Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oh No, An Analogy!!

While drafting my epic-length response to Jonathan Mitchell's comment on this post, an analogy occurred to me.

First, some context.

Jonathan wrote:
Autism is still a disability that prevents people from being able to talk, causes them to smear feces on walls and be totally dysfunctional in its most severe cases. Trying to make the glass half full by describing it as a different form of brain wiring rather than a disease indeed does not change the contents of the glass. It is still a bad thing that needs to be cured no matter how much phoney baloney spin you and the rest of the ND put upon it and try to make a glass half full.
I responded (in part):
...I do not think the idea of a cure for autism is anything more than a colossal blind alley. I strongly doubt its possibility, for one thing, given how many different genes have been shown to play a role in its heredity, and the tiny share of all cases of autism each gene is found to explain; and for another, I think it's ridiculous to try to engineer away an entire category of people on the grounds that *SOME* of those people lead miserable lives for reasons that might be partially attributable to their genetic makeup.
As I was writing that, it occurred to me that there does exist a category of human being that, however internally heterogeneous it may be, differs from what is often held up as the default, "typical" human being in a lot of ways, and whose overall failure to thrive in comparison with the default group is often blamed on this other group's tricky psychological and physiological differences. Yet, despite this group's disability, no serious person would ever suggest curing them of their chromosomal condition*.

Who are these people? Why, they're women!

Compared to men, women are much more likely to have certain psychiatric disorders (e.g., anxiety and depression), less likely to be working, more likely to be working an unrewarding, low-paying menial service job, and much, much more likely to be poor. They are also more likely than men to engage in self-injurious behavior or attempt suicide, although men succeed in killing themselves much more often than women do.

Most people's** first impulse is not to blame all of these things on any inherent physical or psychological feature of womanhood, however.

Even when there might be innate physiological factors that work to women's disadvantage, though --- our seriously inconvenient reproductive biology springs to mind, as does the possibility of sex differences in brain chemistry contributing to women's greater share of mood disorders --- nobody uses that to argue that femaleness itself is a pathological condition that should be cured!

That's as it should be, and also as it should be for autism.

EDIT: It turns out this analogy has been made before --- by Joseph, back in 2006! His post is a lot funnier than mine, too.

*Yes, this statement is a bit problematic, in that it glosses over the extent to which womanhood has been, and still is, pathologized. There is a significant difference, however, between the way women are pathologized and the way autistics are pathologized: certain aspects of women's lives --- menstruation, pregnancy, menopause --- might be medicalized, but every aspect of autistic people's lives, up to and including the mere fact that we exist, is seen as a major medical crisis to be stopped. I feel reasonably certain that, if someone were to call all women diseased, and call for a cure that would turn them into men, almost everybody would consider that person crazy. And that's the important thing for this analogy.

**I am optimistically excluding antifeminists from "most people" here. I do think that, while most people might indeed be mistaken about the extent to which sexism exists in the industrialized West, they are usually willing to grant that women in other parts of the world have it pretty bad, above and beyond what men in poorer countries experience.


Gonzo said...

Hahaha! That's good, it shows how you can twist around everything to match your opinion on something.
And that's basically all that Jonathon's doing.

Btw, Joseph made this analogy once, but as a "what if" scenario.
It's here.
It's so funny, especially the comments, where people continued the joke (some were even impersonating trolls.) My favourite pun was "Genderation Rescue". :D

Lindsay said...

Joseph made this analogy once, but as a "what if" scenario.

Ah, rats. Should've known I probably wasn't the first person to come up with it!

manchester fat acceptance said...

love this idea! very well-written and informative. and who cares if it's been said before? you said it in a new way.

Clay said...

Miss Gonzo said:

"Btw, Joseph made this analogy once, but as a "what if" scenario.
It's here."

Thanks for that link. Makes me sad though, to think that I missed out on all that because I had to work. Well, I'm free now, but I'll never catch up...

Butters said...

I think this is a pretty inappropriate analogy, as women are not only a biologically fundamental category (can't have babies without them; two sexes exist in many animals), but the level of diversity is much higher among women than among autistics, as is the level of functionality. Most women do not suffer from these problems, whereas all low-functioning autists suffer from problems of communication.

Furthermore, depression and self-harming behaviour are accidental to the category 'woman', whereas an inability to communicate properly is essential to the category 'autistic', as it is in the definition itself.