Feminists have criticised a ‘crass’ cervical smear test campaign that has ‘erased’ the word women and urges them to ‘not keep their legs crossed’.
Don’t Keep ‘Em Crossed has been launched by North West Cancer Research to highlight how cervical cancer rates in the region are 19 per cent higher than in the rest of England.
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% 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’ rather than women and accused the team behind the ad of relying on ‘laddy’ humour.
Don’t Keep ‘Em Crossed has been launched by North West Cancer Research to highlight how cervical cancer rates in the region are 19 per cent higher than in the rest of England
One wrote: ‘How crass. Spread your legs, eh? Horrible erasure of women in the small print too.’
A second said: ‘Well, about half the people aged 25-49 won’t be attending because they don’t have cervixes, and that’s well over one third so…’
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer affects the lining of the lower part of womb. The most common symptom is unusual bleeding, such as between periods, during sex or after the menopause, but other signs can include:
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal discharge that smells
- Pain in the pelvis
Causes can include:
- Age – more than half of sufferers are under 45
- HPV infection – which affects most people at some point in their lives
- Smoking – responsible for 21 per cent of cases
- Contraceptive pill – linked to 10 per cent of cases
- Having children
- Family history of cervical or other types of cancer
Source: Cancer Research UK
A third added: ‘It’s really important to ensure trans men access smears. The way to help that is to do targeted advertising via LGBT groups and media, not to eradicate the word woman.’
Karen Swan, director 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.’
Her fellow activist Helen Saxby agreed, writing: ‘It’s Ladz Bantz isn’t it – just like the Coppa Feel campaign for breast cancer. It makes you feel women’s cancer can’t be that serious, it’s all a bit of light-hearted fun.’
Toni Hargis said: ‘Can’t believe it. WHO thought this was a good idea? Sexualising a vital health procedure and using a phrase that’s employed to shame women.’
Meanwhile, author Tamsin Winter suggested the strapline was more suited to a ‘Carry On film’.
The campaign will also see posters at ‘targeted’ venues including hairdressing and beauty salons, gyms, bars and coffee shops. A digital campaign using social media influencers will run alongside it for four weeks.
MailOnline has contacted North West Cancer Research and Influential for comment.
Mumsnet and X users blasted the decision to refer to ‘people’ rather than women and accused the team behind the ad of relying on ‘laddy’ humour
Earlier this year a cancer charity was accused of ‘dehumanising’ women after advising medics to refer to the vagina as a ‘bonus hole’ to avoid upsetting transgender men.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust features a glossary on its website detailing ‘the correct language’ that healthcare professionals should use when dealing with trans men – women who identify as men.
As well as ‘bonus hole’, it also suggests the term ‘front hole’ as an alternative to vagina, the use of which it claimed may leave patients feeling ‘hurt or distressed’.
Women’s rights campaigners last night rounded on Jo’s, the UK’s only charity dedicated to women affected by cervical cancer.
Bev Jackson, of the LGB Alliance, said: ‘Disgusting language like this which intentionally dehumanises women must be rejected by all reasonable people.
‘The fact is, women have vaginas. It’s appalling that anyone would think that reality is offensive. If you think it’s offensive, then that’s your problem.
‘There is no reason for the rest of society to adapt our language so as not to offend people who are offended by reality.
‘Some people wish to ignore the very clear biological differences between men and women.’
The terms feature on a section of Jo’s website specifically for medical professionals entitled ‘Language to use when supporting trans men and/or non-binary people’.
It was drawn up in partnership with the LGBT Foundation, a campaign group calling for ‘a world where queer liberation enables meaningful and lasting change’.