Apparently men have to be Cervix Savvy

// 20 November 2008

This website (with hat-tip to C for sending it to me) is designed to encourage people to be more aware of the need for cervical screening – a right and good thing. But on looking at the website who would you think had cervixes?

Cervical Cancer Advert

Gee my top ten reasons for not getting screened after watching it?

1. I don’t see why advertisers thing women want men acting dumb to tell them about cervical cancer.

2. If the NHS can’t manage to put a single woman on the front page of a site about cervical cancer then they ain’t going near my bits!

3. If the implication is “have a smear test, be more attractive to men” then I’ll pass, thanks.

4. Reinforcing the notion that men are “clever” and should explain things to women is infuriating.


I AM IN NO WAY SUGGESTING WOMEN SHOULDN’T GET SCREENED, just to be clear, only that this advertising “campaign” is ill-thought out and rather insulting to women. The only time a woman “appears” (it’s only by name not in a pictorial way) on the site is the “True Stories” page – the message – men “know” about cervical cancer and women just suffer/die from it.

Comments From You

JenniferRuth // Posted 20 November 2008 at 8:54 am

That is so bizarre, I can only laugh!

I suppose we could email to ask their reasons, but I get the feeling that the answers would be pretty heteronormative.

NotOverreacting // Posted 20 November 2008 at 9:08 am

Thing that struck me with this- other than finding it vaguely creepy having a bunch of too pretty men in casual clothes talking about cervixes- is that on the true stories page the women don’t get faces. Or bodies. Just names. To my mind it implies that women who have had this disease need to be locked away, hidden, and their stories can only be told via someone else, possibly once they’ve been vetoed.

Creepy, creepy website.

NotOverreacting // Posted 20 November 2008 at 9:11 am

OMG, did you see the “10 excuses” section? One of the excuses is:

“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!).”

So… is it disgusting for doctors and nurses to have to touch icky girl parts? Because that’s pretty much all I can think this means.

Laura // Posted 20 November 2008 at 9:57 am

This really makes me not want to get screened (obviously I do get screened and won’t stop, but it makes me stamp my feet like a teenager). Incredibly offensive.

Cat // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:05 am

Have I told you recently that I love f-word?! Thank you for the morning smile!

Mephit // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:12 am

That is just weird. I don’t understand what the thinking behind this is at all.

And agree with notoverreacting about no. 9.

Kez // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:13 am

That’s completely bizarre! At first glance, it looked to me as though they had mistakenly got two health promotion campaigns mixed up, accidentally putting the pictures of men on the one targeted at women… It makes no sense to me. I don’t get why looking at a young man is meant to inspire me to get a smear test.

This is one of the crappest health promotion campaigns I have ever seen.

And “we can’t argue that it’s disgusting”? Who wrote this tosh? Funnily enough, it’s never occurred to me to find the procedure disgusting – uncomfortable, yes – nor that the doctor/nurse carrying it out would find it so. Nor can I imagine any health professional (I am one, by the way) going “ugh, smear tests, how revolting”.

Am going to write to them and complain, I think. This campaign is just insulting.

charlie // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:19 am

the ‘media consultancy’ that’s credited with having done the work is, upon further investigation, based in someone’s flat on a residential street in Haringey… They don’t appear to have a website, either. I’m all for patronage of independent businesses, but how did they win the contract?!

polly styrene // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:48 am


“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. Besides, it only takes about 15 minutes and it’s only once every three years!”

Actually I often AM too busy to cut my hair myself. But what does a potentially life threatening disease have to to with a ‘beauty regime’?

On the plus side – they do point out that HPV can be transmitted between women. Because I have heard of numerous doctors (and lesbians) who believe the opposite. And my local health authority sent me a leaflet produced by cancer research which said you didn’t need screening if you had never had sex with a man.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:53 am

I agree, NotOverreacting, it’s bad that they said that about ‘poor nurses and doctors’! I’m sure lots of women are put off smear tests because they are insecure about their bodies’ appearance (in fact, that is listed as one of the ‘excuses’) — so telling them to take pity on the doctors and nurses for having to perform such a ‘disgusting’ thing is NOT likely to encourage such women to go for a smear.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:55 am

“its disgusting” isnt an excuse. its a genuine worry isnt it? i think its good if a guy knows when someones just making excuses for something that needs to be done, but at the same time, are their womens sites for prostate cancer too? because if not it seems like putting someone in charge of their partners health and body, and choices with regards to smoking. as a 2 way system where we can both understand each others processes better then good. its about caring about the other person. it worries me that some guys will feel its up to them to apply more than the fair caring pressure on a woman to go. while encouragement and the facts are good, at the end of the day we all need to make up our minds about something that personal for ourselves

Mandy // Posted 20 November 2008 at 10:57 am

Horrifying. I saw one of those adverts on a billboard the other day and literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I have just emailed Jo’s Trust and Camden Primary Care Trust, who are supposed to be the people behind this. I’ll post any reply I get – if I get one.

Anne Onne // Posted 20 November 2008 at 11:09 am


Seriously, I would have expected a bright pink Sex And The City style page filled with sparkles and impossibly beautiful glamourous women (because of course adverts for ANYTHING need to be glammed up!), because that’s pretty much how people try to sell anything to women.

Of course, putting hot guys on it comes second (though it’s much rarer than all the half-naked women you see in adverts), and I wouldn’t be against the idea that women are visual creatures, had this been remotely relevant.

Unfortunately, men really have nothing to do with cervical cancer. The cervix is more than just part of the organs that men like to use once in a while, it’s part of a whole person, who may or may not wish to be sexual.

Secondly, as you’ve pointed out, what’s with the ‘partner telling you what to do’ shtick? You don’t look after your body for your partner (if you have one) but for yourself. Combined with the ‘Do you know…?’ snippets, it looks even more condescending and sanctimonious, because it’s not like most men don’t smoke or drink, either, but it comes across as ‘you should be better than your (heteronormative) partner for his sake.

But yeah, it’s getting tiring, the whole ‘men as expert, women as helpless victim’ angle. Maybe they thought that no people on it would be too stark, and women too cheesy, but men? It doesn’t look like a better solution. The true stories section should be bigger, because facts and experiences are important for giving sufferers and the condition a realism. It’s certainly better than being talked down to by some random male models…

I found it irritating, too, when there was some drive for WOMEN to encourage men to check their testes. Because apparently adult men just forget or don’t want to, and it’s their partners’ responsibility to make sure that (on top of handling their own health and running their own life, and that of any kids and all) they also do all the legwork (ie nagging – hey, even though nagging is apparently the biggest evil women can commit, we’re supposed to do more?) for their partner, too.

Women don’t need ‘do this for The Menz’ as an added incentive to look after their body, or take responsibility for their partner’s. Your bodily health is your own respondibility and choice. Others should not be pressuring you into looking after yourself.

What would have been nice would have been a non-pink (succeeds there, at least) page with pictures of average looking, diverse women (if there need to be pictures at all, matter of taste I guess) and facts.

And Not Overreaching: Seriously? I get that they were trying to be all pall-y and we-feel-your-pain-y, but they could have expained that it’s normal to feel embarrassment or shyness without reducing it to how nasty women’s bits are, or how the doctors and nurses are so horrified. I mean, WTF? Won’t your average doctor or nurse have seen hundreds of penises or vaginas, in all conditions? Why the hell would they be really freaked out? If anything, their response to the question (and the site, sadly) would make women feel more self-consious, not less.

Which is what the site would do as a whole. Lots of nice self-esteem-shaking men telling you what to do,and why you aren’t good enough, and that even doctors are scared of your vagina…lovely.

Also, is there a male equivalent, with a page full of hot women pressuring men not to drink/eat/etc?

Ellie // Posted 20 November 2008 at 11:31 am

Does anyone know of any good women’s health websites directed at lesbians? I rarely pay attention to ad campaigns like this cus I automatically exclude myself from the ‘sexually active’ category cus mostly that seems to mean heterosexual intercourse….

Laurel Dearing // Posted 20 November 2008 at 11:58 am

*i meant if the woman thought it was disgusting. didnt see that the doctors would think it was. if i thought like that id have more shame over my body*

Laurel Dearing // Posted 20 November 2008 at 12:00 pm

oh AND why is health and beauty always come together as just as important for women? i know there are a couple overlaps like skincare or something like that but really… what a way to convice you how trivial it is.

Kez // Posted 20 November 2008 at 12:01 pm

Mandy – can you give me the e-mail addresses you used? – I’d like to express my concerns, too.

polly stryrene // Posted 20 November 2008 at 12:29 pm

Ellie there’s some information on lesbian/bisexual women’s sexual health at

Rosalind // Posted 20 November 2008 at 12:30 pm

I found the site a bit confusing to be honest. It says that you need a smear even if you are not at risk of getting HPV. But then it states that cervical cancer is caused by HPV “Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with a very common virus called Human papillomavirus (HPV)”. And somewhere else it stated that it is just the vast majority (99.7%) of cases of cervical cancer.

Why do I need to get a smear if not at risk of getting HPV? I know I don’t have it but I still am required to have a smear?

Sorry if this sounds stupid. But for an information site there’s lots of information missing, I’m also not happy with “These cells are then sent away to be examined under a microscope” yes but for what? What abnormalities are you looking for? I’m not 12 I could probably understand a bit of science (apologies to 12s who probably understand science as well). You get your results a few weeks later and what do they tell you? Not much, just “the results are fine”. It’s meaningless.

I really don’t want to be told

“have a smear test – it’s about cervical cancer” without knowing why and how. Is this procedure actually necessary or is it another case of invading women’s bodies needlessly and demonising us for sex while they’re at it?

Mandy // Posted 20 November 2008 at 1:01 pm

I emailed and They were the contact addresses provided on the two websites. Maybe it would be worth emailing ASA as well – although I know they haven’t been too helpful in the past.

Kath // Posted 20 November 2008 at 1:52 pm

Agree with all comments above.

Rosalind – yes you should have a smear even if you’re using condoms or not sexually active. HPV is transmitted by skin-skin contact so not just by penetrative sex. Also, whilst most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV viruses there can be other factors. It’s not nice and can feel like an invasion (the last time I had a sexual screen the (male) doctor used no lube and was so rough with the speculum I got a urinary tract infection) but cervical cancer kills and it’s not worth dying to avoid a smear.

Sabre // Posted 20 November 2008 at 2:09 pm

Yes please someone provide a contact email for who to contact. I’m outraged by the fact that ALL the images on the website are of men. Even on the ‘real stories’ section there are no images of women! And I spat my sandwich onto the keyboard when reading top 10 excuse no. 9 – ‘It’s disgusting’. Very strong swear words come to mind. I want to complain! But not sure who to complain to.

Lindsey // Posted 20 November 2008 at 2:31 pm

I just got my first letter advising me it’s time for a smear and they obviously have different people making those. The letter I got had pictures of knickers on and said “what’s pants but could save your life?” – no condescending to women, no hetero assumptions and nothing more than different pants designs to represent different types of people.

Anyone else get this type of letter? Is it possible that this is just my area (brum/ west mids)?

Kez // Posted 20 November 2008 at 3:16 pm

Thanks, Mandy.

I wasn’t sure if ASA would be appropriate, as it’s a health promotion thing rather than commercial advertising – not sure what their remit covers. Anyone know?

Will e-mail the addresses you gave.

Rosa // Posted 20 November 2008 at 3:21 pm

What gets me is that women often don’t go for cervical screening because they’re scared they’ll get a male doctor. Then the NHS fills their cervical screening campaign with men ONLY. Great.

And talk about offensive and sexist to men: Men are stooooooopid, duuuuuh. “A cervix is something you put in your car.” Duuuuh.

I’d be annoyed at a website representing women that way and I’m annoyed that this one represents men like that too.

Everyone loses on that ad!

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.

Way to go, NHS. Way to go.

Rosalind // Posted 20 November 2008 at 3:53 pm

Kath – I didn’t mean to imply I wanted to avoid having a smear; I dutifully go when asked to. But the website was confusing in its messages and didn’t give thorough enough information.

I know that smears are important but if I didn’t want to have one this website would do absolutely nothing to convince me to, both through its mixed messages and its inappropriate use of men.

Kath // Posted 20 November 2008 at 6:09 pm

Hi Rosalind, I hope my comment didn’t offend at all. I’m shocked by the crapness of the website too and just wanted to press how important having a smear is.

Cheers, Kath

Eleanor T // Posted 20 November 2008 at 6:39 pm

I’m currently pregnant and now live in the USA. When I went for my first pre-natal visit to the doctor I was alone in the room with him while he did the physical exam. He listened to my heart at one point, and mentioned that it was beating quite fast. He said, “It’s telling me that you’re nervous.”

I said in reply, “Well, wouldn’t you be?”

He was lovely and asked me if I wanted a female nurse or my husband in the room with me while he did the smear test (all pregnant women get one in the their first trimester in the States), but I declined. He was professional and very aware of making me comfortable. He warmed up the speculum and added lube to make things easier, and talked me through every aspect of the procedure.

Why couldn’t the NHs play up that aspect of smear tests instead of all the other garbage? Yes, it’s unpleasant, but we’ll make every effort to make you as comfortable as possible. Sigh.

maggie // Posted 20 November 2008 at 7:09 pm

Point 9 is a shocker all right.

I saw my cervix (encouraged by the gynae to do this, after he checked all was well) via a little camera.

Perhaps we should be shown pictures of the cervix? It’s a lovely, glistening organ that gives woman a lot of pleasure.

I hate adverts that beat around the bush in a ‘blokey’ manner.

Sabre // Posted 20 November 2008 at 11:20 pm

OK I stayed up late to write this email to Camden PCT, copying in Jo’s Trust and Miacis Media (could have done it separately but I got tired!). I’ve been stewing on this one all day so had to write something.

Dear Madam/Sir

I am emailing with regards to the ‘Be Cervix Savvy’ campaign (

Frankly I was upset to come across this website and campaign, which I believe is very misguided. The reasons I am upset by the campaign are as follows:

1. Throughout the entire website there are no images of women, and many images of men. One might think that the cervix is part of man’s body (and yet questioning confusion about what a cervix is seems to be part of your campaign). Even in the ‘Real stories’ section there are NO images of women. Cervical smears only affect women, and yet women are invisible in this campaign.

2. I can only speculate about what was trying to be achieved by using men to inform women about cervical smears. It is at best patronising to assume that women need to hear health messages specifically relating to womens health, from men. At worst is the implication that men need to tell women to look after their health, or that women should undergo smear tests to please men.

3. According to the video on the homepage, the men don’t even know what a cervix is. And yet it is the same men who are later found throughout the website, informing women of the facts. Confusing and patronising.

4. In the ‘Top 10 excuses’ section: point 2 connects cervical health with beauty which is unneccessary. I understand that the point being made is that smear tests should be routine but a womens health campaign should not draw attention to beauty worries as a support for the message. The sentence ‘You are never to busy to have your hair cut, so you should always make time for a smear’ was particularly galling for me.

5. This is by far the worst part, and one that really detracts from your campaign’s aim to encourage more women to have tests. Point 9 on the ‘Top 10 excuses list’ says

‘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. So stop stewing about, losing sleep over it and generally panicking. Best to just get it over and done with.’

I am stunned that an NHS primary care trust could endorse the message that smear tests are in any way disgusting. I hope that women do not find their genitals and reproductive organs disgusting, and if they do it is the job of health professionals to make them comfortable. Saying ‘we can’t argue with that one’ and implying that the ‘poor doctors and nurses’ have to suffer through touching somebody else’s genitals actually fuels the fear and embarassment that many women have about smear tests. Health professionals regularly reassure women that there is nothing disgusting or embarassing about having a smear test yet Camden PCT allowed this to be published? And then to conclude with the message to basically shut up and put up… do you really think this will encourage women to book that appointment with their GP?

To summarise, I fully agree that women should be encouraged to have regular smear tests and be ‘cervix savvy’. I do not believe they need to hear this message JUST from men (or even from men at all), nor should there be any implication that the health professional would find the procedure disgusting.

As you can see, I have copied this email to both Jo’s Trust (who are linked to this page) and Miacis Media, who I believe designed this campaign. I hope that you will reconsider the campaign strategy and revise some of the content, because the message you are trying to give is an important one. The way you have communicated the message is awful. If I had not already just had my first smear test (and had a positive and comfortable experience) this might have completely put me off.

I look forward to receiving a response to my complaint.

Frances // Posted 20 November 2008 at 11:55 pm

Why is it that the only part of the website not helpfully illustrated is the “real life” stories bit? Apparently even the designer thought it might be a step too far to have that illustrated with gurning odd-bod men you’d never let anywhere near your cervix (seriously, 10 reason man looks like he couldn’t find his own reproductive parts), so rather than dig around and find a picture of an actual woman, he just left it blank.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 November 2008 at 1:57 am

Hmm, thinking about it, could they have been trying to move away from the stereotypically ‘putting pink things and pictures of women in a site stereotypically aimed at women’, i.e. have been trying to not conform to a stereotype? Looking at it it seems so different, I can’t think it quite an accident.

However, there’s a real difference between not patronising women by implying they only like ‘girly’ things or representing them with girly cliches, and taking an issue that really is 100% a women’s issue and about women, and making it about men.

Rosalind’s right: it does nothing to encourage women to have a smear test, and reinforces shaming of women via both the wording and the bizarrely man-focused site. It’s also pretty insulting to imply that men don’t know what a cervix is, too. The only good thing is the men are fairly diverse, well as diverse as slim, conventionally attractive actors go.

Julia Tubman // Posted 23 November 2008 at 2:38 pm

I am so, so angry. Passed it on to a non-feminist friend, and she’s as equally enraged. Its not just us.

Chloe // Posted 23 November 2008 at 7:22 pm

Anyone else think the guy with the teacup is an unintentional comedy genius? I’m really not sure a cervical cancer ad should make me laugh so much…

Kez // Posted 24 November 2008 at 9:28 am

I’m still laughing at “You’re never too busy to have your hair cut…” – they know this how, exactly? I’ve been too busy (or lazy, possibly) to make a hairdresser’s appointment for the past six months!

I suppose in a bizarre way, you could see the whole “putting pictures of good looking men on a campaign aimed at women” aspect as progress – after all, attractive women have been used to sell things to men for, ooh, probably as long as advertising has existed. They probably think they’re doing the same thing in reverse – “get their attention with a hot guy, then try to get across the much more boring health message!”. At least it wasn’t “get their attention with pictures of shoes and handbags”.

I still think it’s very misguided, though.

Sabre // Posted 27 November 2008 at 4:37 pm

Some of you may be interested to know I got a response to my email:

“I hope that this response will address all of the issues raised in your e-mail about the ‘be cervix savvy’ campaign.

· The uptake of cervical screening among young women (aged 25 – 34 years) has been steadily falling. In Camden only half of the eligible population aged 25 – 29 has been screened. It is now a national priority for the NHS cervical screening programme to increase the number of young women participating in the screening programme

· Over a number of years discussions with women’s groups have shown that partners, in particular men, can be very influential in a woman’s decision to attend for screening

· The campaign materials were developed following discussions with young women, aged 25 – 29, to identify what information they would like to have about cervical screening and how they would like the information delivered. Based on these discussions a number of themes for an electronic campaign were developed – the concept using men to give messages was by far the most popular

· Pamela Morton, former Director of Jo’s Trust and members of the Trust, who have either had a diagnosis of cervical cancer or who have had cervical abnormalities picked up on screening, were extremely helpful in advising on the content and wording of the website and the focus of the campaign. I’d like to thank Jo’s Trust for their support throughout this campaign

· Before the launch of the campaign the video clip and website were presented to the London Cancer Screening Health Promotion Group to ascertain their views and comments on the campaign

· The website is being updated to include images of young women, which hopefully will address some of the concerns raised. We will be revising the text on the site and will remove the wording which a few women have found insulting

The campaign has been running since 21 April 2008 and so far, with the exception of the recent e-mails, the feedback has been extremely positive. Since it launch there have been a total of 53,618 hits on the website.

We appreciate that cervical screening is a sensitive issue and that it is very difficult to produce resources which all women will find appropriate. We do take the comments from the e-mails seriously and are working to address them with the changes we are planning to the website.

I apologise if the current content of the website has caused any offence.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thanks Rachel”

Good to know that my/our concerns will be addressed! Although I couldn’t help pointing out in my thank-you reply that they assumed all women had male partners. I just can’t shut up!

Beth R // Posted 27 November 2008 at 10:57 pm

they seem to be acting really quickly, too – the top 10 excuses have been trimmed down to 9, presumably until they revise the wording.


Mandy // Posted 28 November 2008 at 10:44 am

Sabre – I got the same reply. And thought the same thing – except that I also noticed that not only do they assume all women have male partners, but that all women have partners at all. What about the poor single gals? Apparently, we’ll not only die alone, but die of cervical cancer because the evil marketing company has ignored us…

Still, it wasn’t a bad response. It’ll be interesting to see if the website changes for the better.

Sabre // Posted 28 November 2008 at 11:39 am

Mandy, I’m pleased that the ‘recent emails’ have made a difference though. Good work The F Word!

Maybe for the single gals there’s a hope that if you get a test maybe you can blag a man too! After all, that’s what men really look for: a nice healthy cervix! Sorry just being silly there.

It’s difficult to get a campaign suitable for everyone, although I find it hard to believe that they’d had so much positive feedback.

On the plus side, at least it gives the idea that some men are OK with talking about smear tests, instead of grimacing when they’re mentioned. That might help some young people feel more able to at least talk about it.

CIMH // Posted 6 December 2008 at 9:33 pm

There is a really nice blog about this on Dave Gorman’s blog


Sio // Posted 19 December 2008 at 8:30 pm

I was so relieved to find this discussion. I’ve been puzzling over the adverts I’ve seen on the back of buses around London for a few weeks now – with a man pictured next to the words encouraging cervical screening. I wondered if it was a mistake or a joke. Today I finally got around to googling the website and came across this site. I’m so pleased that other people have thought that it is weird and occasionally deeply offensive. Well done on getting a response to your letters – I wish I’d taken part earlier! Luckily I’m old enough, at 30, to have had several smears – I shudder to think of the self-conscious young women who may have been put off getting a smear by the ‘it’s disgusting’ reason. I hope they’ve been as outraged as people here, and not made even more paranoid about their natural body parts than many already are.

Mark Wilson // Posted 15 January 2009 at 3:36 pm

Hi – I actually stumbled upon this site trying to find out who actually made that Carvix Savvy campaign – so I could complain that a) it is totally stupid having men on the advertising (I initially felt dumb thinking am I sure only women have cervixes…?) and b) the ‘media consultancy’ are so pathetically useless they can’t even spell campaign on the homepage. *sigh* Sometimes I wonder.

kez // Posted 15 January 2009 at 4:17 pm

I see some women have actually mysteriously appeared on the website now…

There are quite a few typos actually, Mark – as well as “campagin” I spotted “embarressed” on the “10 questions” (though there are still 9!) page, and there are more…

V unprofessional.

Anne Onne // Posted 15 January 2009 at 7:06 pm

The picture you linked comes up with women, now. Makes me think someone should have preserved the CervixDudes for posterity…They still have them on the advert and ‘making of’ the advert, though.

I’m not sure if there should be any men on it at all, though. Ironic that just about the only reason I can imagine a site aiming at exclusively one sex would be for health conditions exclusive to people of a certain sex (eg testicular cancer, prostate cancer, cervix cancer, ovarian cancer…note, not breast cancer, because men can get it too, and need to be told they can), and it would feel just as superfluous to have random women on a site aimed at getting men to have their prostate checked out. Though I could also see that happening since they try to sell *everything* with women’s bodies.

Jess // Posted 15 January 2009 at 7:08 pm

I have just read these comments regarding the “cervix savvy” campaign and am horrified. I was actually involved in a small way with making this happen. The priority here was not promoting a feminist issue but trying to SAVE womens’ lives by whatever means necessary. If that means having to do it in such a way that the majority of people will respond positively to it then so be it!

Jo’s trust is a fantastic charity that does an awful lot of work for an extremely worthwhile cause.The ex-director Pamela Morton did a wonderful job of raising the profile and we even managed to get a debate in parliament to try and lower the age for obtaining smears. She is a real feminist if ever there was one.

I find this article and the comments posted deeply offensive.

Louise Livesey // Posted 16 January 2009 at 9:38 am

Dear Jess,

Thanks for taking the tme to comment. I’ve reread the thread and am not sure what you find offensive here, perhaps you could be clearer?

The priority of the campaign, as I understand it, was to get more women to have their smear tests ontime – the article and the comments here suggest that telling women their bodies are disgusting, nurses and doctors should be pitied for having to do smear tests and that men are at the core of cervix savvy-ness wasn’t the way to do it. The campaign was designed as a women’s issues campaign with, originally, not a single picture of a woman.

No-one is suggesting that Jo’s Trust isn’t worthwhile or doing good work – just that this one missed the mark somewhat.

Louise Livesey // Posted 16 January 2009 at 9:46 am

Just a quick response – the swabs taken during a smear test are not tested only for cervical changes but can also pick up other things too. THat’s way even if you are an HPV low risk patient you should still be regularly screened.

Sabre // Posted 16 January 2009 at 11:10 am


I think there are now only 9 in the ‘top 10 excuses’ section because they removed the ‘It’s disgusting’ excuse. Thankfully.

I don’t mind the site having men as well as women on there. It shows that cervical cancer is not just something for women to be concerned about. The same way I’d think about prostate cancer just in case my brother or boyfriend or any men in my life were affected.


I certainly wasn’t aiming to be offensive and I’m sorry if I came across that way in my rantings. I fully appreciate the purpose of the campaign, just not the way it was originally designed.

Jess // Posted 16 January 2009 at 1:09 pm

Thank you for your response Louise.

Whilst I sympathise with your views on this campaign, providing such negative coverage of a charity and campaign that ultimately helps thousands of women and their families is extremely unhelpful. Criticising L’Oreal is one thing, going after a tiny charity like Jo’s Trust is another. Take a look at their website and the supportive forum for women on there

This campaign is not aimed specifically at readers of the Fword, if it were maybe it would be full of superfluous and typo-riddled rhetoric. Unfortunately the majority of women are not consciously aware of the sexism and misogyny within society and most women are also heterosexual with mixed views of their sexual organs. In order to reach these women, the language and style was adapted to make it as accessible as possible. For example pictures of young, supposedly unintelligent but attractive male models are used in the campaign. As I have said, this campaign is trying to reach the greatest number of women – and maybe some women find a bit of reverse objectification amusing.

The blasé and dismissive language used in the article is offensive – the “reasons to not get screened” lists are unnecessary – we all know it is important so why make a joke of it? Surely the saving of even one life is more important than writing an average article. I would advise the Fword to choose targets for criticism carefully, or perhaps aim to do so in a more articulate and constructive way. Why attack a campaign that aims to help women? Divided we fall.

Kez // Posted 16 January 2009 at 1:50 pm

Hi Jess, I’m sorry if you were offended by any comments here. I don’t think anyone was suggesting that it is not a very important issue, or that Jo’s Trust doesn’t do important work. I think what concerned some people was the way this particular campaign was presented (and the fact that there have since been some changes to it suggests that those concerns do have some validity).

Particularly, the lack of any images of women (which has now been remedied) and the startling statement that “it’s disgusting – not just for you but also for the health professionals carrying out the procedure”, or words to that effect (which has now been removed). The latter statement in particular was hardly likely to encourage women to go for screening. I don’t think any health education message which tells people the relevant parts of their bodies are generally disgusting is going to have the desired effect. It’s more likely to make women feel ashamed, rather than the reverse.

Hi Sabre, yes, I realised the “disgusting” one had been removed (hurray!), I just thought it was funny that it said there were 10 questions when there are still only nine!

Anne Onne // Posted 16 January 2009 at 3:51 pm

Dear Jess,

Cervical cancer is an important issue, and Jo’s Trust does a lot of good work. I think I can safely say that we agree that smear tests are important, and that women should be encouraged to take them, and feel more comfortable and positive about them. In case it came across as anything else, I take no issue with any of the laudable work in this field, nor do I want to imply this is anything other than important. I meant no disrespect to those working to provide healthcare to women, and I apologise if the impression given was of criticising the work of the trust.

That said, comments here were focused not on cervical cancer, or on the worthy work done in that field, but on the presentation of this site. You point out that the point of the site is not to promote a ‘feminist issue’ but to save lives, but the reason we highlighted it isn’t because it doesn’t have a comprehensive history of feminism, but because we actually don’t think it will be good at the job it’s trying to do.

I, and several other commenters, didn’t feel that the wording of one of the questions was appropriate, because instead of allaying anxiety, it brought across the idea that women’s bodies are indeed disgusting, and that doctors and nurses find them like that, too. I can tell that the intention of the question was to reassure women who feel like this that it’s not, so I believe it to have been a matter of poor wording. But this wording was important, and I don’t think that the site, as it was, would have achieved people ‘responding positively’ to wording that implied they were right to find themselves disgusting.

In the end, we pointed out these issues so that, if they wish, they can be rectified. There is no rule that says that the site can’t be better if it’s a bit more woman-friendly, or less enabling of body-shaming. I really feel women would respond better to a site organised around a sense of community about a shared health issue, rather than with pictures of good-looking men telling you to get your cervix checked up.

All it needed was to add lots of women (maybe keep in one or two men if they really must, but the focus should be women, since this is not a unisex condition) and add a less problematic 10th question, and the site would be much more approachable.

As for whether this is a feminist issue, I’m afraid we’ll have to disagree. Saving women’s lives IS a feminist issue, and a site needn’t be explicitly feminist in order to serve its purpose of supporting women.

Terese Savage // Posted 25 January 2009 at 7:59 am

I am the mother of the “face of the man on the bus!” I have been so proud of the role he has played in this campaign and how strongly he feels about saving lives and find the comment about the men involved in the ads as “hot guys” offensive.

After all, ladies, where do you think you get HPV from? And how much notice did you take of the women encouraging you to be screened?

He has been raised by myself, a single mother, to realise the importance of taking responsiblity for our own health – and I have ALWAYS stressed the importance of regular medical screening – at a young age he watched as cancer consumed some of the family members he loved the most.

So for all the critics out there – and those who see the positives in this ad campaign and may not have been for their pap smear yet – please go.

And for all the guys out there who might read this please, please, please encourage your wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and aunts to go for screening.

This is about SAVING LIVES…….

Louise Livesey // Posted 25 January 2009 at 1:59 pm

Hi Terese and thanks for your comment. I reread all the comments here and “hot guys” was said once about the ways in which things are sold to women (first do pink sparkly glamour, two add hot guys). Not sure what offends you about it – could you say more?

Not all people who contact HPV will get it from a male partner, although some will, and the heteronoramtivity of the original campaign was discussed here.

As for how much notice people take of women encouraging screening – from my personal perspective it has always been women encouraging screening – structurally because more women are nurses etc and personally.

All the comments here referred to the misguided nature of the campaign (and if it wasn’t misguided why did it all get changed with women substituted in? And if it wasn’t misguided why have male writers written about their confusion at it?) not about it’s worthiness. Hopefully your son can find other ways to help with the campaign.

Kez // Posted 25 January 2009 at 2:03 pm

Terese, I think it was I who made the “hot guys” comment. I apologise if you find it offensive, it wasn’t intended as such. I meant it tongue in cheek, but perhaps it was misjudged.

However, I do still think the concerns expressed by many on this thread are valid, and the fact that the website has now been amended suggests that these concerns have indeed been taken on board. Nobody is arguing that there should be a campaign, just that there were a few issues with this particular campaign.

I’m not sure about your comment “how much notice did you take of the women encouraging you to be screened?” implying that women are less likely to listen to other women than they are to listen to men – I don’t think this is generally the case. One of the issues with the original site was that it had NO women on it at all.

It’s great that your son feels strongly about the issue and I can only applaud him for that, and apologise again if my comment seemed derogatory.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 25 January 2009 at 6:40 pm

As one of the people who originally commented…

It’s great to encourage women to have cervical smears – it’s really, really important. Since it’s about saving lives, it’s important to get the message across in the best possible way, to maximise the number of women who attend screenings.

Saying something along the lines of ‘pity the poor medical professionals who have to perform the procedure’ is NOT going to encourage women to go, and it was that wording that I had a problem with.

I’ve gone for two smear tests – both were unsuccessful because they were too painful for me. I have a lot of hang-ups about that area of my body and going for a smear test was a big, unpleasant and embarrassing deal for me. So when I read something that says that taking a smear IS a disgusting and horrible thing for nurses and doctors to do, it kind of confirms the negative things that I feel about myself. Rationally, I know that it’s not disgusting, but I still feel discouraged to read something like that.

Anne Onne // Posted 25 January 2009 at 8:22 pm

Terese, to add to the others, I would like to clarify that I was not blaming any of the models who took part. Whether they were simply doing their job to earn money, or whether they personally felt very involved with the issue (which is great, the more focus we all have on prevention and detection, and respect of each other’s bodies, the better!), I do not blame them for posing in this campaign, nor did I feel that anyone here felt ill will towards them. There is nothing wrong with men being respectful of women’s bodies, or aware of the health issues we need to address.

What I (and I believe, other commenters, too) took issue at wasn’t that these young men would pose in this campaign, which on their part was laudable. Rather it was that someone designed and then carried out a campaign that is supposed to be targeted at women, about a sensitive health issue that many women feel hard to discuss, with only young male people in its campaign. Given that cervical cancer only affects women, and is something many women feel uncomfortable talking to men about, it seemed very unusual to ignore women on a site specifically designed for them and their body.

The ‘hot guys’ comment wasn’t meant as a disparaging remark about the young men, any more than criticism of the sexualisation of women in adverts is about insulting the women involved. It’s cynicism aimed at the people who designed the campaign. That they thought that putting conventionally appealing young men on the site would be the main draw for appealing to women about their health. That instead of featuring more personal experience from women, they thought it more appropriate to try and guilt women into action.

In reply to the general trend of the comments: I have to agree that saving lives is important. But, this is not to say that an admirable aim excuses questionable means. People, after all, don’t like being pestered about their health, and I disagree with encouraging men to pester their girlfriends as much as I disagree with the initiative a while back that put pressure on women to get their boyfriends to check their testes. It would be great if both partners could talk frankly about the importance of personal health and making sure one knows what the signs are to look out for.

But achieving the result we want (more people attending screening) doesn’t have to mean following this specific campaign. I find the ‘but if you disagree with this campaign, you want people to die!’ rhetoric misleading. Who here apparently doesn’t care about saving lives or getting women to attend screening? Putting the focus on how this is all about saving lives, and how we should just shut up about the original campaign because it’s all in a good cause isn’t a useful argument. It deflects from the fact that the campaign never had to be this way, nor is it necessarily effective at its job. What if, instead of saving, say 2 lives with a site featuring only men and telling women doctors find their vaginas disgusting, we could save 20 with a site which features diverse people who might actually be affected by that disease, and tells women that doctors don’t find it embarrasing or disgusting to look at vaginas?

People here aren’t claiming we don’t need publicity for this cause, or that we don’t need to encourage women to attend. We are disagreeing that this particular campaign will be effective, because men don’t have cervixes, many of us find adverts with men telling us to do things patronising, and because lots of people were confused why there should be men in an advert aimed at women about health screening.

Some people may disagree, and think this is a good strategy, or an interesting new twist, or don’t find it offensive. Fair enough, we can agree to disagree. But let’s cut the SAVE LIVES spiel. We all want to save lives. We just disagree on how we go about saving lives.

Terese // Posted 27 January 2009 at 1:13 pm

Anne, thank you for your comments. I respect your opinions – as well as those of Louise, Cockney and Kez.

Cockney, I am so sorry that the pap smear was such an unpleasant experience for you and can relate as I had an awful experience once with a colonoscopy. Thereafter I found myself a great physician and fortunately am now over that fear.

And yes, I most definitely agree that there is not a part of our bodies that should be thought of as disgusting.

I just feel that if things go wrong with our bodies it would be comforting to know that our partners (and I am not referring only to males here) are as aware and knowledgable about our condition as we are, that they know, at least, what part of our anatomy needs attention.

I had a colleague who had no idea which organ was removed when his wife had a hysterectomy ! (He was the father of two children at that stage and obviously had NO idea what a miraculous organ the uterus is).

I also encourage regular screening because just over a year ago at my annual check-up and pap smear the gynae discovered a 6 cm diameter cyst on my left ovary. I was completely unaware of it and had been hiking and horseriding a few days earlier. A few days later the ovary was removed and fortunately the tumour was benign.

The history of how Jo’s Trust was started warms my heart because James, her husband, DID get involved.

He must have felt the same frustration as she did at the lack of support and information about the disease at that time. (Anne, I know you are probably sick to death of the SAVING LIVES spiel but my feeling is that NO WOMAN SHOULD DIE OF THIS DISEASE. The fact that they still do is frightening and that the attendance figures for tests falling in some areas is alarming to say the least.)

I know everybody does not feel the same way as I do about men getting involved with ‘womans’ bits’ but if my partner was diagnosed with prostate or testicular cancer tomorrow I would want to know as much as possible about the disease….

Likewise I would hope he would know EXACTLY where my cervix was not to mention the other female organs where life begins….

Anne Onne // Posted 27 January 2009 at 6:55 pm

I agree, Terese. I think it’s important that everyone understands the bodies of others, not just the one they’re born inhabiting. It would be a great support for men or women going through any condition, but especially one that people see as affecting their wo/manhood, if their partners are aware of what the body part is, and what it does.

Thinking in this way, there would definitely be a place for somewhere educating men about women’s health, because as we often complain, the male body and sexuality is seen as the default, something everyone is subjected to constant references to, whilst the female body is seen as dirty and mystical, something we don’t talk about, and that men don’t need to know about. I wouldn’t be averse to a sister site or section of the site devoted to explaining to men what their role in supporting their partner/mother/sister/etc could be, and maybe pointing them in the direction of sites they might find useful for this condition as well as for testicular cancer or prostate cancer.

I don’t see educating men as a negative, since it’s very important, but I was under the impression the site was aimed at women, in which case it would have been more useful to aim it more noticeably at women. Perhaps a separate site for men would be unpractical cost-wise, in which a section ‘for the guys’ would be a better option, in that it would make clear who the site was being targeted at primarily, whilst still encouraging men to take a part.

Maybe it’s that I (and some others out there) find the initial vagueness of the site weird, because it feels like it’s neither properly addressing men or women. There’s plenty of men in the advert, but they were focusing on women, rather than on what men can do. It’s not that men shouldn’t get involved with ‘women’s bits’ but that rather, judging by society’s standards (and with porn and objectifying women’s bodies, is there a man, heterosexual or not, who hasn’t been exposed to some representation of a woman’s intimate regions plastered all over the place?), we need to be careful about how we present men’s interest in women’s bits. I’m not saying the advert was presented as the men being pervy, because it wasn’t (a trap they didnt’ fall into, and I commend them for that, because a lot of these things are really subtle), but that men giving women advice or pressure about their bodies has a bad history of ‘doctor/husband knows best’. Not that men can’t play a part in women’s health or support, but that we have to make consious efforts to avoid falling into these traps. The main reason the campaign didn’t appeal to me wasn’t that there was any men there (I wouldn’t have minded if there were none, but if there’s a section aimed at men, then the odd man wouldn’t damage it, either) but that there were no women, and it didn’t seem to address the people I would have thought it wanted to address, and not in a way most likely to alienate or confuse people.

It just felt like an unusual and not particularly effective approach, which is of course a personal opinion, and I can see why others disagree.

I actually don’t mind the idea that we need to save lives annoying in itself, or the focus on it in the media (I like putting a focus on medical issues, especially ones people don’t think about or are embarrassed about) but it’s one of those stock phrases that get brought up when someone can’t find something to say that addresses the concerns raised, and feminists (or just anyone on the internet, really) get their fair share of people who drop in just to comment along the lines of how our complaining ‘hurts the cause’. It’s a way often used to silence people who want to make something better, telling us that we’re ruining things, or don’t care enough about people.

I don’t see your arguments in this category, and I recognise that wasn’t your intention, and your comments have been thought-provoking and certainly not lacking in valid points, so my dislike of the phrase doesn’t extend to where it’s used to highlight the nature of the disease, and why we need to work together, rather than to silence a different opinion. You’ve given us a good look at the other side of the arguments against the campaign, and certainly made me re-examine what about the campaign I had problems with, and clarify what I would have seen as improvements.

I’d like to see a focus on men being supportive, too, as well as more focus on how having a hysterectomy (cripes, did he really not know what that is?!?!) etc doesn’t make someone less ‘womanly’, and I’m aware that sites have limited space and funds to achieve this, but in the end, I’d still wish for the site to be more focused, and more woman-orientated. So whilst I agree that there were good intentions in the site, I think there are some things that could be done to clarify things, and target it more effectively to women and men, rather than trying to do both at once.

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