While longstanding notions of autism have conceptualized it as medicalized disability, recent scholarship has advanced theories of autism as cultural production; in other words, autism may be better understood as a synthesis of medical science, media portrayals, and societal attitudes rather than the product of any of these arenas individually. Academic inquiry into the intersection of autism and gender, though, remains largely underdeveloped. Work has been done theorizing how autistic people understand their gender but little exists regarding how cultural apparatuses actually produce it. My study, then, addresses this gap through examining media representations of autism, specifically autistic masculinity in contemporary popular film. I utilize R.W. Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity and Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model of communication to interrogate filmic representations of young adult autistic male characters in Mozart and the Whale (2005), Adam (2009), and My Name is Khan (2010), specifically noting the ways that their masculinity is represented. I expand on Conn and Bhugra’s (2012) examination of tropes used in “autism films” to discuss how these representations of autistic men also align with hegemonic gender norms. From this, I examine how the aforementioned films work to produce autism as a gendered identity. Additionally, I unearth how representations of autism are bound to dominant understandings of gender, and that media portrayals of autistic men are problematic beyond stereotyping disability. Implications on the future of studying depictions of autism in media will be discussed, as well as how such scholarship may be useful for actual autistic men to more effectively navigate the culture.


Laura Harrison

Committee Member

Shannon Miller

Committee Member

Sachi Sekimoto

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Social and Behavioral Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.



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