Women’s Health Marketing Embraces Misogyny In The Name Of “Awareness”


Perfume – Help Prevent Cervical Cancer

A spindly, beautiful woman is extended on a chaise lounge in an immaculate ruffled dress.

She is paging idly through an antique book when a floating trail of sparkly light interrupts her reading. She follows the glow up the staircase of the manse and into a room marked by fresh roses and enchanting music, where she twirls luxuriously and pets her own hair. A shining perfume bottle appears, suspended in the air. It turns magnificently to reveal its label: “CERVICAL CANCER.”

“Maybe it’s unfair to get your attention this way,” a narrator admits. “But nothing is fair about cervical cancer.” When it comes to marketing products related to women’s health, anything is fair game-as long as your sexist tropes are dispatched in the name of “awareness.”

The frilly cancer awareness ad is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company behind HPV vaccine Cervarix, an alternative to Gardasil that was approved by the FDA last October and is already in heavy use in the UK. The premise of the new ad is that it’s unfair to lure women into cervical cancer awareness with shiny things-but cervical cancer awareness is so important that it just doesn’t matter how offensively sexist that premise is.

The pinkification of women’s health is nothing new, of course. Breast cancer awareness promoters have long engaged in the deep feminization of women’s health. Breast cancer is now inextricably linked to such enduring symbols of femininity as pink ribbons, flowers, butterflies, angels, teddy bears, cartoon penguins, and yogurt. Adult women who develop abnormal cell growth in the tissues of the breasts aren’t any regular cancer patients-they’re cancer patients who must be treated with infant-fairy-princesses gloves.

The infantilization of women’s health is a product of a marketing environment where women’s breasts are constantly reinforced as overtly sexual, while other aspects of women’s bodies-like menstruation-are dismissed as vulgar. The pervasive pink is an attempt to neutralize the idea that women’s bodies are necessarily either sexy or gross by unleashing a boatload of nonthreatening, nonsexual, girly symbolism. The ultimate goal is to normalize the conversation about all the bad shit that can happen to women’s bodies . . . by reinforcing the most convenient sexist stereotype for this particular cause. But because that conversation is so important to have, pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline are given free reign to take the “ooh, shiny!” route, insult the women their product hopes to protect, and chalk it all up to “awareness.”
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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.