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Challenging dominant norms of masculinity for HIV prevention

Catherine MacPhail


South Africa there is a growing HIV epidemic, particularly among young
heterosexual people. A recent report (NMF/HSRC, 2002) indicates that levels of
HIV infection among young people aged 15–24 years are 9.3% although other
studies in more specific locations have shown levels to be higher than this.
One of the best means of developing successful and innovative HIV prevention
programmes for young people is to enhance our understandings of youth sexuality
and the manner in which dominant norms contribute to the spread of sexually
transmitted diseases.
Social norms of masculinity are particularly important in
this regard, as the manner in which ‘normal' men are defined such as through
acquisition of multiple partners, power over women and negative attitudes
towards condoms, are often in conflict with the true emotional vulnerabilities
of young men. Given the strong influence of peer groups on young people and the
belief that one of the solutions to behaviour change lies in peer renegotiation
of dominant norms, there is the need to begin to investigate young men who
challenge dominant norms of masculinity. It is in investigating their points of
view that a platform for the deconstruction of stereotypical masculinities and
the reconstruction of new norms can be formed.
The paper begins to consider these counter normative ideas
through highlighting the discussions of young South African men aged 13–25
years in focus groups and in-depth individual interviews conducted in Gauteng
Province. It is apparent that among this group there are young men challenging
normative views of masculinity in a manner that could be harnessed within HIV
prevention initiatives.

sexual health, social influences

African Journal of AIDS Research 2003, 2(2): 141–149