10 Chapters
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9 Women’s Bodies

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

Throughout history, ideas about the nature of women’s bodies have played a dramatic role in either challenging or reinforcing power relationships between women and men. As such, we can regard these ideas as political tools and can regard the struggle over these ideas as a political struggle.

Rose Weitz, The Politics of Women’s Bodies

Clashes over what women’s bodies should do and what they should look like continue. Despite strides forward in women’s rights on many fronts, bodies remain a persistent battleground. Some feminists even argue that as the feminist movement has grown, we are moving backward on issues related to women’s bodies, asserting that a backlash has developed that seeks to reinforce ever more policing and regulation, including increasingly restrictive ideas and actions determined to keep women’s bodies and women in “their place” (Faludi, 2006). Today this backlash takes many forms, “including 1) increasing pressure on women to control the shape of their bodies; 2) attempts to define premenstrual and post-menopausal women as ill, and; 3) the rise of the anti-abortion and ‘fetal rights’ movements” (Weitz, 2010, p. 9).

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2 The Cape Coloured Community

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

This Book is about women who face stigma, discrimination, poverty, and violence. It is about women who do care work for children and men, and whose responsibilities sometimes force them to make choices between their own needs and those for whom they are caring. And it is about women who must contend with all of these challenges at the same time they fear for the deterioration of their own physical selves and their lost beauty as a result of HIV. Women all over the world face similar challenges, and in that sense the women in our study represent the experience of women across many borders. The women in this case, however, also represent one particular community on the globe with its own unique history and its own particular expectations about women. This case study is about Coloured women in Cape Town, South Africa. Who are these women?

In the United States the word “colored” is an offensive holdover from the period in American history when apartheid was legal under Jim Crow laws. In South Africa, however, while there is controversy surrounding the language used to describe various groups of people in the country, the term “Coloured” is generally not perceived as a derogatory term. In fact, it is widely used by people who identify themselves as Coloured. The identity of Coloured and the character and experience of the Coloured community is an important feature of South Africa to be explored. And as our research unfolded it became an essential issue for discussion in order to understand the lives of women in the Western Cape who identify themselves as Coloured. This chapter describes a little of the history of Coloured people through slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and the struggle that finally toppled a racially defined government in the 1990s. It also provides some context for understanding contemporary issues in the Coloured community as South Africans continue the fight to depose the deeply entrenched social, economic, and political remnants of that history and as Coloured women face all of these issues in addition to gender injustice.

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5 Disclosure for Better or Worse

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

For those who are HIV positive, disclosure is an essential step. If nothing else, they must at least disclose their status to health-care providers in order to obtain care and medicine. Disclosure also contributes to a person’s ability to take care of themselves and to plan ahead for their care and treatment. However, disclosure is not easy. Telling others that one is HIV positive is always difficult and sometimes impossible. The stigma associated with the virus creates a monumental problem. Not surprisingly, in our interviews with HIV-positive women, a significant discourse emerged around the issue of disclosure.

The decision to disclose one’s HIV status and the process of then doing so are constant worries for the women we interviewed, and their conversations with us revealed their dilemmas and decisions regarding disclosure in myriad ways. Three main areas seemed most salient: (1) disclosing at work and the favorable and unfavorable consequences of doing so; (2) disclosing to children and mothers of the women, particularly the issue of fearing their reactions; and (3) disclosing to acquaintances who are not well known or even complete strangers as a way of seeking acknowledgment for being a survivor and activist and as a way of following the advice of medical and psychological authorities.

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4 Marginalizing the Marginalized through Multiple Stigmas

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

AIDS is a war against humanity. We need to break the silence, banish the stigma and discrimination and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against AIDS. If we discard the people living with HIV/AIDS, we can no longer call ourselves human.

Nelson Mandela

Most Scholars and activists now recognize stigma as one of the most important factors in the lives of people living with HIV (Mahajan et al., 2008). There is no escaping the stigma that is attached to HIV. Everyone who is living with HIV is stigmatized to some extent. The experiences of that stigma, however, fluctuate across many variables, including gender. Women and men are stigmatized differently—for example, there are differences in regard to the extent to which men and women are blamed for their actions that supposedly led to their HIV-positive status. The blaming that occurs in HIV stigma is linked to gender and reproductive roles that define “good” and “bad” behavior and “wrongdoings,” especially sexual “misbehaviors,” which are different for men and women. Most women are still held to a double standard that expects them to be less interested in sex and more responsible for controlling both their own sexual behavior and that of their men partners (Lorber & Moore, 2002).

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1 Women Living with HIV

Anna Aulette-Root Indiana University Press ePub

This Book is about women living on the margins. Already pushed to the edges by systems of inequality and oppression through global politics, social class, racism, and gender injustice, they are forced even further from the center by their HIV-positive status. This book is also about women who have devised strategies to bring themselves back to “normal” and to challenge what is considered normal. The women whose voices we hear in the text are living with HIV in Cape Town, South Africa, an area hard hit by the HIV pandemic. By listening to their stories we are made aware of new ways to think about HIV, and, most importantly, we learn lessons that are essential for understanding HIV and determining effective routes to its demise.

At the February 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, research fellow Dr. Brian Williams, of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis in Cape Town, announced that if we could aggressively distribute antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) to everyone who is HIV positive, we could stop the virus from spreading and eventually eliminate it from the globe. ARVs reduce the viral load, the amount of HIV detectable in blood, so dramatically that those who are HIV positive become nearly noninfectious (BBC, 2010). This is a bold and apparently valid idea, but it is a goal that cannot be met if we do not take into consideration the social and political character of the human community, perhaps especially the factor of gender injustice.

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