Workable Sisterhood is 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.
Michele Tracy Berger is Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has been a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.
Acknowledgments ix Chapter One: The Politics of Intersectional Stigma for Women with HIV/AIDS 1 An Overview of the Story 2 The New "Face" of HIV//AIDS 6 Women's Community Work: Broadening the Definition of What Constitutes Politics 7 Intersectionality 18 Stigma and Marginality 22 Intersectional Stigma 24 Coming Out of the Shadows: Stigmatized Women and Politics 36 Chapter Two: Women's Narrative Bio-Sketches 37 Advocates 38 Activists 50 Helpers 58 Life Lessons 65 Chapter Three: Capturing the Research Journey/Listening to Women's Lives 68 Section One: Finding the Women 68 Section Two: Why Did She Say That? Creating and Analyzing Oral Narratives 79 Limitations of the Study 85 Chapter Four: Narratives of Injustice: Discovery of the HIV/AIDS Virus 87 Narratives of Injustice 88 Consequences of the Discovery of the HIV/AIDS Virus 99 Intersectional Stigma as a Contributing Factor 102 Chapter Five Life Reconstruction and the Development of Nontraditional Political Resources 105 What Is Life Reconstruction?105 The Role of Resources 106 External Resources 107 Chapter Six: Life Reconstruction and Gender 119 Aspects of Respondents' Gender Identity before HIV//AIDS and Life Reconstruction 119 Redirecting HIV-Stigma Related to Sex Work 121 Sexual Self-(Re)Education and Empowerment 129 Development of a Public Voice: What It Means to Be a Woman with HIV 133 Consequences of Not Developing a Public Voice 139 Chapter Seven: Making Workable Sisterhood Possible: The Multiple Expressions of Political Participation 143 The Women's Distrust of Conventional Politics 143 Blended and Overlapping Roles 150 Narrative Features of Participation 180 Chapter Eight: Looking to the Future: Struggle and Commitment for Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS 186 Collective Stories 186 Policy, Prevention, and Treatment Implications 190 Appendix 193 Notes 195 Bibliography 209 Index 225