Vaginas are not “disgusting”. The Be Cervix Savvy campaign


cervixgetyourselfscreenedBe Cervix Savvy is a new English cervical screening “awareness” campaign by registered charity Jo’s Trust and Hologic/Cytyc (manufacturers of the ThinPrep cervical screening system).

There is some good, plain-language information at the site, though much of it is inexplicably obscured in scrolling frames.

But then there’s… the WTF element.

Remember that breast cancer awareness ad which goaded women: “If men had breasts, they’d really appreciate them. Look after yours.“? This is much the same, though it stops short of showing us a series of cavorting men leering suggestively at their own transplanted cervixes.

Instead, we have a series of young blokes (which I suspect were selected for their hawtness factor), first pretending inanely to not know what a cervix is, then lecturing us dopey women for not having enough Pap smears.

Rosa, a commenter on the F-Word, summed up a lot of what’s wrong with the website concept.

1. Women are not shown at all, even though it’s about their bodies and their health

2. It is completely male dominated

3. Men are shown to be thick, ignorant, immature car and whatever obsessed stereotypes.

4. These same men then tell women what to do with their bodies, effectively taking control of the situation because heaven for bid women can sort themselves out.

It gets worse, though.

Nip into the “Top Ten Excuses” section (the deframed version is here), and you’ll find these two gems:

2. I don’t have time

Going for cervical screening should be part of your overall health and beauty regime. You are never to busy to have your hair cut, so you should always make time for a smear.

Ding-ding-ding! You’ve hit Lauredhel’s pet peeve. (Well, one of them). The conflation of “health” and “beauty”, particularly when it comes to women.

There are a few much long posts brewing about this, but in short: “wellness” is sold to women as a way of being, becoming, or staying sexually attractive to men – slim, hairless, clear-skinned, and perky. We are expected to maintain possession of a certain non-threatening level of “self-esteem” that is centred around whether we feel “sexy”. White middle-class women are urged to have breast implants to feel better about their normal bodies, to take diet pills so they can strive for an approved figure, pop potentially-toxic vitamins in a quest for an ill-defined sense of wellbeing, and maintain a schedule of questionable commercial therapies.

All of this is, of course, aimed at an unattainable and opressive notion of beauty, but it is sold to us for our “health” – for our own good. Failing to diet is “letting yourself go [tut, tut]”. Failing to maintain an expensive hairstyle programme is “not looking after yourself”. Failing to relentlessly pursue wellness is dereliction of duty. But the reverse is more sinister, and that is the idea, in a selling-wellness culture, that getting sick is your own damn fault, and that one of the worst things about being sick is that you might not look well.

More later on healthandbeauty fusion and wellness culture.

Next up in the Top Ten Excuses, and this is where I gave up on this particular campaign:

9. It’s disgusting

Yes, well we can’t argue with that one. Nobody enjoys going for a smear (think about the poor nurses and doctors at the receiving end!). But you may feel better when you realise that the only one it’s a big deal to is you.

Seriously. SERIOUSLY?

For fuck’s sake. No, your doctors and nurses are not standing there thinking “oh no I hope she doesn’t want a pap smear oh no don’t ask for a pap smear oh no not a pap smear OH NO she asked! Ew ew ew ew ew ew, not vag again, keep a straight face, pretend to make nice, here, get the gear out, hop up on the table dear, spread your ARGH ARGH ARGH VAG keep a straight face, ok, just relax, here we go, ICK ICK EW SMELLY VAG GROSS why did I ever do this job I never want to do a pap smear again phew it’s finished fill in the paperwork don’t meet her eyes oh no don’t make eye contact you’ve seen her DISGUSTING SMELLY VAG go away please don’t ever come back.”

Really. We’re not. If you ever get the slightest feeling that your doctor is thinking this? Move. It’s not normal.

What are we thinking? “Oh, yes, it’s been two years. No worries. Explain the Pap smear procedure and its rationale, offer STD screening. Check how she is she feeling about it. All the formalities are done, double check how she’s managing, ah she’s apologising for her unshaven legs – reassure her that I really don’t care about that! Everything looks normal here at the vulva, cervix looks ok, taking the smear now, spray the slide, put things away neatly, wash hands again. Anything else need doing? Explain the followup protocol, offer another chance for questions.”

Vaginas are not disgusting. Repeat: vaginas are not disgusting. Nothing more needs to be said.


Video transcript/description:

[bell rings]

A question appears on the screen: “What is a cervix?”

[A succession of young, conventionally attractive men appears in rotation, against a plain background. They are all shrugging and looking exaggeratedly confused. They then say, in turn:]

[snaps fingers] “It’s a vending machine.”

“It’s something you use in geometry!”

“It’s a cough medicine.”

“Ain’t it something you put in a car?”

Title: “and cervical cancer?”

“Is it a brain tumour?”

“Is it something to do with…” [hunches, leans forward] “…sex?”

[one hand cupped next to mouth] “Is it something to do with a woman’s…” [looks down, points] “… bits?”

Title: “but seriously”

[ticking clock sound effect]

[suddenly, these blokes switch into lecture mode]

[holding up three fingers, serious face] “It kills three women every day in England.”

“There are nearly 400 000 women between the ages of 25 and 29 that have never been screened. And half of those live in London.”

Title: “so listen up”

“Get yourself screened.”

[pointing at screen] “It could save your life.”

“Take care of yourself.”

“Be. Cervix. Savvy.”

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, health, medicine

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

37 replies

  1. Sir Vicks was riding one day in the forest. . .
    Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
    Grendel’s last blog post..A collection of memories

  2. Now I can add a disgusting vagina to my ugly underarms on my list of things the media has taught me.
    But seriously, how many drugs were involved in deciding dumb blokes were the best method of selling pap smears to women?
    Ariane’s last blog post..Conversation with Ben

  3. The good part: at least they were saying that the aim was to save lives, not to save sexy girlparts.

  4. The problem with this type of adverstising is that as you point out the power stays with the men, and does nothing to change the behaviour of ‘non-cervix savy’ women.
    aztec-rose’s last blog post..Blogs as research tools, or so much more…

  5. “think about the poor nurses and doctors at the receiving end”
    Have these people ever *met* any doctors or nurses? They deal with much grosser things (pus, parasites etc) on a regular basis and will happily tell you about it over dinner. I know the pictures from my endoscopy were a new level of horror-at-my-own-body for me, and there’s MUCH grosser bits than the esophagus.
    Anyway, a big YES to the health /= beauty thing. “Men’s health” isn’t much better, with the emphasis on muscle etc (of course “health” as a general category more often has male as the default) . Something I always find amusing is people’s reaction to me saying I’ve been told losing weight might help with my stomach problems despite me only being like 10kg overweight. “But you look fine! You don’t need to lose weight!” “Thankyou, and I agree it shouldn’t be a problem but my stomach is weird” “But..but…you don’t look fat! How can you need to lose weight? LET ME BOOST YOUR SELF ESTEEM”. Because there are two kinds of women: skinny ones who try to lose weight because they have emotional issues, and fat ones who OMG need to lose weight or they’ll DIE.

  6. You know, by the “think about the poor nurses and doctors”-line, I thought exactly the same. But after thinking it through, is it possible that the line represents what women who dreads taking a smear test might be feeling? It seems rather strange to add “but you may feel better when you realise that the only one it’s a big deal to is you”, if it indeed IS a big deal to doctors and nurses.
    Because it is certainly representative for what I feel about going to a gynaecologist, after being told for years and years and years that my vagina is revolting, and that it smells badly, that it’s ugly unless it’s shaven, that menstruation is gross, etc. It’s bad that I feel that way, but I can’t help it.
    That said… I don’t really get why they used a bunch of dudes to tell women to be more cervix savvy. Is there more authority behind their words? Are more people willing to listen just because they’re men?

  7. 9. It’s disgusting
    Yes, well we can’t argue with that one. Nobody enjoys going for a smear (think about the poor nurses and doctors at the receiving end!). But you may feel better when you realise that the only one it’s a big deal to is you.

    Sitting here trying to think of a better way to keep women OFF the exam table.
    And fuming.

  8. Wow, that’s fucked!
    There’s a lot to be said about all that, but you’ve said it just right. This is really, really dumb – dumb in an offensive, and kind of sad, way.
    There’s something just fundamentally fucked up about a society that defines every aspect of women’s lives – even fucking cervical cancer – from the male point of view. Apparently now men not only get to tell women what they can do with their reproductive organs, but women need men to order them to get health checkups for them as well. It makes you want to tear your hair out.
    (And I have to say I’m surprised that it’s that bad in England, though on the other hand you would never see such an ad in the US simply because any reference to “women’s bits” would be protested as obscence.)

  9. Makes me wonder if there are any men out there preventing women from having pap smears because they don’t want anyone else looking at ‘their’ woman’s vagina. Along the lines of the Salma Hayek breastfeeding arguments by men, saying that they didn’t want babies or any other human beings getting at ‘their’ woman’s fun bags. In which case an ad saying ‘shut up, selfish and ignorant pigs’ would seem to be a more suitable strategy.

  10. Women don’t own their bodies, you should know that 🙂
    Seriously though, I think this is all about the patriarchal requirement that women need male ‘approval’ and ‘guidance’ to be able to make the right choices.

  11. The picture of the dude holding up three fingers? Looks a lot like “the shocker.”
    Technically it isn’t, because the shocker is the forefinger and index finger and pinky extended, the ring finger and thumb bent in, but that was my first take on it.

  12. Clearly we need instructions from the menfolk because they’re (as a population) really good at going to doctors for checkups.
    Oh and Mr Advertising: yes, often I am too effing busy to get my hair cut.

  13. Makes me wonder if there are any men out there preventing women from having pap smears because they don’t want anyone else looking at ‘their’ woman’s vagina.

    Yes, but I think they’re in a fairly tiny minority[1]. I think. Google for
    tenderhusband “how husbands feel”
    Um, be prepared. This is some serious kookitude.
    [1] edited to add – in mainstream Western culture, I mean. Clearly some Muslim cultures have major constraints on opposite-gender medical touching.

  14. lauredhel, I don’t know how you find all the kookitude on the tubes that you do, but bless you for sharing.
    A man is a man. Period. Regardless of profession, and if a beautiful woman were to drop trow and say ‘go ahead and have a look’ it would still make me think thoughts regardless of how many I had seen.”
    Keep hold of your trow, ladies!
    And I think Ariane’s on to something. This campaign doesn’t say “cervix” to me, it says “cocaine!”

  15. Zoe: This guy posted at Twisty’s place, and the name stuck in my head. I can probably find a link – here you go.

  16. How does one drop trow? I mean, I need to know, I don’t want to do it accidentally and make men ‘think thoughts’.

  17. Yikes. I followed that link Lauredhel…now I’m dizzy. Wow.

  18. This ad campaign is fail. The guy in the link is just completely and utterly insane.

  19. He thinks he ‘co-owns’ his wife’s vagina? OMG. Get me a bucket.

  20. fp, when t’doctor says drop trou’, you pull doon dacks. Gottit?

  21. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a really… unfortunate… choice of head covering on that guy? Maybe it’s just me, but it does kind of make his head look like a penis *shrugs*

  22. It’s not just you, purrdence.
    It’s either that or a stretch yarmulke.

  23. @ Mindy:
    zomg I just went and read that thread as well. What a distorted view of intimacy!

  24. Drop trow sounds kinda kiwi/aussie to me. Also makes me think of the drow.
    I read some of this aloud to my husband. His first response was ‘wtf does beauty have to do with your cervix’ then ‘oh god you’re fucking kidding me’ on the 9th reason. Anyone who thinks my vagine is disgusting isn’t going to be on the ‘recieving’ end of it (which is just about the oddest phrasing ever. And if they were aiming that at the women who do think it’s gross, telling them that it is, that the doctors and nurses think so, isn’t going to help. The only time your vagina is going to be gross is if you’ve got some pretty serious infections going.
    Of course, he then asked when my last pap smear was, so maybe that’s what they’re going for…

  25. The trow comment was here, by Yoshua, on a thread started by the guy lauredhel mentioned.
    Put something between your head and the desk first ; )

  26. Oh Zoe…you put the link in, I had to go there. Luckily I am exhausted from study, laying on my back and pinned under my laptop, so no desk related injuries.
    But preceeding the drop trow comment, this:

    I agree with the OP and always have. Everytime I try to bring it up with anyone though I get shot down like I don’t know what I am talking aobut.
    I really don’t know WHY that is Yoshua.

    I’d like to point out that the spelling mistake in about was already a part of the indignant sentence.
    fuckpoliteness’s last blog post..And more stories…

  27. Oh hahah…boo…right when I’m mocking him I try to fancy things up and quote properly…and fail.
    [fixed! ~tigtog]

  28. What idiot thought this message was best given out by men?

  29. You know, just a thought, but perhaps the nincompoops who came up with this ad had an entirely different idea… I bet they weren’t even thinking of how *snarg* rtrdd they sound.
    They probably figured that girls don’t feel comfortable talking about their “bits” with men, so maybe having men on TV who didn’t think vaginas were scary would help encourage women to open up on the subject.
    Granted, absolute FAIL when it comes to the actual application of their idea, but I can see where they’re coming from.
    [offensive insult disemvowelled ~L]

  30. Wow, what a bunch of fuckknobs. What organization put that out, anyhow? Is there any way to complain or put them out of business? That is some seriously twisted crap. In my case, I don’t go to the gynecologist at all because of being raped, and I really don’t want anyone other than the occasional trusted partner ever even getting near that area. I’ve been trying to get over it, but seeing ads like this makes me even less likely to go — although it is pretty obvious that it was made by a bunch of misogynists who would actually prefer that women drop dead than get an exam; I really wonder whether their goal is what they actually say it is. I know a lot of rape survivors have difficulty going to a gynecologist due to the same issues I have, but this dumbass ad of course doesn’t address anything like that because that would require actually giving a crap about women and knowing something about our lives.
    Also, YES to taking down the crap conflation of beauty with health. I just had an argument a few weeks ago with a typical progressive dude who I’m friends with, and he was trying to justify his beauty fascism (aka judging women based on how they look) by saying that what’s important to him is how HEALTHY a woman looks . Because obviously, you can totally tell a woman’s red blood cell count just by looking at her. *roll eyes and bang head on desk* And of course, it’s totally cool to discriminate against a woman because she has cancer or asthma and toss her in the pile of “ugly chicks.” Of course, his brand of beauty fascism is hippie beauty fascism, which he feels is kinder and gentler but really just means approving of girls with dreadlocks or piercings while shunning anybody who’s too trendy. Pretty much all the other requirements are mostly the same, with some minor forgiveness for not being superskinny, but otherwise it was the same crap in a different package.

  31. And you would never see a prostate exam campaign with only women in it.

  32. If you see a prostate exam campaign at all.
    *thinks about the number of prostate exam campaigns she’s seen*
    I’ve seen more ads for erectial dysfunction.

  33. “You are never to busy to have your hair cut, so you should always make time for a smear.”
    OFFS. I get haircuts between semesters, when I have time.

  34. beth:

    I bet they weren’t even thinking of how *snarg* retarded they sound.

    Beth, please do not use that word as an insult here. (Or anywhere, come to that.) It’s ableist and offensive.

  35. Kevin:

    though on the other hand you would never see such an ad in the US simply because any reference to “women’s bits” would be protested as obscene

    And yet, you can wear T-shirts touting “Bringing breast awareness back into the workplace!

  36. You are never to busy to have your hair cut
    WTF? I’m always too busy to have my hair cut. Haircuts hardly ever happen in my universe . Who are these fucknecks to say what ALL women are like? Not to mention that getting a haircut isn’t as expensive, takes less time, and is a lot less emotionally and physically draining than getting a Pap, but of course these dumbshits wouldn’t know anything about that. (Nor would they care, I suspect….It’s all about men controlling our bodies, as usual.)


  1. Faves: Bodies, Breasts ‘n’ Birth edition — Hoyden About Town
%d bloggers like this: