Like Bees to a Flower: Attractiveness, Risk, and Collective Sexual Life in an AIDS Epidemic

Publication Abstract

Frye, Margaret, and Nina Gheihman. 2018. "Like Bees to a Flower: Attractiveness, Risk, and Collective Sexual Life in an AIDS Epidemic." Sociological Science, 5: 596-627.

We examine how men's shared understandings of women's physical attractiveness are influenced by concerns about risk in the context of a generalized AIDS epidemic. Using 180 conversational journals-descriptions of informal conversations about sex occurring in Malawi between 1999 and 2011-we show that men deploy discourses of risk to question and undermine the status advantages enjoyed by attractive women. Men simultaneously portray attractive women as irresistibly appealing and as destructive to men. Men engage in two types of collective responses: First, men work to discipline themselves and each other, reframing attractiveness as illusory and unworthy of pursuit; and second, men endeavor to discipline attractive women themselves, portraying them as evil temptresses that must be suppressed and reasserting their masculine dominance through harassment and violence. These findings reveal how men's classifications of women as sexual objects operate as forms of symbolic violence, legitimating and naturalizing their gendered domination over women.

10.15195/v5.a25

Country of focus: Malawi.

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