by Merle Hoffman
Welcome to the May/June 2008 edition of On The Issues Magazine Online, the first full edition of our new Internet publishing venture.
Reviving the magazine on the web 25 years after our first release in print and after a nine-year hiatus feels like visiting a very old friend that I haven’t seen for years, one that was so much a part of my life and my expectations for the future. Even though the many changes of time and life happened to both of us, I can still pick up right where I left off as if conversation never really stopped.
And in a deep sense the conversation never did stop. The thinking kept going, the struggles and the analysis. So much has changed in the world and in women’s lives; yet so much remains the same — not always for the better. The topic of our current edition, Women and HIV-AIDS, is a prime example.
In On The Issues Magazine Online we will periodically address one main topic from a variety of feminist perspectives in articles, essays, arts and culture. We are seeking a deeper, more nuanced and historical analysis instead of the current bumper sticker reporting.
We subtitled this edition Blowback Hits Women Hard because after 25 years of gender struggles, gains and backlash, women are suffering collateral damage from HIV-AIDS. They are now the most rapidly-growing targets of a preventable and treatable virus.
In 1983, only a couple of years after the virus was “discovered,” I reported in an “AIDS ALERT,” that the New York City Department of Health had established a 24-hour AIDS hotline.
“We hope this new number will speed the flow of information to a public that urgently wants, and needs concrete data as opposed to the dramatic news reports published recently.”
Now we need far more than an “alert.” We need a planetary alarm for the women of the world.
Years ago, when AIDS was defined as a gay male disease in the U.S. — some called it a plague brought by God for homosexuality — the gay community began to talk about “safe sex” and to promote condom usage. Men were suddenly faced with the possibility of a death sentence for engaging in unsafe sex. I remember thinking that sex had never been safe for women.
Almost a quarter of a century later, the new face of AIDS is female and the growth of the disease feeds on a toxic mix of misogyny and racism– the second-class citizenry of women, the inability to negotiate sexuality, the fear of violence, lack of access to resources and funding. Everywhere you turn, the answer appears to be obvious — women must have the power to control their lives and their sexuality.
Our fresh articles are presented in combination with one that I wrote in 1985, Love and Death On 86. Visiting an AIDS ward in San Francisco, one sign broke my heart: No flowers, it said. I had an instinctive feeling that more women would soon be seeing this sign.
So did Sharon Walton, who tells us in a poignant essay why she, an African-American woman, volunteered to help people with AIDS in the late 1980s when the clients were largely gay men.
Molly M. Ginty paints a vivid picture of the daunting challenges in the U.S. today, especially engulfing women of color, in AIDS Spreads Rapid Fire. An award-winning journalist with special knowledge of women’s health, Molly told us, “It’s emotionally wrenching to step back and realize that there’s no reason women should be suffering and dying due to this devastating disease.” Molly also gives us a Q & A with Nancy Genova, a leader in Latina healthcare with whom I was privileged to share a panel at the Freedom On Our Terms Conference sponsored by the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute at Hunter College in New York City in November of 2007
The extremely difficult situation of women in Africa is described by Marcy Bloom, an old friend and colleague who has a deep interest in access to respectful and culturally relevant abortion care. In Feminization of a Pandemic, Marcy tells us how even some men guiding HIV-AIDS policy are recognizing that the staggering numbers of infections of women (62 percent of the total) in sub-Saharan Africa are due to gender imbalance and, as Mary Lou Greenberg notes, the devastation can be reversed only by elevating women’s status. Gender inequality is killing women, although the autopsy may say “HIV-AIDS.”
I am especially delighted to welcome our Art Editor, Linda Stein, a sculptor who shares her work and her vision for protection from HIV, and our Poetry Editor, Clare Coss, a prolific writer, psychotherapist and activist, who presents related verse by poet Gale Jackson.
Of course, the technology of the ‘net allows On The Issues Magazine to use new media, creativity and immediacy. With this in mind, we are introducing The Café, which will allow commentary from writers, thinkers and artists. Our first Café contributors, Mahin Hassibi, M.D., a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, recalls how medical colleagues tried to reckon with the early reports of a new and strange unnamed virus, and Ann Boyer, M.D., an Ob-Gyn on the faculty at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, describes new possibilities for HIV-positive women who wish to become pregnant.
In the first On The Issues in 1983 — it was then an eight-page newsletter — I wrote of my experience of founding Choices Medical Center and the catalytic inspiration of my patients, as well as the mission of the publication.
“On the Issues is more than a newsletter. It is a living monument, a continually growing and involved entity, a reflection of me, my staff and my patients …. My giants are my staff…the women and men who work with me in a constant state of struggle; our patients… who come to us and receive the fruits of our collective efforts;…and, the hands of millions of women who I cannot touch personally.”
The rich grouping of material in this Online edition of On The Issues Magazine retains the vision, commitment, fierce independence and vitality of the print publication — and then some. Our next edition will look at feminist perspectives on the issues of pornography and sex work.
I welcome our former OTI readers and greet all of our newcomers to what I know will be an ongoing, challenging and inspirational conversation.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
For more Merle Hoffman Editorials