Gender fluidity and Autism open gates of power for women

James Maher Photography


US scientists are scared to talk about differences between male and female brains, probably because it will get them fired. The loudest voices say there cannot be male and female brains because there are women and men who think in similar ways. Read more

Let’s time travel back to the pre-Internet days of 1975. Long-distance phone calls were $1 per minute, so people received most of their communications via US mail, and Christmas cards were so important that the average number of families on a list was 300. That year, two sociology professors from Brigham Young University sent 600 Christmas cards to random families and then monitored how many cards were sent back in return.

Approximately 20% of the recipients took the time to find a card, write a message and send it back to the experimenters. That is an astounding number of people who felt obliged to reply. To give you context, today’s digital marketers are thrilled with a 1% response rate.

The experiment studied the rule of reciprocity – the strong social pressure to return favors. In the context of women, of course, because women send the Christmas cards. The rule of reciprocity has persisted throughout human history because it has survival value for the human species. Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey said the essence of what makes us human is this system of reciprocity.

At the core of autism is a lack of social reciprocity. Autistic babies don’t reciprocate a parent’s smile. Autistic adults don’t reciprocate a friend’s Christmas card. Of course there are exceptions. Jewish people don’t send Christmas cards. People who don’t have enough money for food don’t send Christmas cards. But even those people reciprocate intuitively. Psychologist Amy Pearsons’s research shows that women with autism work hard to look normal, and they mimic the acts of reciprocity they see neurotypical women doing. Women with autism can pass for normal, but it exhausts them because passing involves constantly monitoring what is expected.

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Addendum: After reading 250 of your comments in response to this post (below), I have had a change of heart. I still hate Biden. But I think I also hate this post. So I’ve written a new post, over here.

The Democratic Party’s strategy is Trump is so bad that the DNC can win with anyone. That’s why the DNC didn’t care when Hilary didn’t bother campaigning in Michigan or Wisconsin. That’s why the DNC doesn’t care that younger democrats hate Biden. The DNC is a club that meets to protect their own power. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes reminds us of that all the time.

The DNC wants you to believe you are a virtuous person for voting for Biden because even if he’s not perfect you have to get Trump out of office. I think Biden is not nearly enough of an improvement to vote for him. And I think you throw away your vote if you let someone tell you the anyone-but-Trump rule means you vote for whatever is in front of you. That’s not choice.

Here’s why I’d never vote for Biden:

1. Biden has always been the conservative wing of the democrats. He has always been part of the conservative guard. It’s why Obama chose him as a running mate. It’s hard for racist white people to look at a Black candidate –– Obama picked him to counterbalance Obama’s Blackness. Biden as a VP made the ticket look ok. After all, what other Democrat was still in Congress in the 90s who had a track record for opposing busing?

2. Biden is the anti-#metoo candidate. He was the centerpiece of the congressional attack on Anita Hill. And he has been unable to apologize for his universally panned behavior. More recently he is accused of rape and he has been pictured violating the personal space of many women. While the #metoo movement has forced men to stop pushing aside these accusations, Democrats tell us that it’s so important to get Trump out of office that we have to push aside the accusations against Biden. If Trump is that bad, then the DNC surely could find a candidate who wouldn’t require us to brush aside rape accusations in order to vote for the candidate.

3. Biden is the anti-Black Lives Matter candidate. He is a moderate who was lifted up from his racist past by a black man. Biden did not get more liberal. He’s the same guy. Electing him is shifting the party to the right. At a time when the party is visibly shifting to the left. Additionally, Biden picked Kamala Harris without regard to the fact that Black people don’t trust her. 

Tirkhakah writes, “The party’s leadership tells us to hold our noses and vote — a hollow, greater-good argument which is exactly why Black men don’t head to the polls.”

4. Biden wants things to stay the same. That’s why he picked Kamala Harris. She has an absolutely terrible record on criminal justice reform that in similar to Biden and Trump — those masters of refusing to apologize — she has refused to apologize for her bafflingly terrible record. So of course Biden hopes she will appeal to some Trump voters. Ironically, Obama picking Biden to appeal to racist voters is like Biden picking Harris to appeal to the Trump voters.

5. Biden and the DNC assume we’re trapped. The DNC thinks we hate Trump so much that we will support an unpopular, neo-liberal candidate with a history of very public racism and sexism. Biden hears goodwill toward Obama and he mistakes it for himself.  I hate Biden so much because he’s been taking swipes at women and Black people for as long as I’ve been following politics. And I’m completely insulted that the Democratic Party thinks I believe Biden is an improvement over Trump.

We are not trapped. But we have to act like we have power. Our vote counts when we refuse to vote for Biden. We can refuse to support neo-liberalism because it could destroy our lives, our communities, and our earth.

Addendum: After reading 250 of your comments (below), I have had a change of heart. I still hate Biden. But I think I also hate this post. So I’ve written a new post, over here.

Note from Penelope: This is a guest post of sorts. I asked Whitney to annotate one of my blog posts because I want to better understand the white privilege on my blog. I also thought this would be a way to share with you how much I learn from conversations I have had with Whitney leading up to this her commentary on this post

Note from Whitney: I am an Ivy-League educated, millennial, cis, straight Black woman. Also, I’m a teacher. That is the point-of-view from which I analyze and critique your writing, and someone with a more complex intersectional identity might have even more nuanced thoughts to offer. All the same, I’m happy to share my stream of consciousness as I read. So here I go!

I had this idea that coronavirus would be heaven for me because I’ve been working from home with my kids circling all day long for ten years. Must be nice. In my experience, the luxury of working from home with your kids is reserved primarily for White women. Because motherhood and child-rearing are generally disrespected in this country, and any sort of real honoring of that labor goes solely to White women. To live as you live, one would need enough generational and familial wealth to absorb the financial blows and instability that come with professional self-determination outside the corporate environment. Plus, one would need a work context where your employer values your contributions and seeks to protect you (even if it’s only in a benevolent sexism type of way (misogynoir means that no one is looking out for Black women in the work world (except other Black women)). You should know that systemic racism has made your lifestyle impossible for pretty much all Black Americans. You should know that the way you live is an unearned privilege, and many of your readers aren’t able to live this way. This should be my time to shine. I was looking forward to when schools closed down.HOW? How could you be thinking this when there are so many parents/guardians who won’t be able to stay home with their young kids and so many homes that are impossibly set up for home learning? The majority of families who send their kids to public schools NEED the instruction, food, child care, and mental health services they get from school. You are either out of touch and unaware of the level of need across the country, or you’re just selfish. Both are possible and characteristic of whiteness, but I’m assuming it’s the latter. Because I’ve been following you for more than a decade, and I believe you’re a good person who is just ignorant in the way that white supremacy requires white people to be. I wanted all the parents [You mean all the parents of a certain socio-economic status]to ask each other: How are you coping????

Finally, I will get to be the parent who is on top of things. I will be the coronavirus version of the mom who packs snacks for soccer and never forgets extra water. STOP! Acknowledge your privileged perspective! And people will say: She’s incredible!!!

But my son’s SAT got canceled for this weekend. So I thought okay, fine, my son will have to take the SAT at the same time he takes AP tests which only bad-planning families do, but fine, we can handle it. I call the College Board to reschedule before the rest of the world does. So white/individualistic. Instead of worrying about and advocating for the collective (i.e. all the kids applying to college who will be disadvantaged by this situation), you’re using your power to aggressively protect just your own kid. FYI, currently in this annotation process, I’m starting to feel like a judgmental, self-righteous bitch. But I’m going to keep going because hopefully, it will be worth it. I tell them they are delusional to be offering kids the April 3 test date. I suggest at-home tests that come with a camera to catch cheating.

The College Board person is pissed and snips at me.

Fortunately, I gave a fake name, so I still have hope of being the coronavirus mom of the year.

I was excited that I already have great tutors lined up. You’re an asshole for being excited about this because you’re basically excited that you have an unfair advantage… I can’t help but apologize – you’re an asshole for this, but I still love you.  Me thinking that you’re an asshole in the context of this one sentence doesn’t mean that I think you’re a bad person. I mean, you’re human and we’re all assholes in our own way. Don’t feel bad or offended, just do better… Isn’t it so telling how I’m so apologetic in these comments?? I was excited to casually explain to other parents that good tutors are hard to find and we found self-paced online learning to be totally inefficient. But I forgot to take into account that all our tutors work in hospitals and they are about to start working 10-million-hour shifts.

The only reason I get any work done while we homeschool is that I don’t homeschool. Right. Your version of homeschooling is paying people to do it for you. So we can’t get rid of all the tutors.  The tutor for SAT writing is a consultant who can’t travel. But I have no faith that there will be another SAT before college applications are due this fall. So we do what I have found works best: stick with a tutor you love and have your kid and the tutor find a topic they want to study together. The topic doesn’t matter nearly as much as the synergy between the two people. What a beautiful luxury. Your kids get a schooling experience that is tailored to their individual growth. They get to thrive through academic learning. School in America has nothing to do with such pursuits; instead, it’s more about acculturation to white supremacy. I’m so sad that every child doesn’t have access to the type of schooling you’ve described.

My younger son practices cello all day, with scattered breaks for piano, music theory and texting to other kids who play music all day. So self-isolation should be really easy for him — musicians practically choose this as a way of life.  But my son has a concussion from a car crash that happened six weeks ago which I did not write about because the lawyer said not to. Anyway, my son’s going crazy from boredom.

He tells me he’s bored like it’s my fault.

I tell him boring people are bored, which is what I used to tell my kids when they were tiny homeschoolers learning to identify their own interests. Learning to identify their own interests?? Do you know how much of a luxury this is? Do you know how many Black people die without ever coming close to being able to experience this? I’m not even talking about older Black people. Black millennials are so busy figuring out how to make money and catch up on the 400 hundred-year head-start white folks have (which, by the way, is a fool’s errand given the way our country is set up) that they don’t have the bandwidth to learn to identify their own interests. Seriously, any Black person nurturing their own interests is a revolutionary. I was going to say that the same is true for Black people your kids’ age, but I can’t afford to be that pessimistic.

He’s had enough of my homeschool pontificating. He says, “Mom, do you think it’s true that boring kids are a result of boring parents?” Ha! This is the sort of content I love to see in your blog. Your kids are very endearing. Thanks for sharing their gems with us.

We play Monopoly. I hate Monopoly because all those houses and hotels just beg the person losing to flick the board in a way that launches all those little pieces into flight. AND it’s a stupid, racist, classist game. But let me stop. I’m just being petty now. Let me chill out. I add my own rules to make the game go faster, like no pot of money in the middle. I make hazelnut high-rises worth twice as much as hotels. The kids are offended that I would use our coronavirus food supply for a game. So I drink Pinot Noir each time I pass go because the alcohol supply is my own. Love. But that’s just because in this regard, I’m as privileged as you.

Dinner is four cheeseless takeout pizzas because I can’t decide if takeout is risky and the boys can’t decide if one pizza each is enough.

One pizza each is not enough. But still, each kid gives me their best slice, which is touching. I nibble on crust wishing for teenage metabolism. Same. But we should stop feeling like this because it’s white supremacist, misogynist bullshit. Our bodies are good no matter how they look. There’s no reason for us to fear eating pizza for dinner sometimes or to envy the metabolisms and bodies of teenagers as grown-ass women. Did you know that fatphobia is just a facet of white supremacy? Look it up. Educate and free yourself, sis! The boys are quiet when they eat. And the streets of Boston are quiet now that the students have all flown home to deliver coronavirus from the petri-dish dorms to little houses full of old people all over the country. This is a moment in history where we will talk about how during their formative years, generation Z went from one crisis to the next.

The boys want to go to Barnes and Noble.

I tell them to forget it.

They growl.

“We have 400 books. Amazon has 4 million books. You don’t need to go get a virus from people waiting in line at Barnes and Noble.”

“Fine. We’re taking a walk.”

“Fine. But be careful. It’s a pandemic. Pandemic. Okay?”

“Ok boomer.”

I have come to terms with being called a boomer when I am not. But I am still getting used to searching for the generational inference the kid is making when they say ok boomer. In this case it’s because kids are downplaying coronavirus because it’s most dangerous to baby boomers. Younger kids refer to coronavirus as boomer remover and older kids call it the accelerator candidate — as in a candidate who makes things much worse much faster will finally get baby boomers out of power. Ugh from the mouths of babes! This probably makes me a bad person, but I lowkey hope the kids are right and that this virus makes way for actual equity and justice in a BlackPower-WomanPower-WorkerPower-QueerPower-AllPowerToThePeople type of way. (Before people complain, the majority of tweets on the topic of boomer remover are making fun of baby boomers being upset about being made fun of.)

I let the kids leave the apartment because I’m so excited to be alone. Are you aware that for so many Black people in urban areas, this is literally impossible? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I can’t actually tell whether you have any awareness of that fact. I think you actually never think of these things due to white supremacy… Anyway, I think you should know. And if you didn’t know, now you know. I know we are not supposed to be touching books that hundreds of other people touch. I imagine Barnes and Noble using Purell on the hardbacks to reassure us that shopping is safe.

I do not use my alone time to work. I clean up the dining room table because the research about neighborhoods with broken windows [You do know this is debunked antiquated, racist bullshit, right? Go take another look. Try searching broken+windows+racist] also applies to apartments with teenage leftovers. I read news about coronavirus. I decided to order more wine. I have underestimated how bad this is going to be.

The kids come home with The Communist Manifesto. Great. I really do hope they become communists. Have them read Cedric J. Robinson’s Black Marxism next. You should read it too. Barnes and Noble added a fancy cover to jack up the price to a point that would have made Marx cry.

My kids made a plan to listen to the audio version because the concussion means no reading. My older son falls asleep because, honestly, this book is no page-turner. My younger son says, “Mom, this book is so boring. You should drink every time they say bourgeoisie.”

I cancel the case of wine. It’s going to take everything in me to keep us sane through Pandemic 2020.

Things Nino hates about me: I yell. I’m ungrateful. I threw things when we were married.

Things I hate about Nino: That he left.

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Every day, one million families watch every move on the College Board website because it controls so much of the college application process. Today it looked like the site was hacked.

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Right after George Floyd was killed, there were fireworks in my neighborhood. All night long. I live in Roxbury, on a sliver of Boston between two gang territories. So I assumed the noise was gunshots. But a few days later, fireworks actually lit up the sky. At 1am. 2am. 3am. Read more

We’re in the middle of weeks of protests to end the entrenched racism in America and I can’t stop thinking about Sula. I march and I scream that Black Lives Matter and I never add anything about how the black laundress I grew up with was not someone I could hug — because she was black. Read more

I understand that part of Black Lives Matter means White Privilege Matters. Which is to say that justice requires white people to face our fears about giving up institutionalized advantages. If you are white and you’re not scared then you have no idea how much has to change the U.S. to function like black lives really matter. Maybe you’ve read one of those lists of things white people can do to be an ally of black people. But alliances won’t matter unless we make fundamental changes. Here are three things that need to change:

Defund police and channel money to community groups.

Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris wrote an op-ed titled No More Money for the Police. Mr. McHarris is a doctoral candidate focusing on race, housing, and policing. Ms. McHarris is a strategist with the Movement for Black Lives. I am their fangirl. This recent op-ed says that instead of trying to abolish the police we can redirect city police budgets to underfunded city programs like housing, healthcare, and job training.

The police are likely to kill a black person no matter what sort of emergency response they are making. We have tried re-education, body cameras, community outreach, nothing changes the fact that police kill black people.

In the proposed scenario, police respond to calls that are already violent. I envision the police sitting at the desks all day long, waiting for an emergency call no one in the community is willing to attend to without a gun. Meanwhile, cities will redirect police funding to social workers and community groups who don’t carry guns. And instead of arguing for gun control, it’s an argument for controlling the amount we rely on people who carry guns.

Improve healthcare services by studying black culture, behavior, and personal beliefs.

The medical field has already implemented similar tactics. In the 1990s, Dr. William Cunningham pioneered community-based models to treat disparities in medical care between white people and people of color. For example, his research found that after hundreds of years of white doctors purposefully harming black patients, many black people trust their pastor more than their doctor. Black women die from pregnancy-related issues three times more often than white women. Cunningham found that black women want medical information rooted in values. And he convinced Congress to redirect medical spending to black community groups.

By the time Cunningham died in 2019, he had established that what works for white people should not be the default. The medical community has a long way to go to close racial disparities, but Cunningham showed us that to address disparities in health outcomes we need explore culture, traditions and personal beliefs that contribute to black people’s experience with health care.

Turn schools into social services centers and turn white privilege on its head.

Like healthcare services, public schools are built on research that excludes black children. And like the field of medicine, you can account for education and income, and still, white kids come out on top. Recently the Brookings Institute showed that disparities among test scores between black and white kids are from culture rather than income or intelligence. So teaching black kids to take white tests is never going to work.

Schools are obsessed with teaching kids self-control because of the Stanford marshmallow experiment in 1960: If the kid refrains from eating a marshmallow in order to get something better later then the kid will do better in school and career than the kid who eats the marshmallow. The test is has been reproduced many times with white kids and has found to be true regardless of income, intelligence, etc.

However recently Columbia University psychology professor Tyler Watts replicated the marshmallow test with a diverse group of children and he found benefits for some kids to eat the marshmallow. That is a revolutionary finding that should be completely shaking up this country. It means that schools focus on teaching kids self-control when it is actually only proven to be great for the children of Stanford professors in 1960.

Additionally, when black kids don’t do what teachers want, black kids receive more harsh discipline than white kids. We know it’s impossible to train police or doctors to stop acting on racism — even if it’s inadvertent. And the same is true in education. Teachers discriminate against black kids even when the teachers don’t mean to.

So it occurred to me that the elegant proposal for defunding police would also work for schools. Like policing with guns, educating with schools is mostly unnecessary. Kids teach themselves to read when they are ready. Kids learn fundamental math on their own. Kids don’t need school to learn to write. Kids don’t need teachers they need parents. Homeschoolers have a higher acceptance rate to the Ivy League. School is unnecessary for black kids and for all kids.

But when it comes to what is good for black kids, the one thing we do know is that the type of learning that makes the biggest difference is learning you cannot get from school: Self-directed, project-based learning is the only kind of education that gives economic mobility to black kids. And, most importantly, hundreds of studies show that more funding to schools does not help black kids, but more funding for black families and black communities does.

So we should have school teachers educate only the most difficult children: if a parent says they need help, the schools should give help. But otherwise, we should provide families with enough money to ensure one parent stays home with children, and we should turn schools into social services organizations for anyone who needs them.

This is the sort of radical thinking that is going to change the plight of black people in the US. If black lives matter then institutions aimed to prop up white children must be defunded by local, city governments or national government. And each of us needs to do our part to make that happen.

Recently a flurry of articles about academic overachievers appeared in scientific journals. Specifically, the research found that people with a diagnosis of autism were more frequently high achievers in school. And people diagnosed with ADHD were more frequently low achievers in school.

A paper published last week in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders explains the reason for the gap in achievement between kids with ADHD and kids with autism: overachievement in written communication was common among kids with autism and kids with ADHD. But kids with autism were overachievers in reading comprehension and math, whereas kids with ADHD were underachievers in those areas. Read more