Dumela, everyone! Twenty-two days until travel! I am getting so excited; it’s unbelievable that our trip is just around the corner! If any of you out there are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, you will know what I mean when I say I am an ENFJ. So as a J, I am sitting on the edge of my seat with excitement, alphabetized packing list in hand; as an E, I am e-mailing organizations and forming contacts in Botswana over the internet; as an N, I am looking at the big picture of things to do in Gaborone and excited at a new adventure!
I am going to try to get through two of the articles today in my post, but I was so fascinated by Shanti Parikh’s writing that I might spend a considerable amount of more time on that piece than the other. For you folks reading along at home, you can access the PDF of this article here.
Parikh’s article “Sex, Lies, and Love Letters: rethinking female agency and condoms in Uganda,” discusses the amount of rein that females control within the bedroom, specifically related to condom usage. The basic premise of the article is to show that many females will deny condom use based on their ideals of romantic courtship, Christian values, and language used by popular culture and the media. This is all based off of the fieldwork she conducted in Uganda. Her data source? Love letters. Yes, love letters (I told you this was a fun article)! Just in time for Valentine’s Day!
Securing a partner with whom to mate has been a central goal in human survival and progress since the days of the Australopithecines. Since then, our brains have evolved to recognize certain desirable traits (usually unconsciously) in order to pick the best possible partner for producing offspring. Many of these traits involve symmetry, curves for women, and strong jaw lines for men. But our brains have also evolved to recognize intelligence, and sometimes this is best detected through our language.
Yet again, we are brought back to this idea of linguistics and a misunderstanding with a very well-meaning prevention campaign, the ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, Condomize) campaign. She says that it’s not as easy as it seems to abstain, that being faithful can indirectly discourage condom usage, and that condomizing can likewise discourage faithfulness. Females want to prove their love and commitment and so might not use a condom. Also—to note in her defense—she’s not denying that female subordination occurs. She’s simply offering another side to the story.
With the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic came new importance to the words commitment, monogamy, and loyalty. Especially for the youth of Botswana, having grown up with this epidemic and equating sleeping around to contracting HIV, it became especially important to them to use such words when attracting a lover or partner. I’ll probably receive a lot of flack when I say this, but it seems that women are looking at the condomless sex as an advertisement of their own faithfulness and willingness to commit in a relationship.
She says that language plays an important role in gaining a mate and that through these love letters, flowery, sophisticated and (sometimes) made up language play a role in attempting to barter for sexual contact. Just as condemless sex is indexical to love, linguistic prowess is indexical of education. And while it bargains, this talk is not cheap. It comes with consequences, whether they be medical or emotional. Combined with anecdotes of those youth affected by this “bedroom bargaining,” Parikh paints a pretty clear picture of the other side of female agency in Uganda, but could have similar implications in Botswana as well.
There is nothing more public than privacy
“…sexpert radio programmes, newspaper gossip columns, foreign romance novels, Western pornographic films…[these created] the new publicness of sex, [and] sexual learning shifted from kinship networks to the public sphere…”
This is something that we discussed in class last week—the shifting source of sex education from elders in family circles to the media. Popular culture and media have pushed the idea of romantic love as the ultimate protection against HIV. The pressure that people place on each other to be responsible for the safety of others over personal concerns of community or family rejection is great, and very troublesome, indeed, as we see from the different vignettes of another reading from this week.
So I didn’t get around to that second article, but I will link you all to a couple of our other assigned readings for this week if you’re interested!
“The Impact of HIV Policies and Politics on Communities of Color” by M. Keith Rawlings and Deborah Parham Hopson
“HIV Prevention and Heterosexual African American Women” by Gina Wingwood, et. al
Tsamaya sentle – Goodbye
I know I promised you a couple of my own other videos that Lori and I shot last weekend, but it’s been so busy, I haven’t had time to edit them yet! Life of a college student, I know.
Thank you for taking on the Shanti Parikh article. I am also glad that you understood the nuanced nature of her argument. As you correctly pointed out, Parikh does not deny that female subordination occurs, what she is showing is that a more complicated picture of female agency and condom usage must emerge. Paradoxically, we can see how the ABC message gets reinterpreted so that lack of condom use becomes symbolic of one’s faithfulness in a relationship. The result has important implications for HIV prevention. I think your analysis of this article is spot on. Please encourage your fellow classmates to take a look at it.
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