Workable Sisterhood

Workable Sisterhood: The Political Journey of Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS

Michele Tracy Berger
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Workable Sisterhood
    Book Description:

    Workable Sisterhoodis an empirical look at sixteen HIV-positive women who have a history of drug use, conflict with the law, or a history of working in the sex trade. What makes their experience with the HIV/AIDS virus and their political participation different from their counterparts of people with HIV? Michele Tracy Berger argues that it is the influence of a phenomenon she labels "intersectional stigma," a complex process by which women of color, already experiencing race, class, and gender oppression, are also labeled, judged, and given inferior treatment because of their status as drug users, sex workers, and HIV-positive women.

    The work explores the barriers of stigma in relation to political participation, and demonstrates how stigma can be effectively challenged and redirected.

    The majority of the women in Berger's book are women of color, in particular African Americans and Latinas. The study elaborates the process by which these women have become conscious of their social position as HIV-positive and politically active as activists, advocates, or helpers. She builds a picture of community-based political participation that challenges popular, medical, and scholarly representations of "crack addicted prostitutes" and HIV-positive women as social problems or victims, rather than as agents of social change. Berger argues that the women's development of a political identity is directly related to a process called "life reconstruction." This process includes substance- abuse treatment, the recognition of gender as a salient factor in their lives, and the use of nontraditional political resources.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2638-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Politics of Intersectional Stigma for Women with HIV/AIDS
    (pp. 1-36)

    This fieldnote, written in 1996, initiated a new way of thinking about the various women I had been studying in Detroit. What had begun several years ago as a research inquiry into the status of female lawbreakers,4 a “story” about crime, prostitution, and the ravages of crack cocaine use, had instead over time become transformed into a “story” explicating the lives of stigmatized, politically active HIV-positive women.5 This story was recast to highlight women (formerly active female lawbreakers) who after being diagnosed with the HIV/AIDS virus changed their lives. Finally, it evolved into a story about stigma, struggle, and a...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Women’s Narrative Bio-Sketches
    (pp. 37-67)

    This chapter serves to introduce the reader to the sixteen women’s lives whose political involvement and commitments constitute the core of the research, and provides a compressed narrative bio-sketch for each woman. The broad sociodemographic profile presented here portrays a group of women whose lives before they acquired the HIV virus were often complicated, for many, by drug use, sexual trauma, family abuse, poverty, and poor educational opportunities.

    The bio-sketches give an aperture into the various types of disadvantages these women facedbeforetheir HIV-status, thus providing the foundation for their experiences of intersectional stigmaafterdiscovering they were HIV-positive....

  6. CHAPTER THREE Capturing the Research Journey/Listening to Women’s Lives
    (pp. 68-86)

    In this chapter I review the methodology that informed my approach to the writing of this book. I characterize throughout that the process of the women’s participation as a journey; so too was the research for me. I was involved as a witness, seeker, recorder, researcher, and narrator of their conditions. The outcome of this journey for me is a sustained commitment to help explicate the insights stigmatized women bring to their understanding of politics. I used multiple methods (a combination of life history and oral history approaches, ethnographic fieldwork, and observation) to obtain the oral narratives on which to...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Narratives of Injustice: Discovery of the HIV/AIDS Virus
    (pp. 87-104)

    In chapter one, I have argued that the women’s experiences surrounding the context of discovery of the HIV/AIDS virus significantly influenced their future political activity. Their comprehension of those events was a precipitating catalyst to self-recovery, self-empowerment, and later political participation. Delineating their perception of the situation in which they now found themselves after learning they were HIV-positive and the consequences of that discovery, is the focus of this chapter.

    Moreover, this chapter explores the resultingnarratives of injusticearising from the manner in which they were informed they had contracted this serious illness. These narratives of injustice stemmed from...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Life Reconstruction and the Development of Nontraditional Political Resources
    (pp. 105-118)

    In the literature on empowerment and women with HIV/AIDS, there has been little research that has sought to document the specific ways women empower themselves, or what types of special processes women with the HIV/AIDS virus might undergo along the way of becoming politicized. Calling this processlife reconstructionhighlights some specific methods and techniques these respondents employed en route to their own and others’ empowerment. Life reconstruction also highlights microlevel processes, which constitute for the women a set of tools for a reframing and redirection of the cumulative effects of HIV-stigma. Chapter 6 explores in depth the gendered aspects...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Life Reconstruction and Gender
    (pp. 119-142)

    Minnie Ransom, a fabled local African American healer known to help women in various states of need, is a prime character inThe Salt Eaters, Toni Cade Bambara’s novel of redemption at both the community and individual levels. As I chart respondents’ journey in this chapter, I am reminded that they did not have a charismatic, caring midwife or healer, someone who could assist them to give “birth” to themselves—their female selves—as Minnie does in this powerful novel. She reprimands while she helps, reminding each character that healing is always an individual choice and a process. In choosing...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Making Workable Sisterhood Possible: The Multiple Expressions of Political Participation
    (pp. 143-185)

    Thus far in the discussion, the ways women have used their intersectional experiences of HIV/AIDS to transform their personal lives has been central. This chapter centers on the political participation for respondents. The first section of this chapter delves into the range and meanings of the activities that lead to empowerment on behalf of themselves and others, thus bringing the study full circle. It introduces the concept of roles as a useful way in conceptualizing the scope of participation. It also explicates how the roles ofactivist,advocateandhelperare constituted as blended and overlapping roles, allowing women great...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Looking to the Future: Struggle and Commitment for Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS
    (pp. 186-192)

    The women whose stories are told in this book—HIV-positive women from stigmatized pasts who became politically active—represent a new thread of participation in contemporary political life. Individually, their early histories were daunting. Additionally, the hegemonic influences of race, class, and gender predominate in describing their life challenges. But the ability to change the seemingly irreversible avalanche of negative life circumstances dominates the majority of the book. Their collective story narrates a complex series of events stemming from both the public and private sphere that has helped them transform themselves and the lives of many other HIV-positive people in...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 193-194)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 195-208)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-224)
  15. Index
    (pp. 225-234)