Click bait, autism scapegoating, and women’s issues

Hold on to your hats, kids. We’re going to cover a lot of ground today.

Last week, I snarled out loud when my Google Alerts for the day arrived. At the very top of my “autism” alert was the title “Autism scientifically linked to mass murder.” I quickly looked at the next line to see which publishing entity was responsible. I guessed it was an alternative website.

Nope. It was The Washington Post. A generally well-regarded publication.

I clicked on the link and began to feverishly read the article. The full title was “Study: ‘Significant’ statistical link between mass murder and autism, brain injury.”

As I plowed through the text, certain passages stuck out at me:

new study in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior will likely fuel the debate even more. It found some mass murderers and serial killers have something in common: autism and head injury.

SOME mass murderers.

Researchers call it the first review of published accounts of what causes people to commit mass murder.

Published accounts. AKA anecdotal evidence. AKA info that was collected in a fragmented manner from a variety of people who may or may not have known the perpetrator well AND/OR info that the researchers collected from decades-old newspaper articles.

And then, SEVEN PARAGRAPHS IN, we get to this:

The researchers stressed the study is “clearly limited” by the “anecdotal and speculative” nature of some of the published accounts. Lead researcher Clare Allely, of the University of Glasgow, emphasized the study did not suggest those with autism or Asperger’s are more likely to commit murder. “We’re not saying people with autism will be serial killers,” Allely said, adding “it’s way too early to make any statement like that.”

SEVEN PARAGRAPHS IN. Anyone who works in news media nowadays knows that people have limited attention spans. Very rarely do people make it seven paragraphs in. They scan the first few, and if the info matches the article title, they’re satisfied. Because of this, articles are titled as provocatively as possible to elicit the most clicks.

But these editors can’t be so naive as to think that everyone will click so they can understand more. Many people will not click the link to read more. They’ll read the link and move on to the next thing. They’ll have made the connection that autism = mass murder because they didn’t bother to get to the nuances of the article.

That article is click bait. It is yellow journalism. It is irresponsible reporting. You’re not only maligning a subset of the population, you’re disrespecting ALL of your readers. Yellow journalism at the conclusion of the 19th Century was one thing. Content wasn’t as easy to access then. There was more lag time between news-making events and the actual reporting.

EVERYONE can access media content today. We have smart phones. We have 24 hour news networks. We have social media where content is shared at the speed of light. Given this environment, you’d think respected publications such as The Washington Post would exercise the utmost care and caution in its reporting.

Which brings me to my next point.

It has gotten to the point that every time I hear that a young white male went on a shooting rampage, I sigh and wait. Wait for the first news article to appear claiming the suspect was diagnosed with Asperger’s or autism.

Why else would a white male, the definition of privilege (according to society), do something so terrible? It’s gotta be that pesky autism. That “brain disease” that “prevents people from feeling any kind of empathy.” By the way, if you believe that to be true, I challenge you to read blogs written by individuals on the spectrum, or blogs of parents who really truly get their kids. It ain’t a lack of empathy on their part. It’s us not recognizing empathy when it’s displayed in ways that our brains don’t understand.

In the case of the UCSB shooting this past weekend, the Asperger’s finger pointing happened faster than ever before. The very first article in my Twitter feed that alerted me to the shooting said that the perpetrator had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. As if that explained everything.

I believe that diagnosis info has since been retracted. I think the statement was clarified to say that the parents wondered if he might have Asperger’s, but he was never in fact diagnosed.

I’ve skimmed some articles referencing this manifesto and the multitude of YouTube videos left behind (I refuse to read/watch them first-hand, which is what the kid would have wanted). It seems clear to me that there were a lot of issues that the perpetrator was dealing with. Particularly issues related to women and what they owe men who give them attention.

Which brings me to my next point.

I didn’t quite understand what this #YesAllWomen Twitter trend was. It seems it started because someone drew a connection between the suspect’s ranting and misogynistic culture that exists in America.

Before I go any further, I must say that there are good, decent, wonderful men who are great allies to women. As I saw in one tweet, “Not ALL men harass women. But ALL women have, at some point, been harassed by men. Food for thought. #YesAllWomen”

As I read through the tweets of women detailing unwanted advances, fear of personal safety, and more, I agreed in my head.

“Yep, experienced that.” “Yep, that’s happened too.” “Yea, I’ve had to use that line to get a guy to go away.” “Ooh that’s a clever idea for when I’m walking home after dark.”

A few years ago, I was out at a dance bar with a few of my cousins. We took a break from dancing so they could go grab another round. I guarded the somewhat less busy spot we had snagged against the wall. There was a ledge that went along the entire bar so people could rest their drinks there. Before I even knew what was happening, a guy came up and grabbed the ledge on either side of my body, effectively trapping me and forcing me to look straight into his face, which was approximately four inches away from mine. He tried to squash his hips into mine.. the act that passes for dancing nowadays.

“No thank you,” I yelled over the music.

“You need somebody to dance with,” he responded as he stiffened his grip on the ledge, ensuring that I couldn’t make an easy escape.

I decided to change tactics. “I have a boyfriend,” I yelled again.

“Where is he?” asked the stranger as he continued to dance on me.

“In Maryland,” I responded as I openly grimaced and tried to melt myself against the wall as much as possible.

“Well he isn’t here, is he?” the guy leaned forward and whispered disgustingly in my ear.

At that, I got pissed off. “I said NO!” I shoved him and made a run for the bar.

It should be noted that I was wearing jeans, boots, and a cute top that was not particularly tight and didn’t show cleavage. The fact that I need to type this as a clarifying statement at all says something about the kinds of arguments that are made when women complain about specific men’s actions.

Some of you might say, “You were at a dance bar, what did you expect?”

That is a slippery slope, my friends.

That is a step or two away from, “Look at what she’s wearing, what did she expect?”

Or from, “She let him buy her drinks all night, what did she expect?”

Or how about, “She walked home by herself after dark, what did she expect?”

I expect that when I say, “No, thank you,” that you are man enough to respect me and my decision and walk away.

I owe you nothing. You have done nothing to earn my respect, let alone my affection.

It’s funny in a not so funny way that within the past year or so, I’ve really started to care about women’s issues. I’ve always cared about the big ones, but I’ve finally started to come around to the day to day things. Like why is it ok for people to question me about my relationship status on a fairly regular basis? (You’re closer to 30 than you are to 20, tick tock!) And why is it ok to pity me because I don’t have a significant other? (Pity is for people who feel sorry for themselves. Sorry to disappoint you, but that ain’t me.) Why is it ok to make assumptions about my childbearing plans? Both men and women make these comments and assumptions. And, it’s worth noting, both women AND men are on the receiving end of them. It is not a uniquely female issue, though I think it’s more prevalent for us.

I find myself thinking about all these things I’ve never thought about before, and to be honest, it makes having conversations with friends and colleagues really hard sometimes. Because I don’t want to say the cliche thing that a young professional female expects to hear and is likely tired of hearing. I don’t want to make assumptions. I don’t want to judge (admittedly, this is exceedingly difficult for me. I’m trying so so so so hard to change this about myself, but I’m a flawed person, so it’s a struggle).

I want people to respect me and my decisions as I forge my path in life. Because I am a person. I have a right to say yes and a right to say no regardless of my gender or the situation. The same goes for other human beings, too.


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