J. Soltys's Weblog

April 2, 2009

April Is Autism Awareness Month, And Sexism Creeps In

father-and-children     You may have noticed a recent surge in stories about autism. That’s because April is dedicated as Autism Awareness Month.

As a writer of men’s issues, the progress concerning the understanding and minimizing of autism would naturally be of concern to me considering that this disorder affects more males than females. But I also have a genuine concern for the children and parents of those affected by autism, because my wife and I had concerns about one of our twin boys.

Our son displayed an obsessive trait by the age of two that involved him feeling the need to have his environment in perfect order. If everything was not in “his” perfect order, he would throw a serious fit. His shoes and clothing could not have any stains or dirt on them, his shoe laces had to be tied exactly the same way and lay exactly the same way, the stuffed animals on his bed had to be in a certain order before he could go to sleep, and he could spend long periods of time organizing and reorganizing blocks.

With the help of some state run programs, my son was evaluated by many different professionals, which lasted over a period of about six months. In the end, it was determined that my son is not autistic, by has autistic tendencies. Those involved determined most of this behavior could be minimized through early intervention.

My son was enrolled in a special school funded by the state, and within one year, showed dramatic improvement. We still have the occasional tantrum (the shoelace thing is still a problem, but buying Crocs has solved that for now), but I’m aware that what we have gone through is nothing like what those parents who have children greatly affected by autism must go through. My heart goes out to those parents and their children.

 

Sexism in the media?

What really disturbs me about Autism Awareness Month is the blatant sexism involved in its reporting. As I mentioned before, autism affects mostly males, but when reading the stories about autism in the media, one is never aware that this is the case.

Go to any website that is dedicated to autism, and read the facts. Autism affects boys by a 3 to 4 ratio over girls. But this is rarely mentioned in the main stream media while reporting on autism.

For example, here are some recent articles on autism by some of the major news organizations:

  ABC News reports on autism and Jenny McCarthy’s new book (she is the parent of an autistic child). The four page report does not mention the boy/girl ratio.

  MSNBC files a report on research involving autism. No mention of the boy/girl ratio.

—  CBS reports on new research concerning autism. No mention of the boy/girl ratio.

—  The BBC files a report on autism rights. No mention of the boy/girl ratio.

—  Cable news networks CNN and Fox file reports on autism. No mention of the boy/girl ration.

—  Time Magazine reports on Jenny McCarthy’s new book. No mention of the boy/girl ratio. But I find an older article about autism from 2002. In this detailed, eight page report on the history and research concerning autism, never is it mentioned that boys are more greatly affected by autism than girls. How could this be?

Compare this autism reporting behavior with issues that are considered to affect more women than men. The media always makes the effort to highlight the greater disparity faced by women when compared to men.

—  For example, did anyone read a story about the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga without having many different stats presented of females suffering greater incidents of domestic violence than men within these reports?

—  Has anyone ever read about depression and the genders, and noticed how the report will always include stats stating that depression affects more women than men?

—  Has one ever read about the genders and heart disease, and noticed how reports usually mention research showing a disparity between the diagnoses and treatment for men suffering heart attacks, and the diagnoses and treatment of women, and how this disparity puts more women at risk?

The major media seem to find more value in highlighting the suffering of women than men. They seldom cover the facts about men’s suffering or injustices with equal fervor if it means having to put the needs of men before women.

For example:

—  When discussing suicides, the media feels uncomfortable reporting that men commit suicide three times more than women.

—  The media shuns the fact when reporting about deadbeat dads, that statistically, women do not pay child support in greater numbers than men, leaving some single fathers struggling to raise their children.

I feel the reporting on these issues should remain consistent, whether it involves reporting them as gender neutral or not. I would be comfortable either way, but right now it is not consistent, and appears extremely sexist and degrading.

—  When the media is covering a story about single moms, absent fathers, and men taking responsibility as fathers,  it rarely mentions the fact that women initiate the majority of divorces in the US, and the majority of those women demand sole custody of the children. Sadly, in contradiction to the pious cries of many who advocate the need to have more fathers involved with their children, the family court systems most often awards custody to mothers due to an inherent discriminatory belief that children need their mothers more than their fathers. (Note: Fathers who file for divorce ask for joint custody the majority of the time, understanding the importance and need for the mother in the lives of their children.)

—  When covering a story about a tradgic death in the work place, the media never mention that men make up 90% of work place deaths, or that men make up the over 90% of the most dangerous jobs in the workplace. Instead, the media is obsessed with highlighting how women make less than men, and how this is the greatest tragedy in the labor market.

 This discrimination is something I see often, and it is very disturbing that the media – the self proclaimed martyrs of social justice – ignore their own prejudice while reporting and calling out other members of society on theirs.

 As I mentioned before, the media seems intimidated to allow male suffering and injustices to take center stage if it involves having to place the hardships of women backstage momentarily.  However, the media seem very comfortable highlighting women’s greater suffering and injustices when in a position to do so, and do it quite often. It appears as if a dysfunctional form of machismo, patriarchal behavior, or just plain old-fashioned sexism is rampant in the major news organizations.

 

 

As Autism Awareness is upon us, for now, take the time to point out the fact that there is a diparity between the sexes. Maybe in time the word will spread to the major news organizations. And maybe they will finally do their job – reporting the facts.

 

Update: After posting this story, I found CNN is running a story today in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. The story discusses in detail the different aspects of the disorder and the possible causes. But again, after all the facts and observations are discussed, not one of them mentions the gender disparity. Progress is slow in the war against autism

 

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