She-Ra & the Princesses of Power is good. It has a lot going for it. I appreciate the body diversity, neurodiversity, inclusivity, and emotional range. I lost count of how many times I choked up. I like shows for the writing, and I like She-Ra.
I’m still processing the autistic and ADHD coded Entrapta. Entrapta has elements of the “Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency”, “Attention Deficit… Ooh, Shiny!”, and “Hollywood Autism” tropes. Her Autistic/ADHD hyperfocus conveys incredible scientific talent that she pursues to the exclusion of ethics, evoking “The Madness Place”, “Neurodiversity Is Supernatural”, and “Science-Related Memetic Disorder”.
I relate to parts of her characterization, but she’s pretty heavy on “Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency”, complete with “Dumb Muscle” manipulation by other characters. She often exemplifies the clinically un-empathetic autistic stereotype. In the episode that introduces her, she suggests taking She-Ra apart to see what’s making her sick—with an enthusiastic grin on her face and a gleaming scalpel in hand.
Entrapta says to Glimmer with scalpel in hand: “I’d have to take her apart to be sure.”
Glimmer takes the scalpel from Entrapta and replies, “You’re not taking her apart. She is a person.”
Glimmer also has some autistic coding with her social anxiety and hyper-empathy. Between Glimmer and Entrapta, we can piece together some satisfying autism representation. The most autistic-coded princess being evil by lack of “theory of mind” is a bummer, though. Lack of empathy stereotypes harm us.
I’m looking forward to seeing how both characters develop. Representing Entrapta’s monotropism with its flow states and attention tunnels without using “Lack of Empathy” to sociopathically disaffected levels would be nice for Season 2. I want Entrapta to lean less heavily on the aforementioned tropes and grapple more with morality, manipulation, and pursuing obsession. I hope her emotional and compassionate empathy are revealed to the audience as she confronts her “Moral Event Horizon”.
I can see myself in both Glimmer and Entrapta, except for taking people apart for the sake of curiousity. Dial back on the “Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency”. If she’s gonna break bad, give her some agency.
And this is where the neurotypical belief in theory of mind becomes a liability. Not just a liability – a disability.
Because not only are neurotypicals just as mind-blind to autistics as autistics are to neurotypicals, this self-centered belief in theory of mind makes it impossible to mutually negotiate an understanding of how perceptions might differ among individuals in order to arrive at a pragmatic representation that accounts for significant differences in the experiences of various individuals. It bars any discussion of opening up a space for autistics to participate in social communication by clarifying and mapping the ways in which their perceptions differ. Rather than recognize that the success rate of the neurotypical divining rod is based on mere statistical likelihood that the thoughts and feelings of neurotypicals will correlate, they declare it an ineffable gift, and use it to valorize their own abilities and pathologize those of autistics.
A belief in theory of mind makes it unnecessary for neurotypicals to engage in real perspective-taking, since they are able, instead, to fall back on projection. Differences that they discover in autistic thinking are dismissed as pathology, not as a failure in the neurotypical’s supposed skill in theory of mind or perspective-taking.
Ironically, constantly confronted with the differences in their own thinking and that of those around them, and needing to function in a world dominated by a different neurotype, autistics are engaged in learning genuine perspective-taking from the cradle on. The perceived failure in that perspective-taking is thus based on the fact that autistics do not rely on and cannot rely on neurological similarities to crib understanding by projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto others.
As such, autistics talk about themselves rather than others, a feature of autistic narrative that has been pathologized as “typically autistic” by researchers like Ute Frith. The fact that much of autistic writing is dedicated to deconstructing neurotypical fallacies about autistic thinking set in the world when they spoke about (or for) us, and to explaining differences in autistic thinking in order to broker mutual understanding remains unremarked upon, as it would have required adequate perspective-taking to have identified this.
Thus, if we were to summarize the effect of neurotypicals sitting in wells that are structured in much the same way, delimited in much the same way, oriented in the same general direction and located in the same geographic location, manifested as an unassailable belief in their natural gift of theory of mind, we would have to conclude that this belief in theory of mind severely impairs neurotypicals’ ability to perceive that there is sky or even the great sea outside the narrow limits of their purview. It also necessarily impacts their cognitive empathy vis-à-vis autistics and, sadly, their affective empathy as well.
This deficit in neurotypicals needs to be remediated if autistics are to have a chance to participate as equals, because the truth is, in this regard, autistics suffer and are excluded from social communication not because of our own disability, but because of neurotypical disability.
How autistic characters are used in “Lack of Empathy” tropes:
On the flip side, just because a character has empathy does not mean that they possess one ounce of compassion or sympathy, though the lack of either usually coincides with at least a diminished sense of empathy. For instance, someone with narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder should not be confused with someone with Asperger’s or another form of autism. Narcissists and sociopaths usually have perfect cognitive empathy, but utterly lack affective empathy necessary for genuine compassion. Those with Asperger’s or Autism sometimes have defective cognitive empathy, but normal or even hyper-effective emotional or compassionate empathy. In short: narcissists and sociopaths are generally superficially charming and polite, but their pretense of empathy is simply that, a mere ruse to attain a tangible end. Autistic people, on the other hand, more or less invert this: they’re perfectly capable of feeling other people’s triumphs and tribulations – often quite intensely – but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from their face or tone of voice, and that’s assuming they have learned to identify them.
Source: Lack of Empathy – TV Tropes