Love, Gender, Power: Russian Women Living with HIV

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Anastasia Beliaeva


This study investigates how Russian heterosexual women, infected with HIV through sexual intercourse, experience and interpret living with HIV. Using interview data and analysis of online forums for people with HIV, I conclude that women’s experience of disease is structured by their gender. The article examines in more detail how exactly gender shapes the perception of the disease and structures the experience of HIV for women. I identify three crucial points for understanding the disease in the life of women with HIV, analyzing how gender is constructed in each of them and how it structures each of these stages. These stages are: First, the immediate moment of infection, which is affected by gendered expectations during romantic relationships. Second, the moment when women learn that they have HIV and the subsequent long period of depression associated with how the stigma of infection deprives women of their gendered identities, leaving them solely as patients. Third, the stage of accepting and overcoming the disease, returning to ”normal” life, connected with the restoration of gender through a new relationship with a man. The second part of the article proposes an explanation for why gender identity is used by women to ”overcome” HIV. The main conclusion is that women use their gender because its main function is to integrate the individual body into the structure of society. By using this particular function of gender, women overcome the disease by shedding their identity as “sick people” and becoming “women,” regaining their normality and integrity within society. The article also examines how the gender system in contemporary Russian society reproduces itself and its hierarchies in the case of women with HIV.

Article in Russian

DOI: 10.25285/2078-1938-2019-11-1-120-151


HIV, Gender, Women, Stigma, Russia, Medical Anthropology

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