When "Atypical" Reinforces Inequality
The "atypical" aren’t made "atypical" by their design, but by the constructs of the world around them.
In my current internship I’m working on a team to design and update the company's app. Specifically, I’m working on a project to make the app more inclusive to women. How can an app exclude women? you ask. Well, nothing in the world is really designed for women.
The book Invisible Women, which I mentioned in my last post, explains that gender inequality doesn't exist because men created all important things in the world, but because we only regard things that they created as important. Thus, we women aren’t really fighting for inclusion in a world that we weren’t smart enough or strong enough to build. We are fighting for our work and ways of doing things to be regarded as equally important as men's, all while dealing with the pushback of being told we need to act more like men to be involved in their activities.
Consider, for instance, that men are generally more comfortable asking for promotions than women. This inequality is often painted as a deficiency in women - we need to get better at speaking up for ourselves. But, in reality, the norm of walking into your boss's office to ask for a promotion was created by and for a predominantly-male workplace. Fit to men's preferences. Why are our ways of doing things as women less valid? We women might prefer online input forms to express interest in a promotion, or broader employee involvement in who does and doesn't get a promotion. No one would dare ask men to be more like women, but we always request the other way around.
A flawed conception of what is “typical,” excludes intelligent players and silos our society from achieving the best outcomes.
I have discovered the same reality with my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
After parent-teacher interviews in kindergarten my parents told me I needed to fidget less in class. In 4th grade, I was called out by my teacher for “vandalizing school property” when I scribbled on my desk in pencil, unable to focus. Six years later I got detention in high school for mis-sourcing an image on a project. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until one week ago at age 19. Until now I was made to believe I was a bad person just because my lack of dopamine made me function differently.
I only recently learned that I'm not the problem - the world built for “neurotypical” people is.
I've learned that it's okay for me to not always fold my laundry because I don't have attention for it, or to delegate parts of a team project and focus on those I'm passionate about. Likewise, as a woman I don’t have to feel like I'm not interested in investing just because most investing resources are created for the ways that men like to use them. We can fight in our jobs and in our lives for appreciation of the ways we do things, all beginning by appreciating them ourselves.
Functioning differently doesn’t make you less or make you contributions less. Certain parts of the population like men or the "neurotypical" aren’t regarded as more valuable because they create more important things, but because our society subjectively overvalues the things they create - from stock market games to the best way to fold laundry to classroom rules.
Inequality is partially rooted in this false dichotomy between the typical and the atypical, and we can begin our path to equality by no longer believing it.