I was reading a post on a site and came across a picture that hurt my brain on many levels. I felt like two worlds were colliding in my mind. My brain was triggered by the picture not just for the men’s issues stuff I write about here, but also the work I do with people living with HIV/AIDS (PHA’s). The website said that this image is reportedly from an academic text from a “Career and Life Management (CALM)” textbook, and the picture itself states that it is a poster from 1994 as part of an HIV prevention program for young adults in Alberta, Canada:
(click to enlarge)
To put this poster in perspective of the social atmosphere at the time in which it was published:
1990: At the start of the decade, the U.S. Congress enacts the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including people living with HIV/AIDS.
1991: Magic Johnson came out about his HIV status. Queen’s lead singer, Freddy Mercury, dies due to AIDS related illness
1992: AIDS becomes the number one cause of death for U.S. men (age 25 to 44).
1993: “Philadelphia”, the first major motion picture to tackle the topic of HIV/AIDS came out in theatres (Tom Hanks won the Oscar for his role in 1994).
1994: AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for all Americans aged 25 to 44.
Having posted the picture to my facebook, someone commented that they were having a knee-jerk reaction to it based on their own perspective of men`s issues (we can blame my influence there), but on further consideration felt that there was some legitimacy to it.
Rather than argue about all the negatives and why I felt it was an incredibly problematic poster (mostly because I was running off to an appointment), I chose to pose a number of questions (I later returned and posed some more). This is a method I often use which I feel keeps me from just dropping my opinion on someone and instead makes them think and consider the question and what their own answer would be. I just put the door there and allow their mind to enter it. With that in mind, here are the questions I posed, slightly edited for clarity:
- Should I discuss slut-shaming with you?
- Should I discuss victim blaming with you?
- Should I discuss women who acquired HIV through intravenous drugs?
- What about children (this includes girls) who acquired HIV through their mother’s milk?
- What if I’m a gay male, as are many of my HIV+ clients, am I responsible for millions of women dying if I’m not even having sex with them?
- The poster does not say if you’re a male living with HIV, just if you are a male who has more than one sexual partner. The transmission rate from female to male is lower than male to female but should we not also consider this for women with HIV who don’t utilize female condoms (which were FDA approved in 1992)?
- How about women who don’t insist that their male partner wears a condom when they have intercourse?
- What about women who have multiple sexual partners and don’t practice safe-sex?
- Are men solely responsible for women’s safe sex practices as well as their own?
- Do women not have the capacity as well as the responsibility to also protect themselves during sex?
- Does the above poster not also imply that the women must also be having unprotected sex? (If I point that out to women, it’s victim-blaming, if they say it about men, it’s educational-shaming)
- Since the poster is also promoting abstinence as an option, are the women supposedly being affected not also equally capable of practicing abstinence and not having sex with men?
- Why is there no concern for the millions of men dying from HIV other than to vilify them for passing it to women? The men this poster describes, apparently guilty of killing millions of women, obviously must also be HIV positive themselves to pass it on. (As stated above, HIV was the leading cause of death for young men in the U.S. two years before it became the leading cause of death for everyone aged 25-44)
- Who are the men’s sexual partners that they’re having unprotected sex with? If they are having sex with women, as the poster insinuates, I can logically assume that they are straight or possibly even bi-sexual. If they contracted it within heterosexual relationships, then aren’t the women who originally infected the men also equally guilty of killing millions of women (and men)?
- Does the blame lie with the man who got that woman infected? Who came first, the man living with HIV or the woman living with HIV?
- If penises and vaginas are both capable of distributing STD’s back and forth with each other, should only one of them come with a warning label?
This poster highlights not just victim-blaming, but also male-blaming. It is doing both, with the victim-blaming being excused because it is blaming not just men, but also male sexuality. In this case, it is male heterosexuality that is being demonized, which also underscores the legions of gay men who were suffering and dying at the time as well. I suppose Alberta had no gay men at the time or, at the least, that gay young men weren’t a concern anyway, since they were only infecting each other and not women.