Like every other epidemic, AIDS develops in the cracks and crevices of society's inequalities…"
Most of us are born female or male, but learn to be girls and boys who grow into women and men. While growing up, we realize that men and women are different at the biological level: our bodies differ and men can't reproduce. Most of us also learn that society has different rules for men and women, rules that have little to do with our biological differences.
Society typically constructs men and women almost as if they are flip sides of a coin: dominant/dominating, aggressive/passive, authoritative/docile, tough/frail. These qualities are not just harmless attributes; embedded in them are gender roles and scripts that many of us will play out for the rest of our lives.
SOCIETY typically constructs
Aggressive, Authoritative, Bold, Breadwinner,
Promiscuous, Proud, Reckless, Tough, Violent
Abstinent, Chaste, Dcile, Domestic, Frail
Monogamous, Obedient, Sacrificing, Timid
Gender roles typically place women in positions of powerlessness vis-à-vis men. A 'real' man is one who does as he pleases, never mind the risk to his female partner. A 'good' woman would never dream of asking her husband to wear a condom, even in the age of HIV/AIDS. Ultimately, gender expectations that compel men and women to be 'real' men and 'good' women end up making both sexes more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
At risk of HIV infection: a gerdered risk
At the individual level, this social construction translates into typical 'gendered' attitudes and behaviours such as those expressed in the following statements. These statements reveal that the risk of getting HIV is a gendered risk, one that strongly depends on the actions and behaviours of individual men and women playing out gender roles that society has constructed for them.
Playing out the sctipt of dominant/dependant makes women vulnerable to infection in many ways. At the direct level, economic dependence means that a woman who is at risk has no options; she must continue to live in a situation that places her at risk. But living in situations of continuing dependence exposes a woman to risk in a more fundaamental way: she can never develop the sense of self that is necessary for one to even conceive of reducing one's risk.
Social construction is translated into
INDIVIDUAL behavious and attitudes
Man - "So what if l'm positive? Don't tell her"
Woman- "My parents decide who l will marry"
Man -"I don't like wearing condoms"
Woman- "My partner refuses to wear condoms"
Man -"I have sex with different women every week"
Woman- "My man sleeps with other women"
Man -"I am a man - l have needs"
Woman- "He may beat me if l ask him where he went"
Man -"I forced her to sleep with me"
Woman- "I was raped last year"
Man -"Arre, why go to a doctor unnecessarily?"
Woman- "My family only takes me to a Dr if l am very ill"
Man -"I support her - she should do what l want"
Woman- "How can l leave him? I have no money of my own"
Man -"I, me , myself…l, me, myself"
Woman- "I? Sho am l" Wife, mother? Self, what self?"