WOMEN AND AIDS PARADOX OF VISIBILITY
There has been no significant departure from the expectation that women will be the primary caregivers. Unshaken by numerous changes in public and work life, belief in women's primary responsibilities for home, family, and caring remains relatively resolute.
Julia T. Wood, Who Cares? Women, Care, and Culture
The ancient idea of self-sacrifice and caretaking as woman's fate is a prevalent theme in many narratives on AIDS. Self-sacrificing mothers, caretaking sisters, nurselike lesbians, vigilant surrogate mothers, forgiving wives, and similar figures populate fiction, drama, film, television, and documentaries on the epidemic. This “good woman” generates not only compassion for people with AIDS but also nostalgia for women's traditional caregiving and self-sacrificing roles. As a result, AIDS literature and popular culture are paradoxically a place where the expression of feelings and sympathy for people with AIDS comfortably coexist with a subtle longing for idealized, nurturing women. I interpret this as part of a larger response to epidemics and to ideas about gender, illness, caretaking, and sacrifice, and examine how all of these are connected historically as well as in contemporary Western culture and literature.
Popular women's magazines routinely counter the antiquated image of the selfless woman with the popular image of the modern, independent woman who gets her needs met. A magazine such as Self, with its unrelenting focus on female professional individualism, argues that the angel in the house is dead and gone. But vestiges of the old model prevail. 1 Symbolic use of “woman” as self-sacrificing caretaker structures numerous representations of women, both past and present; these ideas are not ob