Tricking and Tripping: Fieldwork on Prostitution in the Era of AIDS Claire E. Sterk Students often think of anthropological fieldwork as requiring travel to exotic tropical locations, but that is not necessarily the case. This reading is based on field-work in the United States—on the streets in New York City as well as Atlanta. Claire Sterk is an anthropologist who works in a school of public health and is primarily interested in issues of women's health, particularly as it relates to sexual behavior. In this selection, an introduction to a recent book by the same title, she describes the basic fieldwork methods she used to study these women and their communities. Like most cultural anthropologists, Sterk's primary goal was to describe "the life" of prostitution from the women's own point of view. To do this, she had to be patient, brave, sympathetic, trustworthy, curious, and non-judgmental. You will notice these characteristics in this selection; for example, Sterk begins her book with a poem written by one of her informants. Fieldwork is a slow process, because it takes time to win people's confidence and to learn their language and way of seeing the world. In this regard, there are probably few differences between the work of a qualitative sociologist and that of a cultural anthropologist (although anthropologists would not use the term "deviant" to describe another society or a segment of their own society). Throughout the world, HIV/AIDS is fast becoming a disease found particularly in poor women. Sex workers or prostitutes have often been blamed for AIDS, and they have been further stigmatized because of their profession. In reality, however, entry into prostitution is not a career choice; rather, these women and girls are themselves most often victims of circumstances such as violence and poverty. Public health officials want to know why sex workers do not always protect their health by making men wear condoms. To answer such questions,
I can say with confidence that the moment a person truly starts down the path of self-discovery, they will never turn back. Many may ask the question, "What is self-discovery?" or "What do you mean you don't know who you are?"
The American English Dictionary defines self-discovery as follows:
"a becoming aware of one's true potential, character, motives, etc."
Ignorance towards my true self is something I lived with for a long time. Self-discovery means many things. It means finding your purpose in life (we all have a purpose), it means digging deep into your childhood and revealing the experiences that shaped you... good and bad. It means realizing what your beliefs are and living by them. The effects of self-discovery include happiness, fulfillment, clarity and maybe even enlightenment! The journey however is not always an easy road. The journey includes fear, confusion, misunderstanding, doubt and literally re-visiting all your choices in life. I like to refer to it as spring-cleaning of the mind, your emotions and your surroundings (including the people in your life). It requires making some tough decisions and sticking to them. My journey so far has seen me cut people out of my life. I call them the "takers." They were takers because I allowed them to be and it wasn't until I realized that many of these relationships were one-sided -- self-discovery -- that I decided to cut them out. It has also seen me completely change the course of my life and start to follow my true passion and purpose (this blog). I have also started to set intentions and no longer have expectations from others -- okay... this one is really hard for me and it's a work in progress -- but instead I have started to look within for answers. I've had several set backs along the way and I have no doubt I will have many more but, I'm not giving up.
What I know for sure is that the journey is worth taking. I am slowly becoming calmer, more aware and more tolerant. I am learning how to pay attention to my feelings and understand myself better.
What I know for sure is that I have been very hard on myself for most of my life. I have not been truthful with myself and have had unrealistic expectations therefore, setting myself up for disappointment. Why do we do this? Why do we lie to ourselves? And more importantly, why do we allow ourselves to get away with it? When someone else lies to me and I find out about it I freak out. "How dare he lie to me? Does she think I'm stupid?" but, we lie to ourselves profusely and even cover up our own lies by accepting them as truth in order to reassure ourselves that it's okay??!?!?!
For example: I have body image issues. I have always had body image issues yet covered it up by lying to myself. When I was 14 I even tried to starve myself thin. I would convince myself that I was happy with the way I looked when deep down I knew I wasn't. I worked so hard to cover up how I really felt by masking my true feelings. "I'm happy with my hips" I would tell myself and "I like my perky butt," even though deep down I hated the way I looked. I'm not implying that what I was feeling was a good thing but, it was what I was feeling and ignoring it, or pretending it didn't exist was doing no good to me -- or my body image issues. Eventually, it became exhausting. Recently, I started working on accepting the fact that I have body image issues and acknowledging my feelings towards them. I am not suppressing the feelings I have anymore instead, I am admitting to them therefore diminishing the threat they once held upon me and reducing the hold they had on my life. There comes a freedom with accepting your feelings and emotions. It's like a release of some sort. Like you've identified the elephant in the room and waved at him so you no longer have to pretend he's not there. Once you acknowledge the elephant in the room he doesn't bother you anymore. You learn to co-exist and be okay with his presence and not allow him to control how you act and feel anymore.
What I know for sure is that being true to my feelings and acknowledging them as well as validating them has released so much fear in me. It has released my fear of not being good enough as well as my fear of not living up to the expectations I set for myself. What I know for sure is that we are usually our own worst enemy. We hold ourselves back in so many ways and I am ready to move away from that pattern. I'm not suggesting that these fears no longer exist within me because they certainly do and, I don't think they will ever go away but now that I am aware of my true feelings and now that I am becoming conscious of my real beliefs, they no longer have a strangle hold on my life. Instead, I have a hold on how they can or cannot affect me.
My message is this... Stop being your own worst enemy! Stop lying to yourself about your emotions and feelings and start accepting them and allowing yourself to feel whatever is it you feel. The freedom you will feel within yourself is reward enough however, the universe will give you back the love that you have finally and justifiably started to give yourself. This I promise you!
"When I discover who I am, I'll be free."
-- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Until next time...
To read more articles by Eleni visit her Blog at: http://www.thechatterboxx.com.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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