Sunday, May 16, 2010

Femonomics reads the internet: HIV treatment, smear campaigns, SWEDOW, and the female body

The NYTimes has a heartbreaking story this week about the number of HIV patients in need of treatment outnumbering the number of dollars available for drugs.  Bill Easterly, a longtime aid critic, has responded by noting he argued early on that HIV treatment was a losing battle, since the number of new patients will naturally exceed the capacity to treat without prevention efforts that work.  HIV treatment is one area where visiting a country at the heart of the HIV/AIDS fight profoundly impacted my viewpoint.  I formerly was more sympathetic to the simple logic that, although AIDS is a death sentence without treatment, there will always be limited funds, and it is much cheaper to save a life through malaria prevention and treatment than through years of ARVs.  However, seeing the profound impact of HIV/AIDS on communities (everyone I met had a family member who had died of AIDS.  Many other people were on treatment, and you would not even know they had the disease) right now, I realized that even though prevention is the long-term solution to the HIV crisis, treatment--expensive as it is--is not something the development community can afford to cut.  Without AIDS treatment, all of the newly infected people will die in 7-10 years.  I believe there can be profound changes in development, disease, and poverty in the next ten years, not the next fifty.  If that is to happen, we cannot afford to have a "lost" generation--the already infected, condemned to die.  Moreover, real prevention requires testing so that people can be aware of their status and protect others from infection; and without the possibility of treatment, there will be no testing (and, for that matter, those who are tested will be profoundly negatively affected, the opposite of the desired result).

Richard Goldstone was appointed to investigate war crimes in the Gaza war.  His report concluded that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes.  Now, people who disagree with this ruling are engaging in a smear campaign of Goldstone's past, accusing him of being an apartheid-era hanging judge, and no better than a Nazi.  However, a South African friend explained to me that while Goldstone did accept a judgeship during the Aprtheid era in South Africa, and thus did have to enforce some questionable policies and sentence people for crimes within a broken legal system, he also took every opportunity he could to find loopholes, re-interpret statutes, and set precedents in a way that lessened the burden of Apartheid's oppressive laws.  In particular, Goldstone was responsible for issuing a ruling that people could not be compelled to leave an Apartheid zone if no suitable alternative accommodation was available, thus effectively ending the enforcement of the "Group Areas" provision.
[It] was not the cleverness of the LRC or CALS or the lawyers taking the case; it was an alert judge trying to apply human rights standards to a repressive piece of legislation. And it was Goldstone’s work; it wasn’t our work that stopped the Group Areas prosecutions in the end.
Goldstone is actually widely celebrated as a hero by anti-Apartheid South Africans, and as a result was appointed to various positions by Nelson Mandela after Apartheid had ended.  Matt Yglesias and others are coming to Goldstone's defense, but I find the smear campaign shameful.  Whatever you may think of the Goldstone report, ad hominem attacks, especially ones that carelessly invoke Nazism, are not the way to go.

Earlier we talked about how the #1millionshirts campaign was an example of donors thinking about what (and how) they'd like to give, not thinking about what people needed.  Well, Tales From the Hood has a word for that: SWEDOW--stuff we don't want.  Tales From the Hood is handing out awards for the best in SWEDOW, including gems like this:
Knickers 4 Africa (from @BSKyambadde) In some countries you can have your used undies shrink-wrapped and then sold to collectors for big money. But not these humanitarians: they’re giving up all of that profit in order to meet an urgent need in… wait for it… AFRICA!
Jezebel had a fascinating report this week about how censorship of softcore porn in Australia may be leading to dissatisfaction with natural female genitalia.  The whole thing is NSFW, so click through at your own discretion.  But, basically, Australia's media regulation rules state that softcore porn mags (the equivalent of Playboy) cannot feature too much "genital detail."  As a result, magazine publishers photoshop pics of their models so that the inner labia is not visible.  The linked video features a scene of the Australian reporter going through images of women's genitalia with the censor, who balks at the "genital detail" of some of the images, even though they are all clearly women shot from the same angle with the same level of focus, just who have naturally different anatomies.  It reminded me of the Lane Bryant cleavage controversy, where the same amount of revealed cleavage was ruled too risque when presented by a different-sized model.  The reporter speculates this may be responsible for rising dissatisfaction with typical female anatomy, and women undergoing labiaplasty to have the visible part of the inner labia removed (ouch).  It's really interesting from a broader perspective, of how the artificial images in both pornography and women's magazines can affect what we think is "normal" and "beautiful."  The labias were being photoshopped for censorship, not aesthetic reasons, and yet this decision still has power to shift men's and women's views of normal bodies.


  1. That Australian piece is deeply disturbing - I am still hyperventilating. Can we please get a stronger love your body movement?! Please?!!? Maybe more diverse pornographic (and general media) material has a role here, but it has to start as a stronger social movement, I think.

  2. I also was disturbed by that Australian thing. I couldn't even bring myself to watch that video at the link. I can't believe anyone would get surgery in order to change her genitals, especially since, by the time she's having sex with someone, she should already be in a committed, loving, trusting relationship with that person, and shouldn't have to worry about her partner comparing her to a picture he saw in a magazine.

    But rather than "more diverse pornographic material," perhaps "no pornographic material" would work just as well. That would also accomplish the purpose of avoiding the dissemination of fake images of women, while also having other beneficial consequences.


Commenting is now open, but we'd love it if you chose one username so other commenters can get to know you. To do this, select "Name/URL" in the "Comment as" drop down. Put the name you'd like others to see; the URL is optional.

Any profanity, bigotry, or synonyms for "[ ] sucks!" will be deleted. We welcome criticism as long as you're making a point!