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Neurodiverse women: aggravating as hell?

November 19, 2009

FWD/Forward pointed me at a disturbing post at Sociological Images: ADHD Website Tells Women They’re Annoying in Relationships. The comments are more than worth a read, too.

I couldn’t get past the first page of the ADDITUDE slideshow article in question, because I almost blew a gasket looking at that one. Not because it’s somehow a new and shocking idea that it’s the responsibility of women (ADHD or no; they just relied on gender stereotypes) not to annoy men in relationships, but because I’m sick to death of the same old story. This piece does somehow manage to be more condescending, in both text and images, than what you’d find in Cosmo. It’s terrible how we women ruin relationships by, you know, having anything to say.

Talk about intersectionality.

It’s apparently a symptom of illness if you aren’t quiet and calm all the time, when dealing with a man. There’s a new one, too. 😐

Incidentally, I can’t help imagining the hideous offspring of “specially annoying ADD women” and Simon Baren-Cohen’s (same spectrum) “hyper-male” twaddle. It’s making my brain hurt, but the result makes at least as much sense as either one alone! In case any of us doubted that gender stereotyping and stereotype-based biological determinism were really popular, these “experts” provide a couple of great examples.

I’d read some similar research before, but found a good link in the comments: The gift of gab is not a gal thing (coincidentally, from the Roanoke Times). Also an excellent one from Deborah Cameron, on the content of speech: Speak up, I can’t hear you.

What got me thinking enough to start on a post was one comment; I’ll quote part of it:

The gendering in this article is COMPLETELY unnecessary. My husband has ADHD and every single piece of advice in that article can be applied to him…
This is taking the side of the person that does not have ADHD. “You’re just talking,” “What’s your point?” and “You’re rambling again,” are all complaints I’ve had with my husband. But if you listen to his side of it, he considers “just talking” without a point as worthwhile communication. To him, the act of speaking and the act of listening is more important than having a specific message. While it’s not the easiest thing to live with, I can’t say his point of view is invalid.

My experience tells me that living with someone with ADHD is a matter of compromise, not molding him to act “normal,” which this article is trying to do. Point by point, I’d say:

1. “Just talking” is a form of communication.
2. “Talking too much,” is a matter of perspective.
3. Losing focus isn’t a sin.
4. Squirming out of responsibility when you panic is the opposite of confrontation!
5. Can’t disagree here.
6. “Make your point clear and concise.” I would add: and make sure you, as a partner, are forgiving when the person with ADHD can’t do that because they have ADHD!

Yes! This struck me very personally, since I do talk a lot. Probably not hard to tell from my writing style! That’s one of the reasons I was assumed to have ADHD From Hell. (Yes, some auties do talk. A lot, in some settings.) I think part of it is another type of verbal tic–dealing with people I’m comfortable around, I really do have trouble stopping talking about whatever is on my mind at the moment. I also fight getting repetitive with it sometimes. “[T]he act of speaking and the act of listening is more important than having a specific message.” My mom likened it to echolocation more than once, and didn’t mind it. Also, how much sense my chatter makes depends very much on how the listener’s mind works, and how inclined they are to actually listen.

What struck me most overall (well, besides the earlier sexist drivel)? People other than my family have no doubt reacted to it much worse because I’m female. Talk about replication of power structures. When I look at the ADDITUDE article’s shaming, I see precisely the same crap I experienced in school, even when answering questions. I was also clearly perceived to ask and answer too many of those. All of it was my problem, and all of it was a bigger problem because I was a girl. If I opened my mouth, it was seen as a problem, and I must be a drama queen.

See also j.field’s comment. I was physically hyper–I still think better when moving, in a lot of cases–and I was not allowed to move around. Even under a “good” teacher who liked me, and let one of the boys wander at will as long as he wasn’t obviously bothering anybody else. I also got humiliated for reading while several teachers were talking. Almost all my behavior was cast in terms of disruption, even quiet reading and writing.

I also have clear memories of repeatedly breaking down crying over communication difficulties/”failures”. In retrospect, a lot more of the confusion (and mocking) had to do with unexpected content coming out of my mouth, than ever had to do with my rhotacism from a slow-maturing palate*. Jonathan Ross’s speech is very comprehensible, and mine was no more severe once I was over three. These experiences–including being humiliated for taking up even more time and attention with the foolishness of crying–are also part of the reason I don’t talk much now in a lot of settings.

This stuff is deeply entrenched. Even now, having been aware of most of these factors for years, I just put together that there’s a very good reason I worry about bugging the crap out of Nigel–with chatter, and otherwise. I have lightened up some with worrying about how my “crazy” neurodiversity affects him (not the most neurotypical of souls himself!), but am still more than occasionally concerned about talking his ears off. I can see how I have been trained to perceive it differently when he starts talking about one of his special interests at length. When boys and men do that, it may even be considered cute in a “little professor”** way. I stopped doing it away from home–and try to keep a check on it even there–after enough “annoying smartassed know-it-all” feedback. By now, I tend to assume that nobody else is interested, and do talk to the animals a lot.

It’s considered my responsibility to cover up who I am and keep the relationship going smoothly, on top of all the other weird gender-based expectations.

It also occurred to me that I probably really don’t talk as constantly as I have been encouraged to think I do.


* Though I did get stuck in speech therapy over it, in spite of a professional evaluation that it was just part of normal developmental variation. The excuse given was that it was to keep the speech therapist in a job, and my parents decided it couldn’t do any harm. I got ridiculed for the rhotacism and for getting sent out for speech therapy. Meanwhile, the therapist in question ridiculed my rhotacism, telling me that I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough while playing back tape recordings at me, then spent most of the time trying to “correct” my accent. Apparently, sounding like you’re from West Virginia (when you are) constitutes a speech impediment; she outright told my mother this. She eventually got fired over treating one of my friends who stuttered in basically the same way, which made her stutter thrice as bad. Yeah, the “speech impediment” thing is still a sore point.

** Yes, there are quite a lot of things wrong about that link, but it does reflect popular perception. Notice how male-focused the tone is, to the point that after reading it I did not remember the carefully gender-neutral language. With the exception of the “Where Are My Traction Engine Y-fronts?” heading, though those might have appealed to me as a kid!

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