The Autism Rights Movement-the Underrated Movement of the 21st Century

In the midst of human rights movements, one has gone forgotten and ignored by the mass media: the autism rights movement, also known as the neurodiverse rights movement.

Approximately 1% of the UK population is on the autistic spectrum, yet it is only this decade that significant autism rights movements and groups, as opposed to advocacy groups that may not properly take into account the wishes of autistic people themselves (as opposed to the wishes of their families, not all of whom fairly consult autistic people), have developed.

For nearly two years, January 2017 to October 2018, I was secretary of the most prominent autism rights organisation, Autistic UK, which has helped organise such events as Autistic Pride around the country and it calls for acceptance, not merely awareness, of neurodiversity: http://autisticuk.org/

How does it connect with feminism, you ask?

Although the ratio of women: men diagnosed as having an autistic spectrum condition (ASC) is relatively equal, fewer women get recognised as autistic because of the different ways society expects from men and women in terms of socialising and the more subtle social skills of women, and also because of a bias in research about autism towards men and boys.

There is also an important social justice dimension: the unemployment rate for autistic people, men and women, exceeds 80 per cent in the UK, and support for autistic adults wanting to live independently and live the same lives as those who are not autistic is scarce and often does not understand their rights and needs.

Autistic mothers, whether or not their children are autistic, face considerable challenges in family life, as noted by Lana Grant in her book From Here to Maternity.

In the last year, the activism of writer and autistic mother of six Emma Dalmayne, along with her friend Fiona O’Leary in Ireland (also an autistic mother), has been crucial to ensure the autism rights movement can face down challenges from those wanting to harm autistic people, such as those who market false and dangerous “cures” for autistic people.

This is a movement we truly need for the 21st century to be as inclusive and accepting as it sounds, especially for autistic women whose voices often go unheard and who still find it difficult to get a diagnosis.

Many men and boys are diagnosed in childhood, whilst a lot of women and girls have to wait until adulthood for an autism diagnosis.

Global Fair Stall

We are planning an event next semester during International Women’s week to celebrate and create a discourse about our cultures individually and together as People of Colour.

The information will be updated here

We will have a panel discussion which will include topics such as colourism, gender roles and sexuality.

As some of you may know Keele has a annual global fair which celebrates diversity and the contributions of others.

We had the opportunity to promote Cultural Affairs at the annual Global Fair launch.

The main idea surrounding the event is creating discussions on important topics that are not discussed enough.

When planning the stall we decided the best way to start a conversation around culture was to ask people what they loved and celebrated about their culture and what they would change.

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As one of the topics will be discussing is on colourism, we decided to bring this subject to the stall to understand what other peoples perceptions on the topic.

We discussed the issue of negative connotations associated with dark skin especially with women and how colourism has impacted our experiences growing up.

It was a great opportunity to engage with people that had so much to say on the subject.

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We also asked people to self-identity and write where they are from as a way of showing that there are people from ethnic backgrounds that are part of LGBT and identity-based communities.

The stall gave us the opportunity to have meaningful conversations that confirmed these are the topics we need to be talking about among peers.

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We welcome everyone to attend Cultural Affairs and become part of a big step towards a cultural shift at Keele.

For more information feel free to contact me (Ade) or Raveena.

Ade (w6j55) + Raveena (w6h50)

or get in touch at the woke email using the below form:

Picking Your Battles, Collective Action and Fighting Tokenism: A Talk with Professor Farzana Shain

Read on for a write-up by Laura, a first year PhD student, Postgraduate Decolonise Rep and WOKE Champion

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On the 22nd November 2018, Dr. Farzana Shain (Professor of Sociology of Education) gave a talk as part of the Women Of Keele Educate (W.O.K.E) series.

When I heard that Farzana was the speaker for this week I jumped at the chance to write up the event for the W.O.K.E blog. I have been lucky enough to meet with Farzana a handful of times now, as part of the Decolonise Keele project, and at various events around Keele.

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Whenever I talk to her, she instills in me this drive and passion for academia.

In fact, she was featured in my last W.O.K.E blog post as a person who offered me some important words of wisdom.

 

Farzana’s talk was about Tokenism, specifically tokenism in her academic career. She very kindly provided a definition of tokenism:

 

Tokenism is likely to be found wherever a dominant group is under pressure to share privilege, power, or other desirable commodities with a group which is excluded. Tokenism is the means by which the dominant group advertises a promise of mobility between the dominant and excluded classes. The token does not become assimilates into the dominant group but is destined for permanent marginality. The token is a member of an underrepresented group, who is operating on the turf of the dominant group, under license from it (Laws, 1975: 51).

 

Farzana explained that in any given situation, the dominant group would cover approximately 60% of the overall group of people, whereas the token group would be made up of only 15%.

She also explained that tokenism can be displayed and ‘felt’ in three different levels – individual, institutional and systemic.

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On an individual level, Farzana explained that people are assumed to represent a specific culture or group more than they represent the work that they complete and because of this she has encountered a number of situations throughout her academic career that have placed her specifically within a culture group.

Farzana told us of a time when she was working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) and completing research in local schools.

She was contacted by one of the local schools to ask if she would be willing to give a talk to the students that attended that particular school.

Believing that this was research related, she was interested in this opportunity. That was until the organizer asked her if she could produce examples of Asian Cuisine for the students to try, or give a talk on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

 

 

Another more recent example Farzana gave was when she was speaking at a Gender and Education conference.

A chance encounter in the bathroom after the talk led a woman to explain to Farzana that she was the ‘token black person’ on the panel.

Similarly, Farzana received an email from a member of staff inviting her to participate in a project due to it having an equalities dimension.

These types of encounters bring with them a whole host of questions that Farzana openly shared with the room.

 

Mainly, the question of being chosen for the work and research she has conducted, or simply to make the panel diverse.

 

So how does Farzana aim to combat this tokenism?

She deliberately goes for ‘mainstream’ roles such as a Research Director position to show that she can perform in these roles and perform well.

But within these roles there is a level of institutional tokenism.

Farzana pointed out that women are generally hired for ‘women’s jobs’ such as teaching and learning jobs that require a certain amount of administration.

These roles contain work that is not only unpaid and unrecognized, but also takes time away from research and scholarship, which are the areas that are required for recognition, pay rises and promotion.

As well as this, generally being called upon to represent a culture, or as an expert in equality, is also unpaid or under-paid.

Tokenism is also present on a systemic level.

Farzana used the example of Further Education (FE) to detail this point.

She explained that FE underwent some changes that caused a mass exodus of male employees to leave their professions, causing the number of female employees to rise from 3% to 17%.

But with this came a reduction in salary and an increase in workload where women were expected to shoulder the burden for change in the FE environment.

Once the crisis was settled, the number of men working in these roles began to increase again.

It is only recently that the number of women Vice Chancellors has risen as high as 29%, with it sitting at around 16% for a long time. Still an unequal number for the role, but maybe a step in the right direction.

So, Farzana tries to take more ‘mainstream’ roles wherever she can.

This in itself presents challenges, people just don’t expect women to be interested in these roles, and to be able to complete them as well as their male counterparts.

She also engineers her research to reflect this attitude.

As well as researching topics such as race and gender, she continually stays in the loop with policy research, so that she is known in an area outside of race and gender equality.

Farzana advised us to pick our battles, some things just aren’t worth the fight. But when they are it is the collective voice that will shout the loudest.

Institutional networks such as the Decolonise Keele project and W.O.K.E are challenging power struggles that threaten everyday issues. To read more about Decolonise Keele click here.  

If you could be part of the departmental lead for the Decolonise Keele Project read the below poster:

call for working groups decolonise

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Together, the collective voice can help combat issues such as tokenism.

 

Farzana’s talk made me reflect upon my own academic life.

It made me think of a time when I was applying for academia and I was told that I would definitely be given a place because universities love ‘mature students’ and mothers.

Not that I had achieved ten distinctions above the required amount for my course.

I research about migrant mothers and, although I’m not a migrant, I’m a mother.

But I also look at the way people are represented, even throughout academic study. I’d like to think that my research will someday pave the way for a different type of representation, for the way migrant mothers, working mothers, and mothers who study are perceived.  

And I’d like to think that one day this will enable me to write about more than motherhood, postcolonial science fiction and soap for example.

Farzana makes me believe that we do not have to be just one tick box on a form, we can  jump around and tick every box if we want to.

 

If you would like to join us in the women of Keele Educate project or if you are interested in more information about Decolonise Keele please fill out the below: