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Victoria Kline
March 23, 2005
Seminar in Ethnology
Dr. Pérez

Framing the Sexual Subject: Week 10

Part Three

Chapter 7: Hegemony, Oppression, and Empowerment by Michael L. Tan

Michael Tan, great writer, I enjoyed reading this one and learned something from it too. Tan looks at news articles in a major Philippine newspaper over a period of time to show reactions to articles about HIV and AIDS as misleading and generative of “moral panic.” The faith of people in the accuracy of newspaper articles is impressive. Impressive is what we seem to be. Tan shows how the writers of the articles use the hegemony of the medical establishment to embellish stories with science and trustworthiness, yet the moral bias that is embedded in them becomes part of the fact that people remember. There is not doubt that people are responsible for the transmission of AIDS. Tan says that articles in Philippine newspapers lead to societal bias against lower income groups rather that stemming the spread through education for all.

Discussion Question: How should education for AIDS prevention look? Since we are aware that our own viewpoint is biased, how can AIDS education be presented as unbiased?

In my own experience, when I first heard about AIDS back in the mid-1980s, I was worried about heterosexual transmission. It was only later that I heard about the homosexual transmission and that the homosexual communities were being punished for their sinning ways. That came from reborn Christians that I knew at the time; and there were plenty of them were I lived in central California and then extreme northern California.

Care in choice of sexual partner, some control over sexual urges, and somehow cleanliness seemed to be part of the message. I have always thought of AIDS as a human sexual problem, but also as an indiscrete, or indulgent sexual problem, and that those urges are not restricted to any class although I do think that when there is not money for entertainment, sex is free or easily available. And we do seem to need our entertainment.

I am sure my perceptions of AIDS have been swayed by what is in the news. In the 1980s when I first heard about the disease, I was not reading any newspaper, and I had limited television reception so that I was out of the loop. 

Chapter 8: Survival Sex and HIV/AIDs in an African City by Eleanor Preston-White, Christine Varga, Herman Oosthuizen, Rachel Roberts, and Frederick Blose

This group of researchers completes a series of three ethnographies about sex workers in three distinct districts in Durban, South Africa. There are competing problems associated with sex work in South Africa: first, that there is a huge problem with HIV/AIDS and its spread; second, most sex workers engage in this form of employment in order to survive in desperate and exploitive times; third, the manner in which sex workers determine their relationships with partners, determines whether protection from infection will be utilized.

Area one is along the beachfront and Point in Durban. There the male sex workers have a more difficult time of it. Female sex workers have the protection of male roommates, rooms for carrying out sexual activities, willingness of clients to use protection, and in general, a safer environment in which to work with a plentitude of bars and meeting places available for socializing. Industria is the second area discussed, characterized by a lack of safe havens for participants. The crime rate is high with roaming street gangs, and high rates of abuse. Sex workers do not live here as they do at the Point, but in the shantytowns on the periphery. According to this report, young women arrive in the area looking for employment and without finding anything descent, must turn to the sale of their own bodies in order to survive. Truck stops are the safest and least volatile places for female sex workers to make a living. If a relationship should develop with a trucker, then payment is less likely in the form of money. The trucker feels he has a girlfriend and therefore should not have to pay! Life sucks for women in many countries.

The third area of research is Suburbia, an African area where the women use sex to form informal relationships. They do not think of themselves as sex workers, and therefore do not think of themselves as at risk for HIV/AIDS infection. They often have more than one relationship going at a time. And if it were not for the rapid spread of infectious STDs including AIDS I would say this might be a normal social arrangement. However, with the threat of life threatening disease, the women think of it as part of the risk one must take to survive.

Discussion Question: I am going to restate my opinion from last week. Young people need to be protected. This is not a life one would normally choose. One is forced into it out of desperation. And the problems compound. Women have sex, have children, but then the children don’t have enough to eat because the women can barely take care of themselves. If the children stay in this horrid, infested, violent, and wasted place, they will grow up with many wants unmet, and follow the same paths as those that came before them. Doesn’t this research essay throw readers into moral panic? Isn’t moral panic being used in the Philippines to control the epidemic? What would the right intervention look like? The spread of HIV/AIDS is a problem that cannot be solved without the individual taking responsibility for himself and others around him. If part of the solution is quarantining, then so be it. 

Chapter 9: Cultural Regulation, Self-Regulation, and Sexuality: A Psycho-Cultural Model of HIV Risk in Latino Gay Men by Rafael M. Dias

This paper is about the author’s study of gay Latino men now living in San Francisco. Although the gay community there is highly visible and audible, the Latino gay men in this area are silent and closet homosexuals who continue to engage in sexual behaviors at risk for HIV/AIDS. Dias conducted a series of workshops and interviews with different groups of gay Latino men, Latino transvestites, or health workers involved with gay Latino men, to come up with reasons why risk behavior was more prevalent, in an attempt to design solutions to decrease sexual risk behaviors among gay Latino men.

Discussion Question: I am so encouraged by the goal setting behavioral discussion of theories. I disagree that goal setting behavior can only work in environments with the least outside stress. In my own experience, change within myself and the ability to exert control over my own actions only came at times of the greatest stress. So, for these men, the situations they find themselves in do not represent enough stress or fear or desperation to change.

For the young latent gay men to engage in cruel behaviors to prove their masculinity is an excuse, not a reason. Reasonable people control that urge.

Discussion Question: I also liked the idea of the developing individual and how people end up being able to reason things out in order to maintain some self control or self-regulatory enactment, but that humans do not all develop this capacity at the same rate. Is this saying that gay Latino men are more childlike?

Also, it does seem, even though Dias says not, that the list of reasons for gay Latino men to engage in risky sexual behavior is more pathological than cultural. The individual feels ashamed, the individual feels the need to hide the behavior, and the individual feels like he must prove his masculinity. And the behavior they engage in is exactly opposite to what I would consider masculine.

However, I do think he got somewhere in the way he asked his questions in order to help these men see how they are the responsible parties for their actions, by turning the question into a question of behavioral change in a hypothetical loved one.  

Chapter 10: Gendered Scripts and the Sexual Scene: Promoting Sexual Subjects among Brazilian Teenagers by Vera Paiva

Young people in the lower economic strata of society in Sao Paolo, Brazil are the subject of study for Paiva and team to determine differentials in risk behavior between youths attending night school and those attending universities. Analysis of the data shows that these young students are exposed to sex at an early age, are not aware of the threat of HIV/AIDS, and are more concerned with unwanted fertility than of passing a deadly virus on to an infant. The author’s workshops/study groups were provided with education about reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases. In turn, the subject gave researchers information about the sexual scenes that occurred in their neighborhoods. The main thrust of the project was to empower the young, vulnerable, economically poor, and less advantaged people that attended the groups with education to lift them out of the fatalistic attitudes about the consequences of risk taking behaviors in sexual encounters.

Discussion Question: This workshop and study was very similar to what was discussed in the previous chapter only with groups of poor, marginalized heterosexual youth instead of gay Latino men. Both groups are at high risk for HIV/AIDS infection and spread. In the Brazilian group, however, pregnancy was weighed against disease infection and thought to be the worse outcome! I could only think about the infant being infected with the disease. It seems so much to be a problem of reduced ability to be part of acceptable pastimes other than sexual activities. Is seems that that is what humans resort to in confined, restricted environments.

Afterword: The Production of Knowledge on Sexuality in the AIDS Era: Some Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges by Carlos F. Caceres

Without speaking specifically about any of the chapters in the volume, Caceres wraps up the end of the book. In fact he brings in his own Peru project to make comparisons. He says that the study of sexuality began as sterile medical body invasion, but must encompass social issues as well to be effective. This can only be done by non-biased intervention, understanding social pressures, stepping in with dollars for food and health care for instance. Third-world countries, where AIDS is out of control, have been little affected by education. There are conflicts in the way people perceive things as they happen as avoidable or imminent or irrelevant (not involving them even though it does). In the end he just says be more self aware (as a researcher), less critical and biased (as a researcher), more understanding of other’s predicaments (as a researcher). We need “to redefine scientific praxis and rigor” and to be honest and humble (256). Scientific knowledge will lose its authority with the new paradigm for the study of sexuality but will be the better for its association with individuals within a local cultural configuration.

This one doesn’t have the substance that some of the other chapters did. He does seem to be hopeful of the future, but insistent that methods of approach and intervention in problems of sexual diseases must be addressed if we are to get anywhere with getting these diseases under control.

Discussion Question: I read a review of this book by Kareen Ror Malone (2002) of the State University of West Georgia after writing my summary analysis. She has some issues with the approach of the book in that the reframing that is put forth in the title does not go far enough for deeper understanding of gender, sexual, and power differences. She thinks that the authors are too regimented in their approaches, too scientific, too normal to encompass, understand, and truly change the way in which sexual intervention proceeds. She thinks that in spite of a different name for the analyses, they are couched in the old familiar ways of thinking about normal vs. abnormal behavior, and the responsibility of the individual to control what she views as uncontrollable desire.

How could an intervention be directed at the group rather than to the individual level?

Malone also gave me a new insight into the Petchesky piece (chapter 5) in that she believed Petchesky was more liberal in her thinking and closer to an open approach to the subject than most of the other authors. Also, that Petchesky’s theme was more about inequality in power relations rather than rights to sexual pleasure that I read in it (2002).


Malone, Kareen Ror
2002  Reviews: Keeping Subjectivity in Sexuality: The Good, Bad, and Excessive. Theory and Psychology, Vol. 12(3): 411-413.

Parker, R, R. M. Barbosa and P. Aggleton eds
2000  Framing the Sexual Subject: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Power. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 

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last updated on June 13, 2011