Saturday, 2 Dec 2023

‘Sexualised’ cervical smear campaign tells women not to keep their legs crossed

A cervical smear campaign has sparked fury it is ‘sexualising’ tests by telling women not to keep their legs crossed.

Don’t Keep ‘Em Crossed has been launched by North West Cancer Research to highlight the importance of smear tests, with cervical cancer rates 19 percent higher than in the rest of the UK.

The campaign was launched with a sculpture showing crossed mannequin legs at Manchester Piccadilly Station alongside the slogan “Don’t keep ’em crossed”.

A blurb reads: “Our region’s cervical cancer rates are 19 per cent higher than the rest of England. Yet almost 1 in 3 people aged 25-49 in the North West don’t attend their cervical screening leaving their risk of developing cervical cancer to chance.”

Mumsnet users blasted the decision to refer to “people”, accusing the ad creators of “erasing women”.

READ MORE: Man suffering pain gives up on getting GP appointment then ends up with cancer

Others have said the ad relies on “laddy” humour, with one writing: “It looks like a promo for a lovely legs competition in a seaside resort in the 1970s.”

A second dubbed it a “horrible campaign” that “emphasises the sexual nature of opening your legs, whereas what you want as a woman thinking about smears it to desexualise it”.

A third said: “How crass. Spread your legs, eh? Horrible erasure of women in the small print too.”

Karen Swan, director of Influential – the advertising firm behind the campaign – said it was deliberately “playful and a bit cheeky” to “grab attention” and encourage women to attend their cervical screenings.

She described the Don’t Keep ’em Crossed’ strapline as “perfect”. But Debbie Cameron, a feminist campaigner and Oxford University professor, claimed it was a “line for a letch”. She wrote on X: “What is the matter with people who design campaigns to encourage cervical cancer screening? ‘Don’t keep em crossed’ is a line for a lech (and ‘you should have kept them crossed’ is an old excuse for rape). The whole thing is objectifying and offensive.”

A spokesperson for North West Cancer Research said: “One in three of the people in the North West who would benefit from a cervical cancer test are not coming forward. The evidence shows that, even with the very best intentions, the existing NHS testing campaigns are not achieving their aims in our region.

“People working in public health are often confronted with harsh realities. In this case, about two people die every day from cancer of the cervix and there is no question that more testing will reduce this tragic death toll.

“Our campaign was designed by women, led by woman and it is their legs that feature in the photographs supporting the work. It is obviously disappointing to find that the style and tone of the approach we have taken on this occasion has caused some disquiet. We are going to reflect on all the comments we have received.

“The work was designed to draw attention to the underlying problem – which is people keeping things crossed and hoping for the best. We acknowledge there has been some negative reaction, but it does not reflect all the feedback we have received.”

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