Condom handouts, discounted flu shots, and free HIV testing reflect a progressive awareness of the universality of disease, but a new exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences reminds us that misogyny played a prevalent role in early public service announcements. “An Iconography of Contagion” features 21 public-health posters from around the world that reflect dramatic and sexist attempts at curbing risky behavior. One poster features several servicemen looking at the image of an iconic ’40s-era woman and underneath her image, “She may look clean—but pick-ups, ‘good time’ girls, and prostitutes spread syphilis and Gonorrhea.” Another poster, depicting a dark-haired woman smoking a cigarette and sporting a red beret, comes with the warning: “She may be…a bag of trouble. Syphilis-gonorrhea.” Compared to what we know about men’s complicity in sexually transmitted infections—“Iconography” is an especially painful and, in some cultures, recurring, footnote in the field of public health.
THE EXHIBIT RUNS WEEKDAYS FROM 9 A.M. TO 5 P.M. TO DEC. 19 AT THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, 2100 C ST. NW. FREE. (202) 334-2436.