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Reviewed by:
  • Workable Sisterhood: The Political Journey of Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS
  • Sally K. Fauchald (bio)
Workable Sisterhood: The Political Journey of Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS by Michele Tracy Berger. Princeton: Princeton University, 2004. 248 pages. Reviewed by Sally K. Fauchald, PhD, RN

Workable Sisterhood: The Political Journey of Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS is the story of 16 women from the Detroit area, whose diagnoses of HIV/AIDS served as a catalyst for them to recreate themselves as nontraditional political actors, as well as a study of how such a recreation came about. The women who served as the sample for the study are primarily women of color, sex workers, drug users, and law breakers, many of whom were affected by domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, substance use by family members, and poverty.

This book focuses on the intersection of three central elements: the women, the event (acquiring HIV/AIDS), and the outcome (political participation). The author works in a theoretical framework with a construct called intersectional stigma, which is designed to encompass the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender subordination (forms of oppression) with stigma (ways in which people are socially defined as other).

The author introduces a host of theoretical terms, applying them to the understanding of this population and illustrating them with examples. In addition to intersectional stigma, she discusses intersectionality, stigma, and marginality in her treatment of the role of stigmatized women in politics. In chapter two, the women's narrative bio-sketches and demographic characteristics provide the reader with a rich context for the descriptions of the women in her sample. Women tell their stories, illustrating roles such as advocate, activist, and helper. The chapter concludes with a summary of life lessons, which identifies similarities between different people's experiences. Chapter three provides a useful synopsis of the methodology of the study, its analysis of data, and its limitations. The author reviews her use of multiple methods, incorporating life histories with oral histories, ethnographic fieldwork, and observation in order to capture the true-life experiences of the women in this study.

Subsequent chapters of the book present narratives of injustice, in which the women relate how they learned they were HIV-positive. Statements from the women studied (such as Cherise, age 32, averring, "The way I was told about my HIV status was almost as traumatizing as the disease itself") help the reader to understand the stigmatizing effects of the HIV diagnosis on these already marginalized women. The idea of life reconstruction highlights some of the specific methods and techniques the women in the sample developed to redirect and reframe themselves on the way to becoming [End Page 157] empowered and politicized; these techniques center around nontraditional political resources as well as an expanded gender identity, and the development of a public voice, communicating what it means to be a woman with HIV/AIDS. The narratives from the women intertwine throughout the book with analysis and commentary and succeed in capturing the harsh reality these women face on a daily basis.

The identification of necessary external resources was a recurring theme with the women; these resources (such as substance abuse treatment and recovery, therapeutic work on sexual abuse, stigma and sexual trauma, and spirituality) played an important role in the women's journey to becoming politicized. Stigma itself was prime the catalyst for action. The participants described stigma in the treatment centers, stigma from personnel, and stigma from other people in treatment that mobilized them to seek and develop advocacy skills.

Workable Sisterhood achieves its goal of providing a new representation of participation in politics by providing evidence that the responses to injustices experienced by marginalized women are multifaceted. Understanding the lives of these marginalized women before, during, and after their HIV/AIDS diagnosis helps in understanding the impact of stigma, social status, gender, time, money, and civic skills on the life reconstruction processes of HIV-positive, marginalized women. Understanding the struggles of HIV-positive women to redefine themselves and their communities is a key factor in understanding how other marginalized populations might actively participate in facing the HIV/AIDS epidemic head-on in the years to come. Valerie, age...


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pp. 157-158
Launched on MUSE
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