skills are somewhere just marginally above non-existent, so perhaps once a week (provisionally Fridays or Saturdays) I should try and do something different, because increasing my options is surely only going to make things easier.

It’s a slow process, but once I’ve got routines for most things, I don’t tend to have any problems with sometimes deviating from them, as long as it’s expected and vaguely prepared for. It’s just a matter of waiting for a plan that works, and knowing that eventually, everything will be so much easier.


Human vulnerability doesn’t make you subhuman

Sorry again for not being around very much – I’ve finally got something vaguely resembling a routine, and for the foreseeable future (i.e. until Christmas) it looks like my weekly blog post will be published on Wednesday evenings. I’m mainly telling you this in order to peer-pressure myself into actually publishing a blog post every week.

I’m one month into my year abroad, and it’s been absolutely incredible, but absolutely exhausting too. I’ve had to re-adapt to a different kind of unfamiliar-and-overwhelming environment, and I’m finally starting to get there – I’ve got most of the administrative stuff done, I’ve getting the hang of Super-Serious-Grown-Up-Having-To-Look-After-Myself-University-Mode again, and I’m starting to get the hang of studying here too. But I’m not there yet. Never mind being there with leftover energy to spend on other things. There are lots of old and new habits that I want to get (back) into, just as soon as I can fit it into my head on top of everything else, and until then I’ll feel bad about them. Above all, I feel bad for not blogging enough.

Sometimes, I’ve briefly delved into Twitter to read a few things and internally get angry at the world – notably this fantastic article by Reni Eddo-Lodge on that pervasive housework-imbalance issue which you should go and read. Well, go on then. This post will still be here when you’re done. That is precisely the sort of thing that usually sends me running to a blank WordPress page in frustration, and because ultimately I hadn’t – because ultimately I couldn’t – I felt like I was being a bad feminist for neglecting the blog, especially as I still haven’t worked out where and how I can do offline feminist stuff around here. And then I realised that, aside from the internalised ableism in that thought process, the patriarchy’s existence is obviously not due to my failure to blog about it.

Anyway, this all got me thinking about how any vulnerability shown by one woman is perceived as evidence of some inherent weakness in all, and this often leaves us ashamed to be anything less than Wonder Woman as opposed to the human beings that we are.

(Image from XKCD)

I’ve felt guilty for all the times I’ve felt overwhelmed, helpless and in need of a rescue (TARDIS not necessary but highly encouraged), because it feels like the stereotypical damsel in distress which I would then be assumed to be at all times. I’ve felt guilty for all the times I’ve relied on others, just in case it’s taken as evidence of some innate inability to be independent. I’ve felt guilty for all the times I’ve been, in hindsight, overly emotional. I’ve felt guilty for making silly mistakes. I’ve felt guilty for being absolutely awful at sports. I’ve felt guilty for liking stereotypically “girly” things. You get the idea. I’m sure I’m not alone.

And we shouldn’t feel guilty. Firstly, men are not seen as a hive mind of clones where any random individual represents the whole, so why should we be seen as such? Secondly, these stereotypes have been imposed on us; we did not create them, and the onus should not be on us to eliminate them. Thirdly, the problem with current gender stereotypes isn’t just that women are seen as perpetually vulnerable when of course that isn’t true; that vulnerability is also seen as an awful thing because it is associated with women.

In fact, as humans, we all have moments of weakness. We all occasionally need a helping hand. We’re human. We’re vulnerable. At the moment, it feels like men struggle to admit this for fear of the backlash of contradicting gender stereotypes, and women struggle to admit this for fear of the backlash of reinforcing them. Neither is healthy.

You’re allowed to be human, and have human emotions. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad feminist.

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Abroad Whilst Autistic: A few personal observations

For the past month or so, I’ve basically been non-existent on here. This is because, well, I’m now on my year abroad with uni. Obviously I’d rather keep the details sketchy, but I’m in France, I’ve been here for two weeks, I’m studying here, I’m part of a decent-sized group of people from my university back home, and we’ve also befriended a few people living in our building from another UK university. And while I’m fairly settled now, it’s been a really bumpy ride. Anyway, I thought I’d share a few autism-related things I’d noticed along the way. These are, of course, my personal experiences (and I’d love to hear some different ones), so your mileage may vary.

  • I don’t seem to speak French as well as the others – not because of the French, but because of the speaking. As someone who can usually make words happen at least to some extent back home, I forget how frustrating it is when you can’t. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much of the introductory lectures I understand (although, having said that, they are specifically aimed at international students), and a lot of the time, I can say what I need to. Where things start going wrong is in exactly the same areas where I have problems even in my own language. At home, sometimes I can be thrown off by any sort of uncertainty over what I need to say (which means I can’t script before hand), an unexpected turn in the conversation, or nerves; this, at worst, leads to some mildly-incoherent babbling with frequent interjections of “sorry”. However, I don’t currently have any French equivalent for “mildly incoherent babbling” so when the same situations occur here, what happens instead is a terrified silence, occasionally followed by a frustrated yelp when the other person starts speaking English instead because, nine times out of ten, that wasn’t the problem, and by that point I’m panicking and a friend ends up intervening anyway. Hence why one person who, by chance, managed to get into the same bank appointment as me ended up carrying the whole thing, to the extent that the person dealing with us expressly wondered a.) how it could be possible that we arrived on the same day and b.) why I was so scared of her. Hence why, the first time we went to a student restaurant for lunch, I went completely blank and screamed when the person behind the counter started trying out other languages. Hence why I feel like I’m hiding constantly behind the big group, and then feel awful for it.
  • Echolalia is through the roof – and almost exclusively in French. Yep, I think I finally truly understand the various things I’ve heard about autistic people (usually children) learning speech through echolalia. There’s even more of it on nights out, probably because there’s a point where everyone else is too drunk to notice and I let my guard down. It currently mostly consists of: things I’ve read on signs, advertisements etc.; something a friend has just said in French; the French translation of something simple a friend has just said in English; and the French translation of something simple that I’ve just thought (not sure if that last one counts?). When I’m not talking to an actual person (and under massive pressure to actually get it right), I love playing with the language.
  • OVERLOAD, OVERLOAD EVERYWHERE. My ability to deal with stuff is currently little to none. Relatively speaking, I haven’t been here very long, and while I feel much more settled now than I did last week, I still feel like I’m constantly miles away from my comfort zone (282 miles, to be exact), there are a million background tasks running under the name “DEAL WITH THIS”, and that obviously takes its toll. So at the moment, I’m freaking out over tiny little things, and adult-life-stuff is even more of a mountain to climb than normal. At uni back home, the “making food happen” thing often falls apart at the cooking stage; here, it’s falling apart at the buying-food stage, although in the long run the food thing in particular has actually been less of an issue because we’ve all been chipping in and having dinner together most nights.
  • In short, it’s currently much more massively obvious than usual that I’m not neurotypical. At least to my friends – the random people I encounter once throughout daily life in shops etc. probably just assume I don’t understand French, I guess. Amongst my friends here, some of them know I’m autistic but some don’t (and the people who I’ve only met here certainly don’t, unless they’ve worked it out for themselves) so at some point I’m going to do some sort of express “hey, in case you were wondering, I’m autistic, which explains this and this and this…” Facebook post – if anyone knows of any quick, simple and not-awful Autism 101 online resources, I’d be grateful if you could recommend some for this purpose! Aside from that, I’m thinking about making a written disclosure card like those produced by Autistic Hoya, but obviously in French; or, at the very least, sitting down one day and putting together relevant French scripts which don’t expressly disclose my autism but can be used to let people know what I’m struggling with and what, if anything, can be done about it.
  • I need to learn to adapt all over again. This will take time. It’s nothing new. In the meantime, I need to get it into my head that neurodiversity is great, I’m okay just the way I am, and it’s. I know this, on paper, but in practice it’s harder.
  • People are often much more understanding and supportive than I give them credit for. I’m lucky enough to have the support of a great bunch of people, most of whom I already knew from uni, and over the past couple of weeks they’ve gradually made it very clear that I should go knock on somebody’s door if I panic, I shouldn’t feel pressured to go out every time they do, and generally that they’re not massively judging me for having the audacity to be autistic in their presence. Over the years I’ve developed a tendency to assume that people are going to be awful, but it turns out that isn’t always the case.
  • Despite doubts over the summer, I don’t regret my decision to do the year abroad at all.

“And now, for a limited time only, we’re going to treat you like full human beings!”

If you’ve vaguely been able to access the internet in the past couple of months, you’ll probably have heard that, following pressure from consumers including an online petition, Lego decided to acknowledge that female scientists exist and that more generally women can do things other than shopping. Shocking, I know. [sarcasm] Now, I’d like to note at this point that representation isn’t solely a Lego problem; be it on TV, in film, in books and comics, in video games, in toys like Lego, everywhere, the only people that seem to be given constant and thorough representation are white, abled, cis, heterosexual men. Of course, the rest of us do feature to various extents, but only within narrow, same-y stereotypes and often sidelined into supporting roles. And if there is any decent, diverse, multi-dimensional representation of anyone else, it’s a special exception that’s supposed to magically fix everything. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the question “why are there no characters in [insert groups here]” answered with “BUT WHAT ABOUT [insert one or two characters in that group here]“. And if you’re in more than one marginalised group, the problem becomes much, much worse. Sometimes, for instance, people will say something like “seriously, what do you want, a disabled lesbian of colour?” and it’s very telling that the very idea of this is seen as ridiculous. It shouldn’t be, it should be normal, because (for example) disabled lesbians of colour are real and exist, and should therefore be portrayed as such.

Why is it that one fairly narrow group of people can be represented literally everywhere as a “normal” default, whilst everyone else is “other” and has to make do with one or two exceptional characters because any more than that is “overkill” or “political correctness gone too far”?

Anyway, back to Lego’s line of female scientists. Amidst the fantastic response, and resulting publicity and sales, to acknowledging that female scientists exist and that women can do things other than shopping, Lego neglected to mention that, as brilliantly reported here by Margot Magowan, the set was only ever intended to be a limited edition. I tweeted that article the other day, and I don’t know what’s happened to cause this but yesterday it seemed to take off – thanks for all the replies, and I’m really sorry I neglected my Twitter account for too long to properly go through them all! However, I noticed quite a few tweets pointing out that Lego sets and the like are created and discontinued all the time, with the implication that, as this doesn’t seem to be deliberate, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Well, it is a big deal. Because women are not limited edition; women are not special exceptions.

Ideally, all genders would be represented in diverse roles on a level playing field, and when a female-centred set is discontinued, it wouldn’t be an issue because there would be loads of others on the market, and it’s almost certain to be replaced eventually. Instead, the default is male, which is why the line of female scientists was received so well in the first place, and this is why discontinuing the set is a big deal; it’s discontinuing one of the very few positive examples of female representation. Yes, this Lego set was part of a fan competition and was therefore always intended to be limited edition, but that doesn’t make it okay either. Firstly, funnily enough the “limited edition” part was swept under the carpet when everyone was singing Lego’s praises for actually acknowledging women exist. Secondly, women shouldn’t have to rely on fan-competition input to be positive represented in just one non-stereotyped set. As I said above, this set being limited edition wouldn’t be a problem if women were given decent representation equal to that of men in the first place.

Having positive representation of women and other marginalised groups only as limited edition, only on special occasions, furthers the idea of anyone but white abled cis heterosexual men as an exception from the (white, abled, cis, heterosexual, male) “norm”. Taking the credit for such great representation whilst planning to quietly remove it furthers the idea that such sporadic, limited, occasional positive representation is enough. It isn’t. It really isn’t.

Men should not be default. Women should not be an occasional limited edition rarity.

A petition to reinstate the aforementioned Lego set can be found here.

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Unpacking The Fandom Police

Here we go again: about two weeks from now, I will be incessantly bouncing off the walls because of the impending new series of Doctor Who… Actually, I’m doing that already. Oh dear. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks. Anyway, since I started this blog, there’s been a recurring pattern of “exciting Doctor Who thing happens —> I see loads of fandom gatekeeping —> I rant about it on here” and, as I ended up reading Facebook comments this morning, this is no exception. So, let’s get rid of a few elitist myths about fandoms so we can all get back to, you know, enjoying them.

1.) You’re not obliged to toe a party line. Love a series, episode, character, film, scene, album, song… aspect of the fandom that everyone else hates? Or vice versa? Fine. Fandoms don’t have to be hive minds. (We have Daleks for that.) It doesn’t mean you’re not a real fan, or that you’re somehow less intelligent as many fandom elitists like to imply, or that you’re wrong. Basically, you’re allowed to enjoy things, or not.

2a.) You’re entitled to your opinion – and others are entitled to criticise it. Contrary to popular belief, you’re not the only one entitled to an opinion. More generally, this line of thinking is often used to defend bigotry; for example, someone may justify their homophobic view with “free speech, I’m entitled to my opinion”, then when it’s called out dismiss the criticism as an attack because “free speech, I’m entitled to my opinion”. This happens pretty much everywhere, including within fandoms. Also, see point 1, we’re not Daleks, etc. 2b.) Some opinions are more potentially harmful than others. Basically, there’s a difference between “actually, I thought that album was okay” and “actually, I thought that sexist joke was okay”; only one of those may contribute to the perpetuation of an existing oppression.

3a.) You’re allowed to like problematic media. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be allowed to like anything. The “fans vs feminists” divide isn’t real – you can be both! 3b.) You’re allowed to NOT like problematic media. This doesn’t make you humourless, or a spoilsport, or a killjoy, it just means you don’t want to put up with kyriarchy – and, of course, you shouldn’t have to.

4.) You’re allowed to criticise the media you love. To give a personal example, there have been several occasions when I’ve discussed sexism within Doctor Who and/or the fandom on Twitter, only to be met with the response that I’m picking on it. Apparently, I should be focusing on all of media all at once, but anyway: I talk more about Doctor Who because it’s where I actually know what I’m talking about. I talk more about Doctor Who because, well, I bloody love Doctor Who. That’s why I’m bothering to discuss it. That’s why (for instance) sexist tropes and fandom gatekeeping sadden me. If anything, criticising the media you love is a compliment; it means you believe it could be even better.

5.) You’re allowed to be late to the party. If you’re a fan now, you’re not less of one for not being there from the start. Going back to Doctor Who again (sorry…), us under-50s were all late to the party, many new Who fans haven’t seen any classic Who, and (while I’d thoroughly recommend classic Who) that’s okay.

6.) Mainstream isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Older fans of long-running fandoms such as… you can see where this is going, will remember a time when fandom and geekery were shameful and secretive. Nowadays, this isn’t really the case at all. As a younger fan who doesn’t really remember otherwise, I find it really interesting to hear about all that stuff, but sometimes it does inadvertently veer into “these darn kids are getting something for nothing” and, well, surely that’s only a good thing?

7.) (heavy sarcasm in this one) HUGE REVELATION – You’re allowed to be attracted to characters/actors. Yes, even if you’re *GASP* a woman. Furthermore – and this may sound astonishing to some – it is entirely possible to be attracted to characters without it being the central reason you are a fan. And even if that was the reason you got into the fandom in the first place – does it really matter? Shockingly, you don’t actually have to choose between being attracted to people and appreciating what they do, being attracted to characters and also liking other characters, etc, etc. You can still be a fan. Note how it’s only ever female sexuality which is ridiculed as shallow and used to dismiss women within the fandom (no change there, then). And for the record, you’re also allowed to not bother with any of that.

8.) If you like the thing, you can call yourself a real fan. Seriously. That’s all it entails. You don’t have to buy X pieces of merch, or go to X number of events, or know absolutely everything there is to know about it, or have seen/read/listened to/consumed every last bit of related media that exists, or cosplay, or write fanfic, or read it, or anything else. You’re allowed to get things wrong. You’re even allowed to call the Doctor “Doctor Who” or even “Dr Who” – I mean, the original credits did. It doesn’t matter. You just need to like the thing.

9.) You’re allowed to be a casual fan! You’re allowed to just dip into an episode every so often and not care about missing out. You’re even allowed to just wear the T-shirts without knowing all that much about the band. Yes, really. Doing so doesn’t hurt anybody.

10.) Be wary of false panic about other fans. Again, I’ll stick with what I know for this one. I’ve seen so much OUTRAGE about fans thinking Peter Capaldi is too old… but I haven’t actually seen one person say Peter Capaldi is too old. I’ve seen so much fangirls (and it is always girls, see point 11) for apparently referring to Matt Smith as “the third Doctor”… but I haven’t actually seen a single person do that. I’ve seen several posts angry at fans trying to change the fandom name… but I haven’t seen anyone outside those posts actually doing so. There’s a lot of faux-outrage out there.

11.) Question who benefits from this gatekeeping/elitism and how. Even if “fake fans” existed, they wouldn’t be hurting anyone, so why is there all this fuss? Note how quite a bit of this gatekeeping specifically references “girls”, “teenage girls”, “fangirls”, but note also that even when it doesn’t, it’s often coded as being aimed at women (teenage girls in particular) through references to fandoms seen as female-dominated (One Direction being a popular one) and mocked accordingly. Look into the “fake geek girl” trope, and pay attention to double standards.



The Almost Shutdown

I’m not going to be around this weekend, so I’d planned to just not write a blog post until next week. However, I have time to kill and experiences I’d like to try and make sense of, so here I am!

You know that horrible feeling where you really want to cry but for some reason just can’t make it happen? During intense and/or prolonged sensory overload, I get a very similar feeling, a feeling of “I wish I’d just go into meltdown already.” Both, at least to an extent, seem to me to be based on validation; we’re all constantly pressured to hide our feelings for as long as we can help it, so at least if we reach the point where we genuinely can’t, somebody might take notice and give you the support you need. For those of us who are neurodivergent, the insistence on hiding right up until breaking point is tenfold; we’re taught to lie that we’re okay to avoid inevitably being dismissed as over-reacting or even manipulative, and the tell-tale signs that escape anyway are often ignored or misinterpreted by those around us.

Having said that, both feelings are also based on the need for a release, and the frustration of being denied one by your own resilience.

Regular readers will roll their eyes at this sentence but just to make sure everyone’s up to speed, I don’t handle heatwaves well, which I’ve written about here and, well, generally all over the place on my blog and Twitter. Sorry about that. Anyway, with a lot of avoidance, distraction and then guilt about it later, I’ve so far evaded the threat of a meltdown or a full shutdown, but a couple of days ago I seem to have hit some sort of wall and I’ve been in what I can only describe as a constant state of “almost shutdown” ever since; so, I thought, seeing as I still seem to be thinking clearly enough to write a blog post, I might as well talk about it!

This is the weird part, for me; I feel like I’m in shutdown, but I can still motivate myself to write a blog post; in fact, having been fortunate enough to be invited to contribute to a compilation of tips for working with autistic children (EDIT: that piece has since been published on the AutismPlusLandE website and can be found here), this is realistically the second short blog post I’ve written in 24 hours. I’ve yet again developed an insatiable appetite for music as a distraction, but it seems I now can’t blog and listen to music at the same time because that’s too much input; yet I still can’t help but hear all ongoing conversations, which make me anxious because of the loud intertwining voices and chance of potential conflict. My unscripted verbal ability is very variable, sometimes minimal, but I could go to the shops with my parents this morning without incident, albeit quietly and unenthusiastically, and I even made actual conversation happen with Dad just now. I’ve started to find eating difficult but I know when I need to eat and can make myself do so. Sometimes I feel too alert, really oversensitive and overloaded and I can feel the beginnings of the vibrations of a meltdown or shutdown in my arms, but other times I just feel completely wiped out. I’ve been stimming a lot more overall – pacing around; repeating the same few lines of a song over and over again; agitated hand flapping, shushing to myself and covering my ears when I’m really overloading – but in contrast, other times I’m really lethargic. Frankly I’ve been sleeping much better than the neurotypical people around me in this heat because I’m so massively tired that once I manage to take my mind off it I’m just gone, and that makes me feel so guilty for still feeling as completely drained as I do. Talking is so much more difficult, but thinking – and writing – is almost as clear as usual.

In short, it’s a contradictory mess.

I’m thinking of this almost-shutdown as more of a “safe mode”; I don’t exactly feel brilliant, but if I stop using energy where it isn’t essential, passing for neurotypical and the like, and cut off particularly difficult tasks, I can cope relatively well until the actual problem – sometimes all but forgotten in all this – is resolved. The issue in this case is that there isn’t really a definite end point at which the constantly-overloading-thing will go away, which plays into a bit of a fear I have of being trapped too, plus the nerves and conflict-potential and reduced-ability-to-hide-away-on-my-own of a weekend away always makes me anxious beforehand anyway. At the moment, then, I’m so worried it’s going to ruin this weekend, whether it eventually escalates or not.

I’m not literally having a meltdown right now, clearly, but in terms of coping ability I’m running on empty. Something’s got to give, and if it has to be me then I just wish I’d get on with it, instead of being so so scared of it happening in the wrong place at the wrong time.

…Answers on a postcard please?

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