Gender and sexuality are central considerations in voluntary medical male circumcision campaigns

Discourses of masculinity, femininity and sexuality in Uganda's Stand Proud, Get Circumcised campaign.

Rudrum S, Oliffe JL, Benoit C. Cult Health Sex. 2017 Feb;19(2):225-239. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2016.1214748. Epub 2016 Aug 11.

This paper analyses discourses of masculinity, femininity and sexuality in Stand Proud, Get Circumcised, a public health campaign promoting circumcision as an HIV-prevention strategy in Uganda. The campaign includes posters highlighting the positive reactions of women to circumcised men, and is intended to support the national rollout of voluntary medical male circumcision. We offer a critical discourse analysis of representations of masculinity, femininity and sexuality in relation to HIV prevention. The campaign materials have a playful feel and, in contrast to ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, Use condoms) campaigns, acknowledge the potential for pre-marital and extra-marital sex. However, these posters exploit male anxieties about appearance and performance, drawing on hegemonic masculinity to promote circumcision as an idealised body aesthetic. Positioning women as the campaign's face reasserts a message that women are the custodians of family health and simultaneously perpetuates a norm of estrangement between men and their health. The wives' slogan, 'we have less chance of getting HIV', is misleading, because circumcision only directly prevents female-to-male HIV transmission. Reaffirming hegemonic notions of appearance- and performance-based heterosexual masculinity reproduces existing unsafe norms about masculinity, femininity and sexuality. In selling male circumcision, the posters fail to promote an overall HIV-prevention message.

Abstract access   [1]

Editor’s notes: In this article, the authors provide a feminist, critical discourse analysis of Uganda’s 2012 ‘Stand Proud, Get Circumcised’ campaign. The campaign promoted voluntary medical male circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy. The authors look at how masculinity, femininity, gender relations and acceptable sexuality are configured.

The authors note that even within this prevention strategy that is male-only, men were largely absent with women representing the campaign’s public face. They argue that this is in keeping with widespread messages about gender and HIV in the region that position women as the central actors. That said, messages about normative masculinity were evident and focussed on anxieties about men’s penises as a site for the physical assessment of masculine sexual prowess or failure. Together with a lack of reference to gay men, this positioning affirms dominant ideals of what a ‘man’ is: straight, circumcised, sexually active. The authors also observe that discourses of femininity, while departing from women-as-victims and introducing sexual pleasure, were relevant only for women’s ability to impose conditions for sex, thereby influencing men to circumcise. The authors therefore argue that the discourses around gender and sexuality, rather than being socially transformative, were instead positioned to produce existing norms around sex. This positioning offers little hope for creating structural changes to gender relations that might hinder HIV transmission. The authors also express concern that the posters sell circumcision, but neglect to highlight the evidence that women are not directly protected, or that other tools of prevention including condoms remain important. 

Africa [5]
Uganda [6]
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