Why Neurodiversity is Important to Feminism (The Autistic Feminist #1)

This week on The Autistic Feminist, we talk about the reason this series was created in the first place: why neurodiversity is important to feminism.

Anyone who is an active feminist knows how the old saying goes: “if you don’t fight for all women, you fight for no women.” But for one reason or another, many neurodivergent and disabled women are not getting too much attention.

Most of the time, many can be unaware of this fact, so I can’t really look down upon these people. The least I can do is educate them about it.

The official definition of “neurodiversity” is the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of a normal variation in the human population. It’s mostly used within the context of autism spectrum disorders. So, basically, neurodiversity fights for those whose brains don’t function “normally” in society.

A good chunk of mainstream society considers autism a disease, but the neurodiversity movement pushes the fact that we’re not “broken” or “diseased,” we just need help sometimes, some more than others. Many people also think that disability rights are not a social justice issue since disabilities have been associated with the medical field for the longest time, but it actually has a lot more to do with social justice than most people think.

As you all know, feminism is about equality and justice for women, and many women out there are disabled or neurodivergent, so if we exclude them, we’re missing a massive part of the population, just like if we excluded women of color and LGBTQ women.

The neurodiversity movement can be a way to challenge the stereotypes that feminists have been challenging for decades. The most common example is how many girls on the autism spectrum tend to go undiagnosed for years because most girls tend to not show the “stereotypical symptoms.” I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in 8th grade for those exact reasons.

Feminism is about choice, and the neurodiversity movement has the same principles as far as the wiring of the brain goes.

Many people tend to not bring up the neurodiversity movement when talking about human rights because there are a lot of common misconceptions about it, such as not viewing autism as a disability. The neurodiversity movement actually doesn’t say that our lives are amazing. Our lives can be difficult, and out difficulties vary depending on the person, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with us. Plus, fighting for disability rights means fighting for better accommodations to lead a more successful life. Believe it or not, needing help and deserving basic human rights are not mutually exclusive.

Neurodiversity doesn’t just cover autism spectrum disorders. The term “neurodivergent” was coined to give a broader definition that did not center autism spectrum disorders. Neurodiversity can also cover other disorders such as OCD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and many other mental disorders that doesn’t have a “normal” wiring of the brain.

With that, when we exclude neurodivergent women from feminism, we’re excluding more than half the women that need to be fought for.

“The Autistic Feminist”: Coming to WordPress and YouTube June 9th

Hey, guys! It’s Nikki! And did you know that I’m starting a new blog in June? Yes! I am starting a new blog! But I know what y’all are asking yourselves right now.

Nikki, what is this blog? And what will it be about? And why haven’t you done anything with your pathetic life yet?

I can’t answer that last question, but I can answer the former two for you.

This new blog is going to be called The Autistic Feminist, and it will be a fun little blog that will educate y’all about the neurodiversity branch of feminism from an actual autistic and will be published every fourth Friday.

But wait, you may be asking yourself. Will there be any other ways to access this blog other than as a blog?

I’m glad you asked that because The Autistic Feminist will also be a YouTube series!!

Yes, I am planning on making this both a YouTube series and a blog to educate the masses about a subject so near and dear to my heart.

Well, you better prepare yourselves, because the first “Autistic Feminist” blog is going to be published on June 9th!

An Open Letter to Autism Speaks

I am here to tell you that what you are doing may seem “helpful to autistics” to you and your supporters, but what you are doing is really damaging. Many of the ads and videos produced for you depict harmful stereotypes that can increase the stigma of Autism in the long run. But before I dissect you as a “charity” (and I use that word very lightly), allow me to introduce myself and why I write this.

I am an autistic college student who was diagnosed at age 14. I grew up in a cliquey, shallow, and judgmental town where I was scared to be myself for a good chunk of my life. Even my own mother would tell me to stop doing certain things because “the other children would think I was weird.” Grant you, this was long before my diagnosis and she didn’t know, so I really don’t blame her entirely, but it still left me confused because I was told to hide parts of who I was just to impress the other children. This has stuck with me throughout most of my high school years; I was scared to even talk to someone for the first time unless they approached me first. This feeling stuck with me until the beginning of college, where I was able to find the right people and open up more. I am writing because there are many people out there who believe that you are doing “good” for the autistic community when in all reality, you are doing the complete opposite.

I’ll start with the obvious thing about you that everyone points you: that you seek a cure for autism. Your mission statement is “We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and a possible cure for autism.” First off, it is impossible to cure autism. It is a neurological disorder that is ingrained in one’s personality, not a life-threatening disease. Attempting to cure it would be erasing part of who they are. Second of all, that cure that you are so desperately trying to find would be forced to young children, and most autistics do not want to be cured. If a cure was possible, it should be considered a choice for that child later in their life when he/she/they are able to make decisions for themselves, not for the parent or caretaker of that child.

Now for the second most obvious thing about you that people bring up: the fact that you do not have a single autistic member on your board. When advocating for autism acceptance, it is critical that autistic people are heard in the process. Everyone can agree that men making decisions about women’s rights is an outrage to everyone with at least some common sense, but for some reason, neurotypicals making decisions about disability rights is not met with that much outrage. Many people would argue that “autistics aren’t capable of making their own decisions, so how would anyone think that they are capable of making decisions about their own rights?” All I can say about this is how dare you believe that every autistic is clumped in the same category. How dare you believe that every autistic person is the same.

Which brings me to my final and favorite point, how you reenforce degrading and stigmatizing stereotypes about autistic people. One of the biggest misconceptions about autism is that it’s a visible disorder. As someone who has gotten comments from people saying that I’m “not disabled enough” to talk about this topic, I can say that it’s not. What you need to realize is that autism is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. The only thing that every autistic person has in common is that they all want to be accepted and deserve the same rights as neurotypicals. Like the saying goes, “if you met one person with autism, you met one person with autism,” but you seem to throw that out the window. Your two short films, “I am Autism” and “Autism Every Day” (links below) say those stereotypes are true in order to make people believe that autism is a disease, and that is absolutely disgusting and stigmatizing. You have the nerve to defend a mother who contemplated murdering her autistic daughter and committing suicide while her daughter was still in the room within earshot. I had to stop watching the video because of that due to how disgusted I was after hearing that.These kinds of messages can severely lower one’s self-esteem and can cause internalized ableism, which is difficult for a child with any kind of disability unlearn.

Skip to 6:10 to see the most horrifying part.

Many people have asked me if I want to be cured. If you asked me this when I was still in high school, I would’ve said yes. I would’ve said that more people would’ve wanted to be around me and would’ve invited me to outings, and wouldn’t have been as easily manipulated if I wasn’t autistic. I did have friends that I would talk to in school during rehearsals, but never really hung out with anyone outside of school. I attempted suicide shortly after my diagnosis in eighth grade and was generally unhappy. But if you asked me today, I would say no. I may still have trouble respecting other people’s boundaries, my bullshit signal may still not be as good as most people’s, and I may still have the tendency to be upset over petty and trivial things, but I soon realize that my best qualities in me are because of my autism. My love for theatre, film, art, and music (the former two pictured below) wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t be friends with any of the people I’m friends with today (in fact, they would probably think I’m a bitch), and most importantly, I wouldn’t be me.

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

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Photo courtesy of Inclusion Films and Marblejam Kids

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

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Photo courtesy of MK Productions

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Photo courtesy of Tom Russo Photography

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Photo courtesy of MSU Players

I have potential, and I can accomplish great things. I have the ability to change the world, and I will not let bigoted organizations like you silence me or bring me down. My disability does not reflect my true abilities. To quote a one act play by a close friend of mine, “We are here. We are not less than. We are real. We are people. We struggle to perceive the world just like you do, although our struggles are different. But we are here. We are strong. We are here.”

10 Lessons the MLP Fandom Has Taught Me

I’m part of many fandoms, but if someone asked me which fandom had the most impact on me as a person, it would be My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I have been a pegasister since late November 2012, and I have actively been making fanart and fan videos of it since then. The first time I heard about the bronies was when I was fifteen years old. At the time, I did not have that favorable of an opinion about the show. Once I started watching the show, I got more and more into it, and really became into it shortly before I turned seventeen.

Being a pegasister for almost three years has taught me a lot about myself, the world around me, and many life lessons that I will carry on once I graduate from college, despite being seen by most of society as a cartoon that’s solely for little girls. Since this year marks the 5th anniversary of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I am going to tell you the ten lessons that being part of this fandom has taught me.

  1. TV shows, toys, games, etc. should not be “gendered.”

This is the most obvious lesson that this fandom has taught me. We have been taught since a very young age that boys are supposed to like dinosaurs, pirates, and superheroes, and girls are supposed to like ponies, princesses, and Barbies. While I do not believe that boys liking “boy stuff” and girls liking “girls stuff” is a problem within itself, the problem with that is when they are trying to make friends. They tend to be ridiculed by their peers because they like interests that are not their “gendered” interests, since that was how these children were raised.

When children get older, this way of thinking does not get any better, at least for boys. When girls like superheroes and dinosaurs when they’re teenagers, they are seen as the most awesome person to be around, but when boys like ponies and princesses, people assume that they’re homosexuals. This is a harmful mindset because many boys who enjoy those things may lose self confidence during their teenage years.

When My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was in its prime, the show developed a huge fan base that consisted of teenagers and adults, most of which were men. It formed an online community around the show on website such as 4chan, Reddit, Tumblr, and DeviantART. These men have found and made friends with so many other people that enjoyed the show. While the fan base still has trolls and haters that say otherwise, all of us in the fandom, and those who at least respect the fandom, learn that men’s masculinity should not be determined by their interests. It is another example of how our society has positively evolved over the years.

  1. Interests have no age limit.

This is another obvious lesson that this fandom has taught me. We are taught that we have to stop liking certain things as we get older. As someone who has been bitched at many times for still liking cartoons, I can say that liking candy-colored horses do not have any age limit. That last sentence may have sounded odd, but there is an explanation for it.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was part of the fourth generation of the My Little Pony toy line. While all the previous generations of My Little pony had cartoons based around the toys, those cartoons, at least the second and third generations, did not have any interesting plotlines, at least in my humble opinion. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was adapted for television by Lauren Faust, who did work on other cartoons that I enjoyed as a child, including The PowerPuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends; both of which were created by her husband, the genius known as Craig McCracken. She wanted the show to be set apart from the three previous generations, giving the show an interesting and engaging storyline, and the characters distinct personalities, with likable traits, and a few flaws.

The fact that interests have no age limit can be seen in other books, movies, games, and TV shows that are seen as aimed for children, including the Harry Potter series, Spongebob Squarepants before the movie, Adventure Time, pretty much every Nintendo game, and pretty much every Disney movie. They are universally loved by children and adults alike. What sets My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic apart from these five is the fact that before becoming an internet phenomenon, the My Little Pony franchise was seen as just another girl’s toy line. It is another amazing example of how people over the age of thirteen can love something that is for young children, and that media for younger audiences can be interesting as well.

  1. Life is about the relationships you build with others just as it is about your success.

The show is called Friendship is Magic because the stories and morals in the show revolve around the magic of friendship. The show has six main characters, but their main focus is on the character, Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy bookworm of the group. Before discovering how great it is to have friends, she did not have much interested in having them. She was more focused on improving her magic, and wanted to become successful just like her teacher, Princess Celestia, the ruler of Equestria. Twilight was so focused on her studies, that she did not think much about making friends.

Celestia sent her to Ponyville to do just that, and befriends five other ponies; Applejack, the hard-working and southerner, Fluttershy, the quiet animal lover, Rarity, the high-class fashionista, Rainbow Dash, the athletic tomboy, and Pinkie Pie (my favorite of the six), the hyperactive partier. Their bond was used to unite the Elements of Harmony, and defeat Nightmare Moon (the villain of the two-parter pilot). By the end of the two-parter pilot episode, Twilight realizes that developing relationships with other ponies holds just as much importance as her studies.

This lesson is an important one to learn, especially throughout adulthood. I want to become a famous theatre actress and voice actress one day, but that fame and wealth will mean nothing if I do not have any friends to share that fame and wealth with. While I did have trouble making friends growing up, I started to get better at developing relationships with my peers as I got older. I will cherish every friendship that I have made thus far, and the friendships that I will make with others in the near future.

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Everyone has been taught this lesson since they were in kindergarten. We have seen other shows that had this lesson at one point, but it stood out in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because it shows how each of the main characters are different in their own way. All of them end up being great friends in the long run because they can set aside their differences and see a great pony on the inside. This lesson was shown the most in the season one episode “Bridle Gossip,” although was not the best example in my opinion.

“Bridle Gossip” made the debut of the character, Zecora, a mysterious zebra who lives in the Everfree Forest. When Zecora came into Ponyville, the Mane Six assumed that she was evil. When the Mane Six follow her into the Everfree Forest, they trot into a garden of blue flowers that caused ailments within each of them. They assumed that the flower was cursed, but later learned that they touched poison joke, which causes laughable effects. The Mane Six confront Zecora and take her back to Ponyville, and Twilight talks to the townsponies about how Zecora was not so bad after all. (http://mlp.wikia.com/wiki/Bridle_Gossip)

This lesson is also shown within the fandom itself. There are many stereotypes that bronies fall under, including being loud-mouth basement dwellers, pedophiles, and misogynists that cannot handle any opinion other than their own. I am friends with many people in the fandom, both on and off of the internet, and they are some of the nicest people I know. You truly don’t know someone until you really get to know and understand them.

  1. There is so much to be positive about in life.

Aside from performing, my biggest passion is motivational speaking. As someone who attempted suicide five and a half years ago, it took me a while to find any positive outlooks on life. While it’s not as easy to “think positive” for a lot of people, especially those suffering from clinical depression, and it does require a lot of work on their part, overcoming those issues can be the best feeling that one could have. I still have a lot of work to do myself, but I know when I overcome my negative outlook on like, I will be living a better life.

Being part of the MLP fandom has started to give me a more positive look on life because of how accepting the community is. The community has showed me that there are still good people in this world. I have the opportunity to talk about my feelings with my closest friends in the fandom and what’s bothering me, and they give me some of the best advice I could get from anyone ever. There will always be a hint of positivity in the world.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Trying new things is always a great way to improve your life through adulthood. As someone who suffers from anxiety, doing things outside of my comfort zone was not always a common thing for me to do because I was always scared of embarrassment. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic exemplifies this lesson with the season two episode, “Hurricane Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy was never a great flyer. She was often mocked by her peers for her lack of flying skills. When Rainbow Dash tries to enlist her in a mission with the other pegasi, she did not want to at first because she was scared that the other ponies would laugh at her. She ends up having the bravery to do the mission and she succeeds in doing so (http://www.laweekly.com/arts/top-5-lessons-for-adults-from-my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic -2369949).

Life is all about trying new things. I am planning on trying something new in the near future myself, thanks to the confidence I built within this community. I always thought that I was terrible at improv and never thought I was all that funny, but I have decided to audition for my college’s improv group to try something outside of my comfort zone for a change. As hard as it is to forget the judgements people make about you, you cannot let that turn into fear. If you do, you will only stop yourself from trying new things.

  1. Don’t freak out about the future.

This was the lesson that I needed for a long time. I’m at a point in my life where the future is everything and I have to worry about what I want to do for the rest of my life. While I did state earlier that I want to become a famous actress, I want to have a backup plan too. This, mixed with my anxiety, makes life more stressful for me at the moment. Twilight Sparkle had this problem in the season two episode “It’s About Time.”

Twilight headed out for a mission to prevent a disaster from hitting Ponyville after being visited by her future self. She worries so much about this potential disaster that she becomes completely oblivious to what is going on. She realizes that he worrying was the cause of this “disaster,” that she realizes that there’s no use in worrying about the future at all. Everyone gets overwhelmed by schedules, deadlines, and plans for the future. By worrying about all of those too much, we would be missing out on things that are going on in the present. (http://www.laweekly.com/arts/top-5-lessons-for-adults-from-my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic-2369949).

  1. Being kind can go a long way.

Let’s be honest for a minute; there have always been hate in this world. We have a lot less hate in this world now than we did decades ago, but we still have a long way to go. This can start with just one person being kind. We have been taught to be kind to others since we were younger because that is how a friendship can start. The Mane Six try to be kind to everyone they meet during their adventures in learning about friendship. Not only that, but the people in the brony community also try to be kind to others, even though some may argue otherwise. I always try my hardest to be kind to everyone I meet, because not only I would gain a friend in the process, but the other person will also gain a friend. If you see someone sitting alone somewhere, my best advice is to try to talk to them and be kind to them. If you don’t you will probably miss out on making a great friend.

  1. Hard work will always pay off in the end.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has emphasized the value of hard work since the beginning. Twilight Sparkle has worked hard in helping Equestria solve friendship issues and tried to find ways in succeeding in helping those issues. Her hard work in the first three seasons caused her to become a princess in the season three finale, “The Magical Mystery Cure,” which was arguably the most controversial episode of the series to date because of that change. Many people see this change as sudden and out of nowhere. Even though at the time it was announced, I thought it was a bit early in the series for this change, I personally thought that Twilight deserved the title, with all she has been through before that episode.

  1. Don’t be afraid to just be yourself.

To me, this was the best lesson I have learned from being in this community. Growing up, I was never the best at making friends. When I try to talk to someone, I would usually end up making a fool out of myself, and lots of people did not want to be around me. I was usually called annoying by my peers, with caused me to keep my mouth shut in front of people and pretended to be someone I wasn’t for all of middle school and a good chunk of high school.

When I first joined the fandom, I started to gain a bit of confidence. While my peers played a huge part in my confidence boost, being in this community has boosted my confidence even more within the past three years. While I still have a long way to go, I am still at least able to have a decent conversation with my friends without faking my feelings. I can also share anything about my life with others without giving a single fuck what others think of me.

To wrap this up, being part of the brony community has given me a huge outlook on life. I have never felt so confident or so happy in my entire life. The MLP fandom has made a bigger impact on me than any other fandom I have been a part of, and considering the fact that I wasn’t part of this fandom during its “golden age”, and there have been fandoms I have been active in since late elementary school/early middle school, that’s saying a lot. I am beyond grateful for this fandom and everything that we strive for. My wish is to become an inspiration to the people in this community, and mark my territory in this fandom in the most positive way possible. I guess there is nothing left to say but, keep loving and tolerating, bronies. You all mean the world to me.