A quick post on #SmearforSmear

I won’t be doing #smearforsmear and not because I don’t think getting a smear is vitally important or that it isn’t important to increase the number of women who do but because once again I’m struggling with the damage that can be done by un-nuanced viral messaging.

If you don’t know, it is a campaign aimed at encouraging women to share photo and video selfies of themselves with their lipstick smeared. The idea is to draw attention to the fact that the number of women who aren’t getting regular tests is falling.

  • A smear isn’t just 5 minutes and easy for many women. As a sufferer of vaginismus it far from easy and pain free. I bled for 3 days after my last smear and had to return for a second attempt which I yelled and sobbed through. It wasn’t the GP’s fault but it is what it is – next time I may have to be drugged to get through it – fun eh! 2 in 1000 women suffer from vaginismus , probably more, but, ironically, they don’t report because of shame.
  • Any woman who has been assaulted or raped, doesn’t find it easy. I don’t think I need to elaborate
  • If a woman is embarrassed about going for a smear it is because the patriarchy teaches her to be ashamed of her body which, for X reason today, doesn’t conform to whatever is currently correct and attractive to men.
  • If a woman is embarrassed about being hairy in particular, it is recognised to be related to the prevalence of hair-free women in porn. Which is in no small way related to the attraction of some men to pre-pubescent. Shave, or don’t shave – but it is important to recognise why shaving is a thing.
  • The survey on which #smearforsmear is based (although I can’t get a copy of the original questions asked) also suggests not being able to, or wanting to, take time off of work is a significant barrier to accessing a smear. Are women in a position that they can’t look after their health without fearing reprisal or risking their employment? Why isn’t this the news?
  • The survey also suggests that 26% of women can’t get an appointment even if they want to. Surely a result of the defunding of the NHS. And that bit isn’t making the news either…
  • Also, mustn’t forget PSH-education is still dismissed as unnecessary and too embarrassing to teach (the irony), so of course women don’t understand their own bodies, the risks they face and how to stay healthy.
  • And, yeurgh, women and lipstick…. It is a bit like #nomakeupselfie isn’t it?  Let’s accept a stereotype while trying to fight something that is caused in no small part by stereotypes.

So yes, sharing a selfie might make a point to some women about how important detection is. But sadly can also trivialise the real reasons women don’t/can’t get smears by normalising the ‘they’re embarrassed because they’re vain’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘uneducated’.

There is so much good stuff in the work that has been done. I’m just once again disheartened that the messaging and ‘call to action’ is missing a huge opportunity, and could have focused more on the fact local heath services are not doing anything to improve access to smears, or educating women as to the reasons to have them.

So this all smacks of victim blaming.

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