The Deadly Gender Gap

Fighting AIDS in Africa means convincing men to take responsibility for what is often thought of as a woman's disease

"Even though cultures differ," Maswabi says, "men are alike in so many ways." Indeed, he could be talking about almost any country when he says that sex for men is "all about pleasing the male ego; a man needs to make his mark. So if sex hasn't been going well, the easiest way out is to blame the woman and say, 'Hell, there's something wrong with her, I'll go elsewhere.' And that's a link to HIV."

There are many others. Most conceptions of masculinity encourage men to start sex at an early age, to have many partners, and sometimes even to coerce women into having intercourse. Failing to appear masculine, notes Foreman, can bring down a rain of ridicule, and it is fear of this shame that leads many men to take sexual risks. But masculinity also calls for protecting one's family from danger and staring down one's own fears. If cultures can promote these images of masculinity, and create new ones, then more men might start doing what they desperately need to do: shoulder responsibility for AIDS.

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