Reconsidering Gendered Sexualities in a Generalized AIDS Epidemic

By Christie Sennott and Nicole Angotti

In the rural area of Mpumalanga Province, South Africa that we study, HIV is estimated to infect 1 in 5 people. Many researchers have studied the social, biological, and behavioral factors that contribute to HIV infection and the consequences of high mortality from AIDS-related diseases. Yet, less attention has been paid to how people actually living in communities affected by HIV/AIDS talk about the epidemic in everyday life—a useful way for understanding how men and women experience a significant threat to their lives and the lives of those around them.

HIV/AIDS is a unique type of threat: it is transmitted sexually, potentially fatal, and therefore has wide-reaching consequences for men and women’s sexual lives. Whereas several studies have found that individuals work to “reaffirm” or recuperate long-standing norms governing gender and sexuality when those norms are threatened, we find that HIV/AIDS – which threatens not just individual lives, but also relationships, families and communities – provokes reconsideration of gendered sexualities at the community level. We define reconsideration as the processes through which men and women debate, challenge, make sense of, and attempt to come to terms with the social norms circumscribing gendered sexual practices. Our focus on reconsideration shows the multiple voices and commentaries on HIV/AIDS that are circulating in the community, and that ideas about masculinity and femininity are complex, contradictory, and evolving in everyday conversation and interaction.

Our data are ethnographic and collected by men and women from the community. Over several months in 2012, a local team of “insider ethnographers” wrote field notes capturing conversations about HIV/AIDS that they encountered in public settings, such as large community events like village meetings, and other venues where interaction is commonplace, such as at bus depots and at church. These data are ideal for understanding local ideas about threats like HIV/AIDS because they are captured in real time and show the multiple perspectives that come to bear on the social experience of living amid an HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Continue reading “Reconsidering Gendered Sexualities in a Generalized AIDS Epidemic”

Moral Dilemmas of Transnational Migration: Vietnamese Women in Taiwan

By Lan Anh Hoang

The unprecedented rise in female migration in the past decades has engendered profound social change within both host and origin societies across the world. At present, women account for 48% of the world’s migrant population and the majority of them are found in the South – North migration pathway (IOM 2013: 65). In Asia, where 75% of international migrants are from the same region, contract labour migration has made it easier than ever for women to migrate transnationally for work. Female migration, especially when it involves mothers leaving their children behind, tends to be fraught with disruptions and dilemmas. Migration and physical separation from one’s family challenge the universal ideology of womanhood and femininity with caregiving and nurturing duties at its core.

Drawing on an ethnographic study of Vietnamese migrant mothers in Taiwan, this article provides important insights into the women’s renegotiations of notions of motherhood and femininity in the context of transnational labour migration. Because care has been essentialized as a feminine vocation that makes a woman womanly, the migrant’s inability to perform care duties in the conventional manner inevitably subjects her to the social stigma of  “bad motherhood” and  “failed femininity.” West and Zimmerman have pointed out that gender is not ascribed but achieved through  “social doings” which involve not only perceptual but also  “interactional and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine “natures”. Migrant mothers defy the prevailing notion of an ideal woman not only by engaging in masculine pursuits of mobility and breadwinning but also by vacating what is considered central to the woman’s nature – caregiving. She is thus called to account for failing to do gender appropriately.

The study engages with and advances West and Zimmerman’s idea of accountability in gender doings. In particular, it underscores their view that social doings of gender are often designed in such a way that they would be characterized as in accord with culturally approved standards. Yet, it highlights at the same time the reflexivity and instrumentalism in such actions. In other words, seemingly compliant behaviors are not necessarily a passive enactment of social norms but may be a strategic means to other ends. What is often taken for granted as an oppressive gender regime could be exploited by those perceived as its perennial victims to further their interests. Continue reading “Moral Dilemmas of Transnational Migration: Vietnamese Women in Taiwan”

Playing (Fantasy) Sport with the Guys

By Sarah Winslow and Rebecca Joyce Kissane

In the next week, we will have crowned a new World Series Champion, thus ending the MLB season, NFL football is now in full gear, and both NHL hockey and NBA basketball are a few weeks into their seasons. If you’re one of the nearly 57 million people in the United States and Canada who play fantasy sports, it’s likely that your enjoyment of these events is accompanied by the excitement of drafting, monitoring, and competing with your fantasy sports team. But does this experience differ for men and women? Both men and women play fantasy sports, frequently competing against one another in a context in which the presumed physical differences between males and females are seemingly irrelevant, conditions that may make gender irrelevant as well. Yet, our research demonstrates that is not the case. Women are treated as outsiders and consequently challenge, to varying degrees and in varying and sometimes contradictory ways, how they are treated and perceived.

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Final “Bro League” standings, image by Grace Greene

In fantasy sports, individuals build virtual sports teams comprised of real athletes who accumulate points based on their performance in actual games. The majority of participants compete in fantasy football, baseball, and basketball, although fantasy sports leagues exist for a wide range of sports. Although recent attention has been focused on daily fantasy sports, with some states moving to declare these activities illegal, the majority of players—and those that we focus on in our work—currently play in traditional fantasy sports leagues like that depicted in the popular FX series The League; this means they create and manage their teams over the course of an entire sports season and compete against other managers doing the same in a virtual league.

Despite its skyrocketing popularity, there is a dearth of research on fantasy sports, and little serious attention has been given to how gender operates in this space. We know that since the 1972 passage of Title IX, women’s and girls’ participation in athletics has substantially increased, female athletes have become cultural icons, and a few women, like baseball player Kelsie Whitmore or NBA assistant coaches Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman, have made inroads into male-dominated sports. Yet, we also know that women’s sports still receive less attention from fans and the media than men’s, female athletes are often treated as sex symbols, sports largely remain sex-segregated, and women in sports still garner lower financial rewards and hold fewer positions of power than men do. As an example of the contradictory position occupied by women in sports —simultaneously celebrated for their accomplishments and cast as outsiders and publicly denigrated when they veer too far into what has historically been men’s domain – on October 6, 2015, two-time Olympic Gold Medal-winning softball player Jessica Mendoza, already a regular analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” made history when she became the first woman to call a nationally-televised MLB playoff game. Touted as a major step forward for women in sports, the event was also swiftly met with what can only be described as sexist, misogynistic backlash. Continue reading “Playing (Fantasy) Sport with the Guys”