Matrix On Point

Matrix on Point: New Directions in Gender and Sexuality

While the last 20 years have marked a significant change in increased acceptance of varied gender expressions and sexual orientations, these changes haven’t made the importance of gender and sexuality as concepts disappear. If anything, they’ve become more relevant for understanding the world today.

Recorded on November 30, 2023, this panel brought together a group of UC Berkeley graduate students from the fields of sociology, ethnic studies, and political science for a discussion of gender and sexuality through the lens of such topics as medicine, transnational migration, and marriage. The panel featured David Pham, a PhD candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies; Emily Ruppel, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology; and Soosun You, a PhD candidate in Political Science at UC Berkeley. The panel was moderated by Laura C. Nelson, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley.

The panel was co-sponsored by the Center for Race & Gender (CRG) and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. This event was part of the Matrix on Point series, a discussion series promoting focused, cross-disciplinary conversations on today’s most pressing issues. Offering opportunities for scholarly exchange and interaction, each Matrix On Point features the perspectives of leading scholars and specialists from different disciplines, followed by an open conversation.

Watch the panel above or on YouTube, or listen to it as a podcast below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


Julia Sizek: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this event. So I’m Julia Sizek. I’m a post-doc here at the Social Science Matrix. And I’m standing in for Marion Fourcade, who is ill today and not in attendance. Although I understand that she’s online, so I hope she doesn’t mind that I disclosed that she’s ill. And I know that we have a lot of online audience today, in addition to the folks in the room. And so we welcome you as well.

So this event today, which is part of our New Directions series, is part of a series of events that we have every year to feature the work of graduate students and junior scholars. This series is very near and dear to my heart, not only because I started this series, but because I think that graduate students are doing some of the most interesting work at this institution. And it’s important to value their contributions to Berkeley’s scholarship, and that often, graduate students are not getting the rewards that I think are due to them.

So today’s topic is about something that graduate students, as typically younger than tenured faculty members, actually have special purchase on because of the vast changes that have happened in this field over the last 20 years, and arguably, over the last many years since before I was born. And so this topic, in addition to changing rather dramatically, has also, I think, been reshaping how we think about other fields intersectionally.

And I think that this group of panelists that we have today will be able to speak to the ways that many of the analytical categories that we commonly use in the social sciences like race, for example, often intersect with gender and sexuality. So I am super excited to have this group of scholars here today.

And so the next thing I will do is introduce our lovely moderator, Laura Nelson. So Laura is an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley. She received her PhD in anthropology– oh, sorry wrong intro. We’re going to the correct intro. Her research focuses on the way that societal changes are drawn through gender.

Her two current research projects, like one of our panelists, is situated in South Korea. So one of her projects is an examination of breast cancer in South Korea as a medical, cultural, personal, environmental, political, and transnational phenomenon. That’s a lot of phenomena there.

The other probes the demographic gender imbalance of the decades after the Korean War, asking both what personal experiences were of this imbalance, and also what effects the erasure of unmarried adults from this time of cultural and memory have had on South Koreans’ ideas of gender normativity. In earlier work, she looked at consumer nationalism in South Korea, and at credit car policies and personal bankruptcy in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. She’s also held positions outside of academia in public policy evaluation and in microenterprise development.

In addition to her role as professor, she’s also an Associate Dean of the Social Sciences, and is affiliated with the Center for Korean Studies, the Group in Asian Studies, and the Department of Anthropology. She received her PhD in anthro at Stanford, and holds a Master’s in City Planning– City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley, with a focus on housing and community economic development. So now I will go ahead and hand it over to Laura.

Laura Nelson: Great. Thank you so much, Julia. So I want to thank the Matrix, Julie and Marion, for inviting me and putting together this exciting panel. Julie actually already said a number of the things that I would also like to say about this panel.

So along with all of us gathered here today, I’m really looking forward to hearing from our speakers about the new directions they’re pursuing as they examine gender and sexuality as central organizing aspects of their research. The academic field of gender and sexuality studies is both broad and dynamic, encompassing perspectives and methods from across the social sciences, which is the focus here at Matrix, but also the humanities and the biological and physical sciences themselves.

In recent years, new politics and new viewpoints have opened new questions for research, particularly around the pervasiveness of– pervasiveness and re-entrenchment of gender and sexuality-based inequities throughout politics– sort of politics with a capital and politics with a small c– and also the complexities of intersectional entanglements, of race and disability, class, gender, and sexuality, and the particularities of places and cultures, and how different ontologies of gender affect social and cultural formation. So I’m really excited to hear how each of these scholars takes up these issues and others as they contribute to the new directions in gender and sexuality studies.

So I will introduce each of our speakers. I’m going to introduce all three of them right now, and then they’ll provide each of their presentations in the order, in that order. So David Pham is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies and a recipient of the Chancellor’s Fellowship. He’s also completing a designated emphasis in women gender and sexuality studies. His research interests broadly include Asian-American literary and cultural studies, queer of color critique, gender and sexuality studies, women of color feminisms, visual culture, and theories of racialized subjectivity.

In his dissertation, he explores the relationship between aesthetics and politics, and how the cultural productions of feminist and queer artists of color produce aesthetic imaginaries that respond to and contest dominant structures of oppression and exploitation. He holds an MA in ethnic studies from the Department and an AB in sociology from Vassar College.

Emily Ruppel is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley here. She’s broadly interested in connections between political-economic transformations and embodied experiences, particularly experiences in gender, sexuality, and disability. Her dissertation focuses empirically on job training programs for disabled workers, using historical research to trace the growth of this industry since the 1970s and ethnographic fieldwork to investigate contemporary labor practices.

She’s worked on other projects, addressing the co-construction of gender and autism in scientific discourse, class dynamics in LGBTQ communities, and the causal effects of social networks on health. Her work has been published in journals including Sexualities, a journal of health and social behavior, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and Family Relations, and has been funded by Policy Research inc and recognized by the disability in society section of the American Sociological Association. She holds an Ma from Berkeley and a BA from Smith college, both in sociology.

Soosun You is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and a research associate at the Center on the Politics of Development. Her work focuses on addressing various challenges to gender equality, with a particular focus on the causes of backlash against women’s empowerment. She studies this in the South Korean context, and in East Asia more broadly, looking at how individuals navigate the constraints of the local instantiation of the patriarchal environment, and how this leads to political demands.

Her dissertation specifically examines how politics of the marriage market have shaped the feminist and anti-feminist movements in South Korea and the region. She examines how the anti-natalist and pro-natalist government campaigns and policies have affected different dimensions of women’s empowerment, using both qualitative and quantitative methods such as in-depth interviews, surveys, and natural experiments. Soosun holds a BA in economics from Berkeley. So we get to hear first from David Pham.

David Pham: Can everyone hear me? OK, perfect. Thank you, Julia, so much for the original invitation to be on this panel. And I’d like to thank everyone in the audience here and on Zoom for joining us today. I’m really looking forward to the interdisciplinary conversation that we’ll be having.

So my presentation today is called Geologic Memory in the Work of Kelly Akashi. And it draws from my dissertation project titled Losing Touch of One’s Self, Negotiating Subjectivity in Feminist and Queer Asian-American Aesthetics. In my research, I look at the cultural productions of feminist and queer Asian-American artists who interrogate the senses, and in particular, the sense of touch, to examine alternative modes of being that issued a desire for stable, self-possessed subjectivity.

Today, I will be discussing the work of contemporary Asian-American feminist artist Kelly Akashi in the context of what has been called the, quote, “geologic turn, a line of inquiry taken up by scholars such as Dana Luciano, Kathryn Yusoff, Mel Chen, and Elizabeth Povinelli. This turn is nested within the wider debate over the anthropocene which has swept the humanities and social sciences, and has had the effect of critiquing the anthropocentrism of humanist thought.

One of the consequences of this geologic turn has been a more critical examination of what it means to be, quote, “geologically human,” a phrase coined by philosopher David Wood. In my talk, I will discuss how Akashi’s art deals with this provocation, specifically as a question of race, given her own family’s history of incarceration during World War II.

Kelly Akashi is a contemporary multimedia artist based in Los Angeles. Incorporating a variety of materials in her practice such as rope, glass, soil, bronze, and wax, she employs old world craft techniques such as glass blowing and candle-making in order to bring out the alchemical potentiality of these materials. Her work expounds upon the possibility of material items to relate immaterial themes. Akashi’s insistent foregrounding of the materiality of her pieces has led one critic to describe them as, quote, “counterweights to discourse.”

The artist is known for her sculptures, which often feature the uncanny juxtaposition of materials such as glass and metal, or wax and wood. These sculptural installations illustrate Akashi’s interest in change over time, as well as in timelines that predate and go beyond this idea of the human. Before turning toward her specific aesthetic engagement with her family’s history of incarceration through her inheritance series, I’d like to speak first about two other installations briefly to give a sense of the wider arc of her ecoaesthetic vision.

Akashi’s interest in the ecological and its non-human temporalities takes hold in her sculptural installation A Device To See The World Twice. The piece was part of a larger site-responsive outdoor exhibition on the campus of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from 2020 to 2021. Tucked into the far corner of the campus, nestled at the bend of one of the Clark’s wooded trails, Device comes into view with its distinctively large 30-inch acrylic lens. The central element of the piece, the lens, is supported by an armature of bronze-cast branches, which the artist found while in residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts, and they are held together by rope.

At the time of the peace– excuse me, as the title of the piece intimates, the sculpture is meant to have functionality, assisting viewers in seeing the world with more clarity. Akashi had originally planned for the lens to focus on the upright ash tree at the center of the clearing. However, in the months before the installation was to take place, the tree broke and fell over.

In her decision to move forward with the project by having the lens trained on the breaking point of the tree, Device both nods to the history of photographic representation of nature and land, while simultaneously distinguishing itself from its fraught ethos. It draws a critique of the violent impulses of photography to capture and possess its object by fixing it in time. This critique is salient to the history of landscape photography, given the genre’s history of depicting the pristine beauty of nature as something to be conquered and possessed, thereby aiding the settler colonial project of US imperial expansion.

Rejecting the settler colonial ideology of 19th century landscape photography, Device invites a kind of second sight that offers another perception of the natural ecosystem that releases itself from, quote, “the confines of a single image as authority.” The broken ash tree represents the entropic drive of nature which cannot be adequately depicted by means of photographic representation. Many of Akashi’s sculptures feature casts of her own hands in bronze or glass, each of which is unique to the specific artwork.

So in Akashi’s sculpture Mirror Image, a cast of the artist’s hand sits on top of a walnut pedestal and touches a patterned glass orb. The pedestal stages a scene of tenderness and erotic play. The fingers’ pressure on the orb creates a dimple on the glass object, reaching into it with intrigue and curiosity. Rather than being ancillary to the work, the pedestal figures centrally to the meaning of the piece, given that its spindle is fashioned off of Akashi’s EKG of her own heartbeat.

This element, in addition to the cast hand, conveys Akashi’s desire to include her own self within her pieces, fostering a sense of embodied presence in her work. The presence of Akashi’s lifeline literally through the spindle draws attention to the various entangled and intertwined lines that pattern the glass orb, which perhaps might represent the presence of other traces of other lives with which the hand strives to make contact.

The accretion of these lifelines swirl around a vortex, which lends a sense to the cosmic dynamic manifested by the orb as a dematerialization of memory and time. Time itself becomes a medium for the hand to reach into and play with in an effort to connect with those of different timelines. In addition, the work captures the limited temporality of the human body.

The orb’s dynamic movement suggests that the hand will soon be enveloped by time itself, and that in time, the human will lose what is left of its corporeal being. Mirror Image might perhaps be thought of then as a rendering of an intimate encounter in exchange with temporality, illuminating the kind of awareness that issues from touching it and becoming unraveled by it at the same time.

Akashi’s focus on time and space are clear in her investigation of geologic being as well, which can be seen as an aesthetic response to the wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In order to contextualize the stakes of Akashi’s intervention, I’d like to briefly recount the events related to the discovery of the Wakasa monument, which, as multiple sources have noted, has been the most significant archeological find related to Japanese-American internment.

James Wakasa was an [INAUDIBLE] man who was killed at the Topaz incarceration camp while walking his dog on the evening of April 11, 1943. Against the desires of authorities, members of the landscape team built a stone monument dedicated to his memory that was located near where he was killed. However, according to community member Nancy Ukai, the monument lasted only days before officials ordered it to be demolished.

Rather than destroy the monument, the landscape team instead buried it in the Earth, where it stayed hidden for 77 years until September 2020, when the monument was discovered by two archeologists using a map that Ukai found in the national archives. However, the circumstances following its discovery and removal have been marred with controversy. On July 27, 2021, the monument was unearthed unceremoniously upon orders from the Topaz museum board out of fear that published reporting of its discovery would lead to vandalism.

News of the monument’s unearthing shocked and outraged members of the Japanese-American community since no descendants, survivors, or other stakeholders were consulted or present when the stone was removed. To this day, the Topaz museum board has refused to release video of the monument’s removal, and it’s unclear whether community members’ calls for a community archeology project will be implemented at Topaz.

Given its original mishandling of the excavation, the museum board’s relationship with community members and its representative entities has been frosty and acrimonious. Nonetheless, the two entities were able to work together to organize an event that commemorated the 80th anniversary of Wakasa’s death this past April. Survivors and descendants of Topaz were invited to return to the camp as part of a weekend of healing. And in one ceremony, they were able to place the palm of their hand on the Wakasa monument. In the words of Yonsei poet Brandon Shimoda, survivors were able to, quote, “touch however briefly, however lightly, the hands of the [INAUDIBLE].

I bring this history up to foreground the geological dimension of Japanese-American incarceration. The discovery of the Wakasa monument provides a distinct reminder of how communal memory and history were literally embedded into the Earth, so that a discussion of incarceration would be incomplete without also acknowledging how that history left its physical imprint on the surrounding landscape. This history provides an important backdrop to Akashi’s Inheritance series. This series consists of three sculptures which reflect a negotiation with her family’s experience of incarceration at Poston, where her father was imprisoned.

In two sculptures– in two of the sculptures, casts of Akashi’s hand in lead crystal rest on top of a stone. And in the third sculpture, Akashi’s cast hand cradles pebbles in its palm. The artist took these stones from Poston. And we also see that in each hand is adorned with family heirlooms belonging to Akashi’s grandmother– a ring on the first hand, a ring and a bracelet on the second, and a brooch on the rest of the third.

The captivating quality of Akashi’s Inheritance series owes much to these sculptures’ ability to render an engagement with history intimate and with intense feeling, accomplishing this feat even as the history of wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans is not readily evident itself. It’s worth noting that none of the hands are gripping the stone or are positioned in a way that would indicate domination or mastery, neither are these hands overcome by the history materialized in the stone, which we can infer from their relaxed manner. Rather, these hands are engaging the stone rather delicately, even gracefully.

The juxtaposition of dualities Akashi is known for in her sculptures are evident here also– dualities of personal memory and collective history, notions of abstract and concrete, life and non-life, biological and geological. Categorical distinctions ultimately never hold for her. And through Akashi’s work, she illustrates how these distinctions are always already inseparable and entangled.

The entanglement between biological and geological, the last pair in the set of dualities I mentioned a moment ago, is illustrated to poignant effect in Akashi’s Long Exposure, which is a full body portrait of the artist carved out of stone, where before the hands we saw in the Inheritance series were merely touching stone, we see now in Long Exposure how the artist’s body is subsumed into it. But her mineralized corporeality is not the only thing we see.

Signs of biological life are not absent in the full body portrait, but are hinted at, as we see in the figure’s left hand cradling purple flowers. Long Exposure thus destabilizes the categories we take for granted, and visualizes what Kathryn Yusoff has described as the, quote, “interior and interior non slash inhuman excess of subjectivity.” The work conveys a surrendering to stone, acknowledging the eventual return of the body to the Earth.

Viewing Kelly Akashi’s sculptural installations facilitates a change in perception that bears on how we think about concepts such as the body or the human. Through her exploration of ecological consciousness through the geological, her work destabilizes these categories, and makes fundamentally clear that the thick relations in which we exist are ones that we can’t really opt out of, let alone dominate.

But if there’s one thing to remember about Akashi’s hand sculptures, it is the way that her work conveys the intimacy of stone itself to reveal how such an unassuming substance can hold such deep memory. Her hand sculptures are portals to communal memory, and offer a method of historical inquiry that insists on the necessity of touching the traumatic past with grace, delicacy, and care. Thanks.

Emily Ruppel: Great. Hi, everyone. I’m Emily. Thank you so much to everyone at the Social Science Matrix who is involved in organizing this. And thank all of you– thanks to all of you for coming. So I’m going to start off with some general remarks on feminist disability studies, then share some of my own research on gender and autism.

And I want to thank my four undergraduate research assistants who helped with data analysis also– Alexandra Ward, Genevieve Bellavance, Zoe Anderson, and Christian Burke. And I’m really excited to talk about how research linking gender and disability can push feminist theory forward. This click work? Oh, oops. There we go.

Scholars often date the emergence of feminist disability studies to the 2002 publication of Rosemary Garland Thompson’s famous essay Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory. In the subsequent decades, this field has flourished through Garland Thompson’s continued writings, brilliant monographs by Mel Chen, Alison Kafer, and Ellen Samuels, among many others, and an emergent feminist of color critique.

Feminist disability studies engages with Judith Butler’s critique of sex categorization to advance what Tobin Siebers calls a theory of complex embodiment. As Kim Hall summarizes the overall contribution of this field in her influential edited collection, “feminist disability studies makes the body, bodily variety, and normalization central to analyses of all forms of oppression. Feminist disability studies proposes ways of rethinking and reimagining the body and embodiment.” End quote. Disability serves as a limiting case for feminists critiquing the naturalization of difference through refrains to bodily reality. So disability theory may advance feminist work on the embodiment of the social.

Gender inequality rests on the naturalization of sexual difference, the belief in innate embodied differences between men and women. This feminist axiom incites critical analysis of the role of science and medicine in the social construction of sexual difference. Building on Butler’s characterization of sex as always already gender, feminist scholars like Anne Fausto-Sterling show how the scientific interpretation of embodied attributes, from bone structure, to neurology, is filtered through the lens of gender, leading scientists to present bodily difference as both innate and binary. Even attempts to challenge gender inequality within science may reify sexual difference. For instance, Steve Epstein finds that the activist push for women’s inclusion in medical research may naturalize male and female as discrete bodily categories.

Recent work suggests that disability may anchor our understandings of sexual difference. Ellen Samuels argues that gender, race, and disability are tied together through what she terms fantasies of identification, the fantasy that social categories are static, impermeable, and indelibly marked on the body. As Samuels explains the centrality of disability to these fantasies, “this shadow function of disability is to hold the fact of physicality, unmoored from social or representational meanings.” End quote.

Gender and race are commonly understood as partially embodied, partially social. But most people understand disability as entirely embodied. So mapping it onto other forms of difference naturalizes these differences. Samuels’ analysis of disability and sex categorization contributes to the broader feminist critique of sex.

Following Samuels, my research shows that autism anchors sexual difference in the medical literature and in popular discourse. So autism is a neurodevelopmental disability linked to differences in a range of areas. While autism has historically been stigmatized, disability rights advocates argue that autism is a valuable form of difference.

Around 1 in 54 children today have been diagnosed with autism, but the rates are about five times higher in boys and men than in girls and women. So many scientists studying autism believe that understanding these disparate diagnostic rates by gender will help them understand what autism is and where it comes from. Therefore, gendered constructions of autism are widespread in both scientific literature and in popular discourse.

This paper uses a combination of inductive and deductive analytic methods to trace these gendered constructions. Crucially, this project does not intervene in ongoing debates over the gendered etiology of autism. So my objective analysis is the scientific construction of autism, not autism itself.

So in the first inductive stage of research, I read widely within this discursive field. So during this stage, I read scientific journal articles, news coverage, autism memoirs, activists’ writings, and a wide range of other documents. I also read several secondary histories of autism to place these materials in context. During this first stage of analysis, three specific gendered paradigms emerged.

In the second deductive stage of analysis, I evaluated the emergence and proliferation of these three paradigms in the scientific literature with the emergence of four undergraduate research assistants. We conducted a web of science search for articles which referenced relevant keywords. Then we sampled the 25 most cited articles published before 2005, from 2006 to 2010, from 2011 to 2015, and from 2016 to 2020, comprising an overall data set of 100 highly cited articles stratified by period.

We coded for three major paradigms in each article, highlighting passages where these paradigms were discussed, and classifying articles by the primary paradigms that they advocated. We also coded for adoption of biological, social, mixed, or ambiguous explanations for findings.

So the extreme male brain, or EMB theory of autism, is one of the dominant neuroscientific paradigms of autism in the research literature. Proposed in 2002 by Simon Baron, whose initial expostulation of the theory has been cited over 2,500 times, the EMB perspective holds that autism represents an exaggerated version of men’s typical differences from women, so researchers should look to sex-linked variables like fetal testosterone exposure to explain autism itself.

EMB theorists argue that the female brain is characterized by superior empathizing, while the male brain is characterized by superior systematizing. So as evidence for these supposed differences between the male and female brain, EMB theorists claim that women show increased tendencies to share and take turns, comfort others, pick up on subtle emotional cues, talk about feelings, perform poorly in math and science, as opposed to men’s greater tendencies towards physical violence, leadership, attention to detail, mechanical occupations, and math and science.

EMB advocates identify systematizing as the defining characteristic of autism, rendering the autistic brain a supposed extreme of the male brain. Naturalizing sexual difference is an explicit part of the EMB project. So for example, Baron-Cohen’s original EMB manifesto contains an interlude dismissing theories of the social construction of sexual difference and advocating for the determinative role of biology.

EMB theory dominated the autism literature during the early 2000s, but it’s come under fire in recent years from feminists, autistic self-advocates, and some scientific researchers. Critics of EMB theory allege that it presents a skewed view of autism, missing its symptoms in autistic women. For instance, some researchers argue that the autism quotient, a diagnostic instrument developed by Baron-Cohen, gives masculinized examples of systematizing, like obsessive interest in cars, computers, or financial information, or sports. It thus misses systematizing behaviors in autistic women, who these activists argue are more likely to obsess over gardening, makeup, boy bands, knitting, dolls, et cetera.

Today, many activists and scientists argue that autistic girls and women go underdiagnosed because researchers and practitioners miss their symptoms. This critique has led scientists to formulate an alternative theory of autism which identifies distinct male and female autistic phenotypes. Researchers delineating these phenotypes identify autistic women as more socially and emotionally capable than autistic men, identify autistic women as more interested in feminized objects– knitting, boy bands, et cetera– relative to autistic men, and identify women as showing more internalizing symptoms like disordered eating, and men are showing more externalizing symptoms like anger.

This delineation of male and female phenotypes may reinforce preconceptions of men and women’s intrinsic differences. Some researchers identify biological causes for these divergent symptom profiles, while others attribute them to autistic men and women’s different socialization, which they suggest teaches autistic women to camouflage classic symptoms. This research program first developed in the late 20th century, but it really exploded as a critique of EMB theory in the 2010s.

A third emergent paradigm identifies autism as a gender-defiant disorder, citing high rates of queerness among autistic people as evidence for a link between autism and gender nonconformity. This paradigm comes out of activism and clinical practice, and remains more prominent in these domains than in the scientific literature. About 70% of autistic people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, and about 15% identify as trans or non-binary, rates far above those seen in the general population.

Recent research identifies autistic people as more androgynous than their non-autistic counterparts in several areas, including personality traits, sexual identities, and physical features. Some researchers– some research routes this androgyny in the body and in biology, assessing bodily traits like shoulder width or skull size for their relative androgyny, for instance.

Other research identifies autistic people’s gender nonconformity as predominantly social in nature and potentially stemming from autistic people’s experiences of marginalization. Some research handles this positive link between autism and gender nonconformity positively or neutrally. But a lot of work pathologizes this link and identifies gender conformity as a treatment goal. Indeed, some therapeutic interventions have been designed to increase gender conformity among autistic youth or autistic adults.

Therefore, the understanding of autism as a gender-defiant disorder establishes sexual difference as a baseline from which autistic people deviate. This perspective on autism has been less influential than EMB theory or the theory of male and female autistic phenotypes, but it’s become a more significant research program in the last few years. And as I mentioned, it’s driven some recent therapeutic interventions.

Our discursive analysis of a stratified sample of highly cited articles enables me to map trends in the emergence and dispersal of these three paradigms. Extreme male brain theory dominates the other two paradigms in terms of influence, with articles in this paradigm occurring significantly more citations on average than those in any other paradigm, and with scientists across this research field characterizing EMB theory as the best known gendered paradigm of autism.

However, this graph shows that articles espousing other paradigms have been published at a steady rate for the last several decades, with articles promoting male and female autistic phenotypes indeed surpassing EMB theory articles numerically. Over time, the figure on this slide shows that the share of articles promoting EMB theory declined, while the share promoting the theory of male and female autistic phenotypes and autism as a gender-defiant disorder rose.

The theory of male and female autistic phenotypes has emerged today as the leading scientific understanding of the gender dimensions of autism. While the theory of autism as a gender-defiant disorder appears scientifically nascent, yet influences autism activism, popular discourse, and clinical practice.

Furthermore, as I’ve indicated, conflict over the biological versus social roots of gender and sexual difference has emerged within and between these three camps. 37 articles in the stratified sample of 100 articles explicitly attributed difference to biological factors, and 14 to social factors, with the remainder of the sample discussing a combination of factors or taking no explicit position. This figure shows that while biological explanations have continuously dominated the literature, as autistic and feminist activism have challenged these explanations, the number of articles probing social explanations for the gender dimensions of autism have risen. However, articles adopting a sociological frame still remain a minority.

Feminists and activists within the autism discursive field are highly critical of extreme male brain theory, and identify theories of male and female autistic phenotypes and autism as a gender-defiant disorder as advances on this perspective. To some extent, they are advances, granting more credence than EMB theory to sociological factors underpinning differences between men and women. However, I find that all three paradigms ultimately contribute to the naturalization of sexual difference.

Extreme male brain theory essentializes empathizing and systematizing as sex traits. The theory of male and female autistic phenotypes essentializes a range of behavioral differences and differences in interests between men and women. And the theory of autism as a gender-defiant disorder pathologizes queerness and gender variance.

Assumptions about sexual difference thus thread through autism discourse, including both extreme male brain theory and its scientific and activist backlash. These findings contribute to the research literature on the scientific construction of sexual difference. In particular, following the work of Ellen Samuels, they illustrate that disability anchors our understandings of sexual difference.

Autism research naturalizes preexisting views of men and women as intrinsically different, offering supposed proof that these differences are grounded in neurology. This research illustrates the analytic importance of disability for feminist theory. Disability proves the embodied reality of sex as well as other social categories, most centrally race, to the extent that social agents, institutions, and discourses map disability onto sex categorization. Centering disability thus helps feminist theorists make sense of the bodily dimensions of gender inequality. I’d love to talk in the Q&A about future directions for feminist disability studies and what all feminist theorists can learn from this literature. Thank you all.

Soosun You: Hi, my name is Soosun You. Thank you so much for being here and for organizing, or for moderating. So I’ll be presenting a part of my dissertation with you today. And the talk that I’ll be delivering today is titled The Main Squeeze, A Constricting Marriage Market backlash. Against Women’s Empowerment in South Korea.

And so what I’ll be talking about today tries to understand some of the causes behind the backlash that we’re seeing against women’s empowerment in South Korea. So just to give you some context first, here are some examples of the pushback against women that we’ve been seeing in South Korea. On the left, we have young men who have gathered to call for stricter legal punishments against women who make false sexual– false accusations of sexual harassment. And on the right a group of men have gathered to call for an immediate abolishment of all women and feminist organizations from the country.

These are very recent examples and just two examples of the recent pushback against women’s empowerment in South Korea. And what these instances have in common are that, first, these are young men who have gathered against women’s rights, and second, they are taking political action, right? They are calling on the government to take institutional measures to reduce women’s empowerment in South Korea.

Now, these pushback against women’s empowerment have now become explicitly political in South Korea, as key political leaders like Yoon Suk-yeol, the current president, really capitalizing on the anti-feminist backlash. He won an overwhelming support from young men in South Korea by promising to abolish the gender ministry and by also proclaiming that gender discrimination no longer exists in the country. And now I want to show you that that statement is far from the truth.

So first, looking at the share of legislators who are women, you can see that South Korea ranks among the last. So of the National Assembly, only 19% of the seats are held by women, far below the OECD average of, I believe, 34%. It’s also below the world average, as well as the average across all of Asia. And we can see that this disparity extends to the economic realm.

So you can see that looking at the gender wage gap, South Korea ranks at the last, ranks last among all the OECD countries. For every dollar that a man makes, a South Korean woman only makes $0.68. So again, far below the OECD average of $0.88. In fact, The Economist puts South Korea as the worst place for a woman to work, so based on a more composite index of gender inequality in the workforce. And ever since it released this glass ceiling index in 2016, it’s persistently ranked last.

And so it’s puzzling that we’re seeing this level of backlash in a place where gains for women have been pretty modest. And it is also puzzling that we’re seeing this backlash among young men, whom the literature typically tells us that they hold more progressive social values. And so my research question is, what explains the backlash against women’s rights among young men in South Korea today?

And for the South Korean case, I argue that we really need to pay attention to the marital market dynamics. So I argue that the marriage market squeeze concerning the heterosexual– heterosexual marriage market, the marriage market squeeze in which there’s more men compared to women seeking to marry is an important cause for the backlash that we’re seeing against women’s empowerment in South Korea.

And I argue that the squeeze is created by the interaction of state policies, specifically anti-natalist policies that were implemented in the 20th century that interacted with societal norms governing gender relations. And I’ll talk more about this in the next few slides. But the point here that I’m making is that this interaction is producing status threats for men in South Korea, that men are seeking to resolve by making political demands to reverse a range of women’s rights.

So to test my arguments, I use three different methods. So first, I use semi-structured interviews. And these interviews were really critical in informing me that women and– women and men in South Korea face very polarizing pressures in navigating the marriage market. They have very different obligations and duties that they are expected to fulfill that are pushing them in different directions in the marriage market.

And second, I use policy analysis, or I use observational data analysis, to examine the effect of the marriage market squeeze on attitudes of men toward women empowerment. And I show that state policies that led to an imbalanced marriage market led these men, or the affected cohorts, to hold more conservative gender views.

And lastly, I use a survey experiment showing that increasing the salience of the marriage market squeeze causes young men to demand the abolition of women’s rights. And today, for the interest of time, I’ll probably only have time to go over the interviews, but we will see. OK.

Now, first, I’ll– so first– so to show you the first– the state policies that have been critical in creating this marriage market squeeze, between the 1960s and early 2000s, South Korean government really aggressively implemented anti-natalist policies to discourage families from having birth. And so particularly, the authoritarian regimes of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan were very aggressive in pushing these policies through sterilization policies, as well as through national campaigns that discouraged individuals from having children. So this one reads, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], which means two is too many. So they’re telling people that having two kids is too many.

And so it was through these campaigns that really ideologically sought to make individuals believe in having smaller families, such as by linking not only the household’s wealth with having fewer children, but also the economic fate of the country with having fewer children, that was very successful in reducing the fertility rates. So in 1960, the fertility rate in South Korea was about six children per woman. And today, it’s 0.78, the lowest in the world. And it’s been that way for multiple years now.

And one thing that I looked at is the effect of the policies that permitted ultrasound technology for sex– sex-selective screening in the 1980s. Because of the patrilineal norms in South Korea that was prevalent then and still prevalent today, these policies interacted with preference for sons, as these are– kind of the sons are the ones expected to continue the ancestral line. And this caused an imbalanced sex ratio for many of the cohorts that were born during this time. And so I’m interested in looking at the consequences of the past policies for women’s empowerment, or backlash against women’s empowerment today.

Now, one thing I want to stress is that while they were– the South Korean government was very successful in promoting economic growth as well as reducing fertility rates, many patriarchal norms endured in South Korean society. So for instance, for men, the norms governing men’s roles as gajang, the breadwinner, and jangnam, the first born son, were especially kind of strong in Korea.

So in order to become the breadwinner, you have to get married and you have to provide for your wife. And later on, you have to also care for your elderly, or your parents. And this pressure is especially strong for the jangnams, or the first-born sons, because they are usually the ones expected to continue the ancestral line.

And so through interviews, I was struck by how deeply rooted these norms still are in South Korean society today. So for instance, one woman in fact told me that there was no option but for her brother to get married because he needed to bring a bride who would take over the family rituals. And so he was successful in bringing a bride who would willingly take over the family rituals. But this woman did not want to get married because precisely for this reason.

And for women, the norms are slightly different. So norms binding women really kick in once you enter the marriage. So a lot of the economic reforms did bring about changes, or the loosening of norms, for unmarried women, not entirely, but some. But particularly for married women, these norms really kind of maintained intact.

So a woman’s role as myeoneuri, which translates to daughter-in-law, was especially something that is strong in South Korean society today. That prevents, or that at least reduces, the appeal of marriage for many women in Korean society. So there are many high costs upon marriage for women, including having to partake, or at least having this pressure to partake, in family rituals, bearing and caring for children, as well as reduced freedom. And these are kind of the things that many of my interviewees spoke as primary reasons that drove them away from getting married.

And so this pressure is so salient in South Korea, that there are even K-dramas of this theme. So this is one example of it. This woman is newly married. And now, she’s having the pressure to work. But at the same time, she has to fulfill the duties of being a daughter-in-law and cooking for her– not for her– not just for her husband, but also for her in-laws.

And so through my interviews, this was also evidenced in my interviews. So one woman, and she’s a politician, and so she told me that while she wasn’t planning on having children, once her in-laws got involved, she did not have a choice but to give birth. And so you can see that there is this pressure that really forces, or that really constrains the behaviors of women in Korean society. And many women, knowing this, decide to preemptively opt out of the marriage market.

So what am kind of arguing here is that due to past policies, many younger male cohorts face this constricted marriage market in which there are more men than women seeking to marry, or available to marry in the first place. And these norms are pushing men into marry– into marriage, as they have high costs, or they face high costs for not fulfilling expectations of being the breadwinner and being the jangnam, or the first-born son, that eventually takes over the family line.

However, these norms are simultaneously pulling women away from marriage because there are so such high costs to being wives and the myeoneuri, or the daughter-in-law, in South Korea. And just to show you an example of how this is playing out in practice in South Korea, this is news that was broadcasted in Korea a few years ago about a dating event that occurred in Korea.

And it’s called Competition for Singles. And this man is quoted as saying he came here because he thought there would be a lot of women in this event, but in fact, there are more pigeons than women. And so just an example of how this is playing out.

And one more just kind of funny, but– what do you call it, kind of this disconcerting kind of anecdote is that I’ve heard many politicians tell me about how many city governments and provincial governments are opening these types of dating events these days. And sometimes, because there aren’t enough women who are willing to come, they would recruit women from government institutions or public hospitals that they are affiliated with to come to these events. So I can see that this is a real problem in Korea.

And this polarizing pressure was evident again and again in my interviews. So one man in his 30s who lives in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, told me that men have much more social pressure to get married. And he also told me that he is concerned that he may not be able to achieve a level of socioeconomic status that is required to get married in South Korea. And so the men have both social and material pressure that kind of comes– that is associated with marriage.

While a woman told me that she has a friend who recently got married, and she became very upset. She just warned her that she should not give up on her career and become a [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. A [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] is a common term used to describe women whose career came to a halt because she decided to get married and eventually had children. And so this is a very prevalent kind of phenomenon in Korea, that there is even a term for it. And so you can see that there is really these polarizing pressures for women and men in the marriage market.

And so I’m arguing that this is a primary or an important source of the backlash that we might be seeing in South Korea against women’s rights because marriage is such an important, kind of, duty and obligation for men in this society. So failing to marry, or this prospect, or the low prospect of marriage in South Korea, can be considered a cultural threat because the patriarchal norms are deeply rooted, and because marriage is seen as a duty and an obligation, especially for the jangnams of South Korea.

It can also be a material threat because marriage is often perceived as an economic symbol, right? So you have to be of a certain kind of standing in order to successfully get married. And in order to continue the ancestral line and inherit wealth, one of the expectation is that you do get married and bring home a wife who may continue the family rituals.

And so I argue that’s in response to these threats, men respond with political backlash as a solution aimed at addressing this mismatch between asocial norms and demographic realities created by past state policies.

I’m out of time. So actually– so I think I’ll just leave it here. And I’m curious to hear what you think about this kind of the expectation and the theory because it’s the first time that I’m sharing this with a non-political science audience. But just to give you a brief, brief overview of what I found, I find that the individuals who were born during eras in which there was this cohort sex imbalance, the men do, in fact, show much stronger backlash attitudes during this period.

And additionally, using survey experiments that increases the salience of this marriage market squeeze for men, I find that they do respond by demanding more institutional measures to reduce women’s rights in South Korea. So I’m happy to talk more in the Q&A. But thank you. And I look forward to receiving your comments and feedback. Thank you.

Julia Sizek: OK, we are now going to move into the Q&A. So I will be walking around the room with the microphone and then also monitoring the online questions. So if you’re online, you put your questions into the Q&A feature, not into the chat. That just makes sure that I can see them. Thank you.

Laura Nelson: Great. So thank you all so much for those papers. They’re so interesting and so different one from the other, that it makes it for a really rich conversation, I’m sure. So do people in the audience here in the room have any questions they want to kick us off with? [INAUDIBLE]

Audience Member: Thank you all. This was such a terrific– such a terrific panel. So I’m going to start with a question for David. And in a way, I’m curious, sort of we were talking about this geological turn. And I was wondering if you could talk more about what– what it means to be a humanist sort of thinking about geological time, for example, or thinking about our affective encounters with stones. So– so talk me through that move from the human to these non-human entities for humanities, right, which are so often centered on the human.

A broad question.

David Pham: Thanks so much, [INAUDIBLE], for that question. And it’s a question that I thought a lot about because I came up as a humanist. And– and it’s interesting to think about these artists such as Kelly Akashi who worked through the geological, because the geological offers a vast time span, that the human mind finds it very difficult to kind of accept. And I don’t think the brain is wired to, kind of, cognitively processed the billions of years that came before us.

And I think many humanist literary critics who work on geology talk about how the engagement with stone sends one reeling. This kind of– to touch stone, as Akashi and several other Asian-American feminists have been working through, to touch touchstone really sends one reeling because you have this immediate sense of the vastness of time and space without being able to process that cognitively, but you feel it. And I think that’s what I find so powerful about Akashi’s work, because some of these things we can’t describe through language. And I don’t know if we want to. Because it just can’t– language is so limited, so we– she– Akashi resorts to sculpture to think about historical inquiry.

And so, yeah, I think that’s why, you know, I talk about stone being so unassuming an object to talk about humanist ideas such as emotion or feeling or like, memory, but it’s exactly what I think this new direction is going toward. Like, stone remembers. And I think the historical anecdote that I give about the Wakasa monument really, I think, situates Akashi’s intervention really powerfully. Because for those descendants and survivors of Topaz to get the chance to return to the monument and put their hand on the stone itself is really kind of takes on a spiritual dimension.

I was able to attend that weekend. And the pastor there was talking about how the survivors were able to transcend time and space, and to reconnect with the ancestors through that kind of touch. So I think all of that comes to bear on Akashi’s work as well.

Julia Sizek: Actually, I want to add a related question on this stone topic. Because one of the things I was really curious about– and I work on– I work on rocks in a very different way. But I was really curious about how different metaphors and actual patterns that show up on stone appear in this work, so things like erosion or weathering, and how those might intersect with some of the material that you’re looking at in these sculptures.

David Pham: Yeah, that’s the side of geology that I’m trying to strengthen. But you know, going back to the Wakasa monument– is there any way to pull up that image again?

So just thinking about the parts of the stone that the survivors and descendants could touch, on the top half where it’s darker, I was able to talk with the archeologist who was responsible for unearthing this monument. And the top part, the darker part, is something called desert varnish. And it’s much more fragile. And they didn’t want anyone touching that because it could just disintegrate.

But the bottom half I think is called andesite. That’s a type of– I think a type of rock that was more, I guess, stable. And the descendants were able to walk by and place their hand however long they wanted on that part of the stone itself. Yeah, that’s my reply to– my best answer to your question, yeah.

Laura Nelson: Actually, I just want to– I don’t want to have the entire conversation on this presentation, but it was so rich. But I also made the observation in this panel which says New Directions on Gender and Sexuality that you didn’t use the term gender or sexuality once in your presentation. And I’m just wondering whether you can situate for us the ways in which you see this as a new direction in gender and sexuality-focused research.

David Pham: Yeah, a huge question. I– I think a lot about the way– you know, Kelly Akashi is part of a cohort of Asian-American feminists thinking about the question of embodiment, which I think is clearly a feminist concern, and how that embodiment changes with regard to thinking about non-organic materials or these kind of strange juxtapositions that we think of at first that actually kind of make sense I think.

I think the kind of strains of feminist thought that I really draw from are ones that think about the feminist– the categories that we take for granted, such as the human and the body, to really kind of critique those notions and see something different. And I think the reification of those categories is what I was trying to get at through my presentation.

Audience Member: Soosun. So first context for my question, I was adopted from China. So having been told, or heard, all my life that the Chinese prefer sons, I later learned to question that narrative. For example, given– there’s this nonfiction book called Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. There’s also the documentary film One Child Nation.

And I know your presentation is just on young, mostly young men and women’s preferences regarding marriage and not getting– or not getting marriage rather than children, but how does this situation in South Korea compare and contrast with that in China? And if you can’t answer that question, just what possibilities do you– what hope or what could we do instead?

Soosun You: Thank you for your questions. These are both big questions. So I am trying to learn more about China because I think it would be a great comparison child case. What I know from the South Korean case is that the sex selection slash susceptive abortion, or sex selective adoption, these issues were especially prominent during the ’80s in South Korea, and then continued into the ’90s as well.

But I know that at least in terms of the sex ratio, it has pretty much, like, naturalized to what demographers call the natural sex ratio nowadays. But to the extent that social norms are pushing and pulling women and– men and women in different directions in South Korea, I think this is going to be an ongoing issue. And I see the sex imbalance as one, kind of, legacy of state policy that will continue to exacerbate this issue for South Koreans.

That said, I believe for China and India, I did see a paper which said that the rates of male bachelorhood will likely peak in about 2050. And so I think that my study does have some implications for this context. And I’m really interested in extending this study to those places. And so I’ll have a better answer for you then. But that’s what I know in comparison at the moment.

And yeah, I think– look, solution, I don’t know. I think end of patriarchy might be something that– and I don’t think it’s the men, but it’s the patriarchal system that is causing men and women in these directions that I see as being really problematic. So yeah, thank you for your questions.

Audience Member: I’m sorry, I forgot your name.

Emily Ruppel: Emily.

Audience Member: Hi, Emily. I’ve really enjoyed your presentation. I wanted to ask you about this, if we call it a gender-defiant presentation, rather than disorder.

So if we start by getting rid of the disorder, if we think of neurodivergent people as also potentially being– what I understand about autism is folks are less rule-bound by social rules and social norms sometimes. Yeah, that when people are less bound by social norms, more queerness, more gender diversity ensues. How’s that as an angle?

Emily Ruppel: Yeah. No, I completely agree with you basically. So when I– and let me just set this up. So this is an analysis of– oh, let me turn my mic on.

Of course, I get it.

Yeah, so this is an analysis of the medical literature. So disorder is very much their language, not my language. So I would totally agree with you. For me, as a scholar, and thinking from a more normative perspective or whatever, I definitely think a presentation would be a better framing. And in terms of that interpretation, I totally agree with you. And that’s sort of what my instincts would say might actually be going on here.

And there’s– a lot of the autism memoirs I read and a lot of the writings by autistic activists, that is their framing of this. Their framing is basically if autistic people are less bound by social rules in general and then identify as queer at higher rates, identify as trans at higher rates, or presenting in varied ways, if society was less patriarchal, then maybe gender and sexuality in the general population would come to resemble gender and sexuality in the autistic population.

So that’s definitely the angle that a lot of autistic activists and feminists are taking here. And I think it’s a really generative one. There’s a great article by Christian Bumiller called– I think it’s called The Neurodiversity Movement as a Feminist Project, basically, which is basically about what feminist theorists can learn from autistic activists’ writings on this. And so I find that body of work really promising.

Analytically, from an activist perspective, I think it’s gotten taken up and appropriated in strange ways in the scientific and medical literature, right? So some of these scientific researchers will cite some of these writings as their inspiration, but then use it to say, oh, so autistic people are queer at higher rates, what can we do about that? And use it in this more pathologizing way. So are noticing the same trends as autistic activists themselves are writing about, but taking a much more medicalizing, pathologizing perspective, and then, in some instances, trying to design these therapeutic interventions to increase gender conformity.

Audience Member: I guess I’m just wondering– I’m not a social scientist. And so in terms of how you might frame a research question in a positive way, right, that might allow you to access– I guess it’s– I’m sort of struck by it. It’s like, oh, the medical literature says this. And here’s all this other stuff that we’re not supposed to pay attention to, which are the people that are talking about their own experience, right?

So two things. One, how could we invert the value of other kinds of statements that are not coming from perhaps the scientific literature? And how could we maybe ask the questions– yeah, how– I don’t know, I don’t know how to do this. So how do you ask the question in order to come up with a hypothesis, a potential conclusion that suggests, wow, reduced social norms produce greater gender diversity? My other question is sort of related to this, is I’m just wondering about the queer people in South Korea. Yeah.

Emily Ruppel: Yeah. So I mean, for me, for this project, and I was only– we were given 12 to 15 minutes, so this is a pretty limited part of it. But that’s one of the things I’m really interested in, is this interaction between scientific and medical researchers, and activists, and people writing about their lives, and things like that. Because I think autism is a really interesting case of this because there has been a really strong activist backlash against how scientists and clinicians and practitioners have spoken about autism.

A lot of autistic people saying, no, you’re wrong. Autism should be not thought of as a disorder. It should be a really direct contestation of scientific discourse. We see that in some other cases as well. There’s extensive literature on health social movements. AIDS activism is kind of the classic case.


Exactly. Yeah, we see this around a lot of disability movements. But autism in particular, there’s been a lot of really direct interaction between– between autistic people themselves and researchers, and some autistic people then going to graduate school and becoming researchers in this field. So I am really interested in that.

And unfortunately, one of the dynamics I was seeing was this thing where activists would raise some critique, and then researchers would find a way to adopt it, but reframe it in a much more pathologizing way, or a much more essentialist way. So activists make claims. And then they’re taken up by researchers and taken out of context and turned into much more gender essentialist claims than they were, sort of, in their initial context. And so I think figuring out how to, yes, center the original activist statements and voices and prevent that seems like a really important next stage for autistic activism, I think, and preventing that tort of appropriation of autistic claims about gender and sexuality.

[INAUDIBLE] people in South Korea.

Soosun You: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a really good question. So that’s not the focal, kind of, point of my dissertation. But just from what I know, the population that identifies as queer is growing in Korea. And there are more contents of queer and LGBTQ in South Korea.

However, that said, there is still a lot of stigma attached to queer and LGBTQ in general in South Korea. But one of the things that struck me during some of my interviews is that the men who were against women’s empowerment were not necessarily against LGBTQ. And that was something that I thought was kind of interesting, that I’m hoping to look more into in the future. But yeah, yeah.

Audience Member: Hello, it’s me again. So this question is for Emily. I– Oh, so– since I’m also a disabled person and I– like, sometimes I say I’m neurodivergent, but there’s a big difference between being identified as disability– as disabled or pathologized in a certain way, like, diagnosed with something from the very beginning, and then finding out later. So that’s the case for both queerness and for disability, or neurodivergence.

And like, there’s a– I’m just– get my question together. I’m just– like, I’m wondering about the nuances there. And like, for example, what about the other direction? So well, you’re talking about the discourse. But for people who maybe didn’t– adults who later find out, I mean, maybe this is supporting the scientific discourse, which is problematic, which you’re critiquing.

But has the scientific discourse considered, like, those adults who were already queer and then found out as adults that they were diagnosed? I’ve also– like, what I have not found within disability– at least not found exactly. And like, I went to this panel on disability and queerness. It just had students on it at UC Berkeley. But it was all people, like, those who started out queer and then were coming out as disabled. But I haven’t really found it the other way. But of course, we’re talking about autism– you’re talking about autism specifically.

Emily Ruppel: Yeah, that’s a fascinating question. I love that question. I think it actually connects a little bit to my answer to the previous question as well. Because this– what I’m calling the theory of male and female autistic phenotypes, that very much emerged, and again, was somewhat appropriated, from activism among women who were diagnosed with autism later in life, and many of them queer.

And so there’s been sort of this wave of adult diagnoses in autistic women. And I think that that is changing– that is changing autism as a social category, that wave of diagnoses, that now for some people, not everyone, but for some people, that’s the first thing they think of now when they think of autism as you know, like, women college students getting diagnosed, things like that. And I think– you know, I think– it came out of some of these women, and to a lesser extent, maybe practitioners who worked with them, saying, oh, this is a problem. We’re missing autism and women. And then researchers start developing this theory of male and female autistic phenotypes, which, as I described, ends up going to very essentialist places in saying autism is just intrinsically different in men and women because men and women are intrinsically different.

But I do think– I think you’re right. That sort of the experience of late diagnosis versus diagnosis in childhood where you sort of always know it does lead to a very different subjective experience of autism, or whatever the case may be. And it shifts disability as a cultural category. And it shifts autism as a cultural category.

I worked with an undergraduate a couple of years ago who was writing a thesis about autistic college students. And she had a much easier time recruiting women for her sample and nonbinary people for her sample, and a much harder time recruiting autistic men. And she and I were talking a bunch about this, because men are much more likely to be diagnosed.

So we were like, what’s going on with that? And what my theory was, which I don’t know if this is actually true, but what I was speculating from what she was seeing is that when women are diagnosed as adults, they end up identifying with autism more as a political category. They have a much more political sense of what it means to be autistic, what it means to be disabled. Whereas if you’re diagnosed in childhood, you might have a more medicalized understanding of that, and might not so much identify with it, might feel shame about it. Whereas people getting diagnosed in adulthood maybe are finding resources, finding community, things like that.

So I think autism as a cultural category is transforming with this wave of adult diagnoses. These women diagnosed in adulthood are becoming activists. They’re contesting scientific depictions of autism. But sometimes also, their contestations then get taken up by scientists and taken in very essentialist directions, like I said. Does that address your question?

Audience Member: Thank you. That was such an interesting, fascinating answer.

Emily Ruppel: Thank you. All right. I think it’s a really interesting case.

Laura Nelson: So as the panel moderator, I think that it’s my responsibility to, first of all, thank the three panelists, and also recognize the real richness of how diverse the panel presentations were in looking at institutions and systems that produce gender binaries, institutions and systems that contest gender binaries, and ways of being and expression that erodes and avoids that kind of expression and understanding and feeling of humanity as part of a binary system at all.

So I think that when we’re thinking about what are new directions for gender and sexuality studies, it’s really this kind of multifaceted, multiperspectival opportunities for really intervening and, again, understanding the field. So thank you so much, David, Emily, and Soosun.



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