NHS Services – Aimed at Women?

// 12 April 2008

Local Health Services Leaflet.JPG

I had this leaflet through my door – it’s a colour leaflet setting out the local health services in my Borough. The front cover shows some people walking down the street – presumably the type of people the leaflet is aimed at. Of the eight little cartoon people shown, five are women, one is a baby (being pushed in a pram by one of the woman), one is indeterminate and one is a man.

Is this deliberate? Aren’t we supposed to be getting men to use the health service more? Don’t we keep hearing about the need to encourage men to go to the Doctor more often? Intentionally or not I think this leaflet sends out a clear message that health is the responsibility of women.

Inside the leaflet, these are the representations of medical professionals:

Health Services Leaflet - Doctor.JPGHealth Services Leaflet - Professional.JPG

So, they are male, then.

It’s a shame isn’t it?

It does make me wonder, though. When we feminists look at representations like this, publications and advertising, do we want them to represent the way things really are or the way they should be in an ideal equal world? There seems to be a tension to me.

On the one hand, if a there is a severe gender inbalance existing (e.g. in a profession, like teachers, nurses, mechanics, or the split in household chores and child-rearing along gender lines), I think it would help to change that situation if men and women were shown equally in those scenarios. So in these cases I want publications to try to show an “ideal world” rather than the actual truth of the situation as it happens to be now.

Yet when it comes to things like the representation of domestic violence and rape, I want publications to represent the pure facts: that men are responsible for the vast majority of these things, and not to try to pretend that gender doesn’t come into it or is irrelevant. So I don’t want them to represent a world where violence occured equally across the genders and women were not oppressed. I want them to represent what happens now.

Is this hypocritical?

Comments From You

Helen // Posted 12 April 2008 at 5:51 pm

Catherine, I dont think you are being hypocritical. In both cases you want a leaflet that helps to make an ideal world. In one leaflet the ideal world needs to be portrayed and encouraged, whereas in the other the real situation must be shown in order that it can be recognised and eradicated. Makes sense to me!

Jess // Posted 12 April 2008 at 5:59 pm

As a sidenote, though, I thought there were meant to be too many women doctors now?!

Qubit // Posted 12 April 2008 at 6:55 pm

Intriguingly one of my favourite blogs is written by a quantum physicist and upon writing an article for Scientific American he commented

“In an earlier draft, the cartoons adorning my article were “all balding white guy, all the time” (supposedly, because of the need to keep a “consistent character” throughout the article). I demanded some sort of cartoon-diversity. After a heated discussion among the editors — in which, I’m told, the name of Larry Summers was invoked — they finally agreed to add a cartoon black woman.”

Betsy // Posted 12 April 2008 at 8:19 pm

I suppose:


Disabled person

New mother

People who’ve had accidents

Old people

Men- general

Women- general

(I’m not sure what the person with shopping is meant to represent)

There’s at least two categories there (female- general, and new mothers) who can ONLY be women, and since women are more likely to live longer than men, so I suppose an elderly woman might be more representative than an old man.

As far as I can tell the person in the wheelchair and the baby could be either gender. Then generally men and women obviously represent themselves. The person who has had an accident could’ve gone either way, and if I’d’ve designed this I probably would’ve made it male (for balance) but I don’t think it matters. And as I said, I’m not sure what the purpose of the woman with shopping is.

Much more worrying is the representation of all medical staff as male, purely because it doesn’t represent the situation.

I’m not sure how much sense that makes, it’s been a long day.

Redheadinred // Posted 12 April 2008 at 10:57 pm

Actually, it’s funny. I recently was reading an Aquafresh booklet for children called ‘The nurdles in – super happy teeth’ (I know, I know…) and inside there were little characters that looked like blobs of toothpaste, named Nurdles, interacting with humans. In Nurdleland, the mayor nurdle is a male character, as is the (human) dentist. Meanwhile, the female characters are a little female nurdle who asks all the questions, a little (human) girl going to the dentist and her mother.

Sarah // Posted 14 April 2008 at 2:49 pm

Actually I think the most disturbing thing is the patronising and babyish presentation of the leaflet – I mean, the little cartoons are cute and everything, but if this is supposed to be serious information about health services, aimed at adults, then something is wrong. Or do the medical profession really think we’re all idiots? Or if it’s on some level aimed predominantly at women, that is all the more offensive.

Please tell me I’m wrong, and this is actually intended for small children?

jennifer drew // Posted 14 April 2008 at 8:50 pm

No it is not hypocritical to want reality expressed as it is not as patriarchy claims it to be. Namely the world is populated by men who are cleverer, hold more prestigious positions than women and of course only women and girls become ill and need the services of expert male specialists.

But then the other side of the same coin is that apparently rape and interpartner violence is committed in equal numbers by both women and men. So what does patriarchy do? Why of course use gender-neutral language so that no one gender can be held accountable. This is irrespective that not all members of one gender (predominantly male) commit rape and physically attack known females, but then as I said above, patriarchy is never, never logical or rational.

The increasing dominance and marginalistion of women is something which is occurring all the time. The number of children’s books wherein the main character or characters are male is increasing all the time. Women and girls are increasingly be portrayed one-dimensionally as either men’s sexual candy, or else they exist to massage the male ego.

Yes there are female GPs, female consultants, female research scientists, males who become ill – but these illustrations promote not the truth but a patriarchal ideology.

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