I know it's been fun, guys, and thanks for the fan mail, but it's time for the woman on the male-organ beat to move on to other body parts. The topic of the moment is . . . um . . . vaginas (pause for descent of rubber duck and dispensing of prize money), . . . and since I own one, I have been asked to, um, comment.
If my vagina could speak, it would say that despite all the nice words about HIV being a women's issue and all the saccharin concern for "women of color," AIDS has nothing to do with equality for us girls. For one thing, AIDS is not sexually transmitted, as Nancy Padian proved ten years ago. For another, women accounted for only 23% of all HIV/AIDS-diagnosed cases in the U.S. as of 2004 -- and the majority of these remain drug users, despite several revisions of the diagnostic criteria over the years to make AIDS a more "gender neutral disease". A demographically average American woman has as much chance of becoming the victim of a violent crime as testing "positive" on the HIV tests we are regularly nagged with by the gynecologist and have little choice at all about if we become pregnant. AIDS-think and the "war on AIDS" don't respect women in the least. They are especially hard on mothers.
Things are looking a bit brighter for we owners of the V-word, however. January was not a good month for the war against women. Specifically, woman-haters John P. Moore and Mark Wainberg went and co-signed a letter to the BBC asking it to remove its documentary about poor New York City mothers and their tortured children, "Guinea Pig Kids," from its website, which, as far as I can tell, is a pretty good recommendation for everyone to check it out. Then, just a few days ago, establishment PR flack Lawrence K. Altman of The New York Times was reduced to delivering the bad news about microbicides, the type of vaginal hygiene that Moore and Wainberg so enthusiastically support as a way to prevent "HIV infection."
Microbicides remind me of the American magazine advertisements from 1928-1948 proclaiming the merits of douching with Lysol. (Painfully funny examples and satires of these ads are posted all over the Web. "I vote Republican to get back to happier times like this," writes a Jesse Helms imposter.) Not just for cleaning bathroom tile, it was believed effective in reducing the offensive odor a woman might not be aware of because of "intimate neglect."
To hear the researchers and supporters tell it, women in the developing world need protection from brutish men who refuse to use condoms. According to "Fact sheet No246" of the World Health Organization, "Most of the world's women do not control when, with whom and with what protection, if any, they have sexual relations."
Memo to WHO: In the West we have a word for unwilling sex--rape. The West's answer to rape in the developing world is, then, to make sure that the victim is clean, "protected" somehow, from everything but the sheer terrifying violence of . . . honest to God, rape. Call it the "safe rape" campaign.
This supposedly justifies the use of African and Indian women in the clinical studies -- who, we can presume, were never told that sexual transmission of HIV remains unproven. Inserting these creams, gels and sponges into their vaginas should help get them back in "control" of their reproductive health.
Anyway, I'm starting to suspect that this "protection" is designed more to keep men clean from presumably dirty women. It's an idea older than Lysol, as old as primitive society and certainly older than the AIDS scare.
Credit the late Casper Schmidt for tracing the psychohistorical source of AIDS to American women. Writing in a 1984 issue of the Journal of Psychohistory (in an article revived by John Lauritsen and Ian Young in their book The AIDS Cult), Schmidt traced male anxieties to the liberation of women in the '60s and '70s. Unable to take their frustrations out on women, men projected their emasculation onto newly liberated gay men. Gay men responded with a martyrdom complex and an "epidemic of depression." As they noised out their shame with fast-track lifestyles of drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity and long-term popping of preventive antibiotics, a subset of party boys came down with a predictable "syndrome" of symptoms: fungus conditions, Pneumococcus carnii pneumonia (PCP), and Kaposi's Sarcoma (KS). "GRID" was what it was, and that's what we called it.
To understand how AIDS works, you have to understand how ritual sacrifice works. Rene Girard wrote, in his 1972 classic Violence and the Sacred, that primitive societies under stress resort to ritual violence -sacrifice - to divert real violence. Ditto, I say, for civilized societies. It just goes underground, and haywire. We have no idea that a sacrifice is needed or is happening, because we are usually very far from experiencing complete chaos. We also have few clues about how to do it right.
However, when everything looks like it's going to hell - when distinctions are falling apart, institutions are crumbling and the threat of violence is behind everything - a "sacrificial crisis" ensues on TV just like in the jungle. If you thought the problem with the '70s was pet rocks and disco, consider that the decade also brought on women who acted like men, men who acted like women, decaying cities ("Ford to New York: Drop Dead"), and, in the background, talk of possible "mutually assured destruction" by nuclear warheads. In primitive society, blurring distinctions is a bad sign, an omen. It means violence is next, the pools-of-blood, take-no-prisoners, complete-annihilation kind. Somewhere in our brains, we modern humans still remember this.
Which brings up fear of menstrual blood and, by extension, women. Any Freudian psychologist worth their Ph.D. can tell you about that. It must be on a test they take, somewhere between the Oedipus complex and the authority conferred by a beard. Men fear women because they bleed and blood is scary and it is a fear of the mother and the poison placenta blah blah blah. But then what? Why the fear of the mother? Why is blood scary? We still haven't answered the question.
Because, Girard writes, blood reminds us of violence. It is a bad omen. Not to discount all the bad-mommy fears and poisonings, which really do show up in AIDS metaphors and the fighting of this "war," but violence is that oozing red stuff, sexually transmitted when the sexual order breaks down. Is it a coincidence that the recent "(RED)" ad campaign to raise awareness about AIDS in Africa uses that color? Or that AIDS looped ribbons are red? Red is the color of taboo. It signifies contamination, contagious violence. It reveals a fantasy of poison blood and semen. A fear of women and their favorite body part, an abyss of pleasures and horrors.
Elizabeth Ely is a freelance writer and public speaker based in New York City, who has learned all the wrong lessons from being thrown out of a major Protestant church. She is working on a book about the religious nature of AIDS-think.