The world is facing an unprecedented crisis as a result of HIV/AIDS. The global epidemic is the most devastating in human history - shortening many lives and affecting the economic and social structure of many countries. Central among the factors influencing vulnerability to infection and its consequences are systems and structures of gender. Dominant ideologies of gender influence how women and men see themselves and the social relations into which they enter. While growing attention is being given to the position of women in the epidemic, less attention has been focused on men. This article explores the usefulness of concepts of masculinity for our understanding of HIV/AIDS-related risk and vulnerability. It examines the variable nature of masculinity, as well as its dominant, subordinate, alternative and oppositional forms, and how these impact on the vulnerabilities of men in this epidemic. It highlights the necessity for a more balanced understanding of gender as a set of structures created by, and affecting, both women and men. Some strategies and options for change are also discussed.
Current Sociology (2001) 49 (6): 23-37 [doi: 10.1177/0011392101496005]