Autism and Gender

Winner of the 2015 Rhetoric Society of America Book Award.

Buy from the University of Illinois Press or Amazon.com.

“Autism and Gender is the book I was waiting for someone to write, and Jordynn Jack’s insightful treatment of this timely, complex topic is a joy to read. Among its many strengths are its beautiful, well organized, easy-to-read prose, its breadth of coverage of the topic, and its careful, judicious tone.”–Anna Kirkland, author of Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood

Almost everything we know about autism is publicly disputed, from the definition of autism itself, to the question of whether or not increased diagnosis of autism constitutes an “epidemic,” to the advisability of various therapeutic approaches, to potential causes (genetic, environmental, etc). Yet to date no book length studies have examined arguments about autism from a rhetorical perspective, let alone a feminist one. My book, Autism and Gender, takes up the network of gendered arguments that shape debates about autism. Initially portrayed as a disorder caused by emotionless “refrigerator mothers,” autism is now recognized a neurological disorder that is itself highly gendered: the Center for Disease Control in America reports that boys are seven times more likely than girls to develop this disorder, and one prominent researcher, Simon Baron-Cohen, has hypothesized that autism is a disorder of the “extreme male brain.” This project takes up both the gendering of autism in scientific and public discourses, as well as the gendered positions interlocutors use to establish expertise and authority in debates about autism. Guiding questions include:

  • How are traditional, binary concepts of sex and gender mapped onto neurological differences?
  • How do these mappings get established, rhetorically, and to what effects?
  • How are gendered rhetorical positions deployed in debates about autism, such as that of the “autism mother,” “warrior mom,” or “autistic dad”?
  • How do parents draw upon emotional attachments to their children even as they lay claim to objective, scientific arguments?
  • How do people with autism themselves challenge scientific and parental authority, as well as stereotypes of gender, ability, and normalcy?

Read blog posts about Autism and Gender and an excerpt at autismandgender.com