At the intersection of autism and gender: Personal identities and professional ideas
thesisposted on 2022-02-17, 22:09 authored by Isobel Moore
Systematic literature review and meta-synthesis:
Influenced by theories of intersectionality, performativity and gender hegemony, the review explored the intersection of autism and gender in the negotiation of identity for individuals who identified as autistic. Purposefully not restricted to any one gender category so as to be able to interrogate gender as a construct, a systematic search for qualitative research found 12 studies. Meta-synthesis involved a constructionist approach to thematic synthesis. Findings related to the ways in which dominant autism discourses restricted gender identities; the positioning of gendered autistic identities as subordinate and ‘other’ within hierarchies of power; and the possibilities for finding spaces of belonging and resistance to normative expectations. Findings are considered in relation to critical autism scholarship, feminist and queer theory, and clinical implications. The review was original in its inclusive approach to gender and contribution to critical theory on autism and gender.
Most existing literature on the subject of ‘female autism’ has extended unproblematised dominant medical-model conceptualisations of autism. This study developed a critique of ‘female autism’ as a concept. Using a Foucauldian discourse analysis of reports and resources provided by UK-based clinicians, it examined how ‘female autism’ is constructed in professional practices. The analysis drew out a narrative of ‘female autism’ as progress in terms of medical-scientific knowledge, gender equality and the prospects for women and girls recognised as autistic, before problematising this narrative by focusing on power, institutional interests and ideology. I argue that ‘female autism’ extends the reach of the expert gaze through expanding the category of autism into previously un-pathologised territory, while reinforcing hegemonic, binary understandings of gender. The biopolitics of autism, Hacking’s ‘looping effect’ and feminist theory are discussed.