Did a paragraph in The Feminine Mystique damage Autism Awareness for 2 generations?

I had never read the Feminine Mystique until a few days ago. I am a reasonably well read woman but most of my academic interests have had a more scientific rather than sociological origin. I actually got my only C as a undergraduate in a Women’s Studies course due to the fact that my then 2 year old developed a nasty case of Croup and was hospitalized for almost a week and I was late turning in a final synthesis paper. The irony of receiving a C in a course on Women’s Studies because of having a sick toddler was not lost upon me and the young female professor deemed my “unique situation” unfortunate yet pointed out that the syllabus stated that any late work would have 10 points docked for each late day. This was in 2006. A full 15 months before the I-Phone would debut and laptops were still 500-800 dollars so if you had a paper due and a child in the hospital you were pretty much screwed. How silly of me not to plan in advance for childhood illnesses!

I chalked this insensitivity up to the professors lack of experience in dealing with non traditional students ( 26 year old single mothers with 2 children attending a 4 year university were in 2006 mostly an anomaly as we were encouraged to go to for profit colleges that could accommodate our “lifestyles”).  My enthusiasm for feminism was undiminished as the digital age was in it’s infancy and SJW’s were nowhere on the horizon. Twitter feminism was almost 7 years away from existence. No one had a smartphone or instant web access to publish inane screeds. The experiences I have had as a single mother pursuing a higher education have taught me that if a professor has an issue the course grinds to a halt but woe to the single mother whose children may cause papers to be late due to their illnesses or needs.

When I saw the paragraph in Friedan’s book blaming autism on mothers I was tempted to go to an MRA site and recant my feminism. I was tempted to go onto Jezebel’s comment forum and cause a stir. You see I have a lovely 8 year old daughter who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. She is severely autistic and non-verbal. In other words she has the “hard autism”. At age 8 I still change her training pants, help her bathe, dress, eat, brush her teeth, comb her hair, and ensure that each day we work on basic skills as well as try to have fun while learning the new language of AAC devices. A language that has it’s own rules because she can understand words but has never spoken more than 2 words together without the use of an I-Pad. Her voice is digital.

I have to imagine that Friedan’s limited understanding of autism caused her to even write such damaging and even hateful things about autistic people and their mothers ( fathers are spared her indignation making her less of a feminist in my opinion and an apologist for patriarchy- more on that another day). Calling the children “things”. Worrying about an epidemic. Part of what is wrong with the social sciences is that effects are confused with causes. Friedan rightly saw an increase in diagnosis. She also noted the increase on frozen foods, diagnostic techniques, more products ( with chemicals) for women such as make-up, hair care and home cleaning items. Instead of seeing that the environment was changing and there was an increase in autism ( worth noting is that some of her case studies took place in NJ and NY both states known for pollution and autism clusters) and making that connection she took the easy way and blamed mothers in the classic Bruno Betthelheim tradition.

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