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The female condom in North America: selling the technology of 'empowerment'

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In this paper, I examine the selling of the female condom and the predominantly negative response it garnered in the North American media during the 1990s. I situate the female condom as a technology that emerged at the convergence of the twentieth century women's health movement and the much more recent HIV-prevention movement, both of which stressed ideals of individual self-control and empowerment for women as the keys to sexual health. However, the female condom was constructed in media accounts as a joke or an insult. The idea of women's empowerment embodied in the device was taken as an unwelcome reminder of the dangers and risks of heterosexuality in the age of AIDS - thus, the female condom was perceived as more depressing than emancipating. It has since found a substantial market and receptive users in HIV-prevention programmes in Asia and Africa. I conclude that the episode of the female condom complicates the narrative of the women's health movement as a drive towards women's empowerment, by pointing out that empowerment is an ambiguous concept which can evoke an ambivalent response from its intended audience.
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Keywords: HIV/AIDS; North America; empowerment; female condom; heterosexuality

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-07-01

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