Feminist Aspie

Expectations, Expectations Everywhere!

Being autistic, like being human in general, comes with a lot of false and contradictory expectations to meet.

I often find myself caught between the belief ingrained in me for years that my autism means I’m Being Neurotypical Wrong, and the the more recently-developed feeling that I’m Being Autistic Wrong. In the past I rarely bothered asking for accommodations or disclosing disability beyond the standard equal opportunity tick-box in applications, worried that people would think it was fake, but now I’m also worried that not doing that makes people think it’s fake. I still can’t quite shake off the passing-for-neurotypical mask I put on automatically around other people, which makes me feel insincere and (again) fake, but at the same time I still stim and generally am sometimes more obviously autistic and people react badly to that too. Some people who only see me in certain contexts think I’m too quiet these days; others see me in certain contexts and think I’m too loud. And, of course, neurotypical people have that tendency to either only see an autistic person’s weaknesses but not their strengths or vice versa, creating a tightrope of constantly trying to prove “I’m not faking” and “I am capable of these things” to other people at the same time.

Like it or not, the expectations of others are powerful. We often look to what other people are saying and doing in order to work out what is required of us, what the ideal outcomes are, and what is and isn’t appropriate. Importantly, though, looking at what other people do shows me what is considered to be normal – in a world that’s also constantly telling me that “normal” should be my ultimate goal.

So by extension, I feel like I have to generally do what other people are doing. Blend in with other people. Wonder what other people think about me, to the point of fixation. As it turns out, there are lots of potential reasons for people to judge you – what you do with your free time, how you socialise and how often, how you look, what you eat and drink (or what you don’t), the extent to which you express emotions and how, how you carry yourself generally, how you react to certain events and experiences in your life, how vocal you are (or aren’t) about various topics and issues… and in case it wasn’t complicated enough, different people expect different and often contradictory things from you. I can’t please everyone even if I wanted to.

As I head into my final year at university, the future is becoming more real and more scary, and the bigger long-term expectations of other people are playing a significant part in that. The combination of what and where I’m studying means I’m currently in a world of “well obviously you’ll want this career and these are the steps you have to take and even though it’s not statistically possible that everybody does the same thing it’s all we’ll ever talk about ever“. In the graduate recruitment context, everything seems to have rough ages and degree stages attached to it too, and the fact that I’ve just done an Erasmus year abroad (which, of course, I spent constantly worried about whether or not people thought I was making the most of the experience!) makes me feel like I’ve fallen behind my graduated friends, and watching them all go on to do these great impressive things just adds to the pressure.

Having said that, over the past year I’ve learned that other people’s expectations are mostly rubbish and it’s not healthy to constantly compare your whole reality to other people’s Facebook statuses, funny anecdotes and general highlight reels. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to think “You know what? This stuff really doesn’t matter. I don’t need to fit exactly what everyone else expects of me, and it’s better for all parties for me to be honest, be myself and work towards goals I really do want to achieve.” Sounds good so far, right?

One small hitch: I’m so used to relying on what other people want me to be that if you take all that away, I’m not sure how to figure out what I want to be anymore.

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Sometimes, We Don’t Say Anything

Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but most women don’t actually mention every single sexist thing that happens to them. Sometimes we confront it directly, sometimes we vent to a friend, sometimes we talk about it online, but a lot of the time… nothing.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, there’s the issue of everyday sexism being so normalised that it goes unnoticed in the first place. Secondly, we have lives and don’t particularly want to be here talking about sexism all day. Saying “this shitty thing happened to me today” isn’t always convenient – people aren’t always around, internet isn’t always available, you don’t always have the time or the energy to say something. Sometimes we mean to bring it up later; sometimes we forget.

Sometimes, we think to ourselves, it’s “not worth it”, which can mean a number of different things. Sometimes it’s just not worth the effort of starting the conversation or sending off a tweet; evidently, sometimes we just have to pick our battles, and when other people can’t fix the problem anyway it can seem a bit pointless to bring it up. Sometimes it’s not worth the energy spent on yet another same-old-same-old big argument about how we’re not being over-sensitive and hormones have absolutely nothing to do with it and this stuff does add up and is harmful and their intentions don’t erase the harm done and it shouldn’t matter what we’re wearing and other things we’ve already had to deal with a million and one times before. Sometimes it’s not worth being considered “a bitch” or “a killjoy” or “irrational” or whatever women who stand up for themselves are being called this week, especially as we’re called those things for bringing up even one feminist issue, let alone everything; and even when you don’t care what people think of you, there are still situations (such as in the workplace) where other people’s opinions of you matter and have knock-on consequences. Sometimes, especially for direct confrontation or in public forums, it’s not worth the harassment and the abuse we might get for speaking up.

Sometimes, we decide it’s too insignificant to mention. Sometimes it didn’t have much of an impact on us personally and we don’t really care enough to go out of our way to mention it. Sometimes it seems so small that we don’t think anyone else will care to hear about it. Sometimes we think it’s unlikely that we’ll be taken seriously. Sometimes the significance of whatever happened, only becomes clear in the context of a larger inequality, from housework to harassment, which can be really difficult to communicate to others, particularly to those who seem to be actively trying not to listen. Sometimes there’s no way to articulate this pattern without at some point mentioning that the perpetrators are men, and when we say that, many people completely ignore our initial point in favour of a mass of “not all men are like that” as if we didn’t already know that, as if a generalisation (where it even exists) by a few people has anywhere near the same power as the stereotypes and roles forced on us by society itself, as if semantics matter more than the problem we were talking about in the first place.

So when someone does speak up, remember they did so despite the huge number of reasons not to, which demonstrates the impact the relevant event had. It might have been particularly severe or obvious. It might have been one of several “little things” to happen in one day. It might have been the final straw for someone who was already upset or angry or anxious because of something else entirely. Whatever the reason, when you do hear about everyday sexism, it probably means the woman in question has seriously had enough of putting up with this stuff day in, day out, and keeping quiet about it.

And before you respond with “why are you making such a fuss” or “stop being so sensitive” or “not all men”, you should probably take that into consideration.

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