Cervical cancer campaign advert ‘offensive to women’

The 'Don’t Keep ‘Em Crossed' campaign launched at Manchester Piccadilly train station features sculptures of crossed mannequin legs
The campaign, which was launched by North West Cancer Research, features sculptures of crossed mannequin legs - Twitter

A cervical cancer campaign has been branded “offensive” for urging women not to keep their legs crossed.

The “Don’t Keep ‘Em Crossed” campaign was also accused by users on the parenting website Mumsnet of “erasing women” by referring to “people” in its discussions about those who suffer with the disease.

The campaign, launched by North West Cancer Research to raise awareness of cervical cancer, was unveiled at Manchester Piccadilly train station with sculptures of crossed mannequin legs.

An accompanying slogan said: “One in three people aged 25-49 in the North West don’t attend their cervical screening.”

Onlookers were angered by the “crass” advert and said it “objectified” women.

Deborah Cameron, a feminist campaigner and professor of language and communication at the University of Oxford, said that it was “1970s sexism in 21st-century fancy dress”.

She said: “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.”

She added that it was also an “old excuse for rape” and that “the whole thing is objectifying and offensive”.

One paediatric respiratory consultant said that they found the imagery “disgusting and blaming”.

She tweeted: “Pregnant? Should have kept her legs crossed. Sexually assaulted? Should have kept her legs crossed. Cancer? Should have kept her legs uncrossed. It’s just hideous.”

‘Unlikely to hit home’

Helen Saxby, a feminist campaigner, said it was “just like the CoppaFeel! campaign for breast cancer”.

She said: “It makes you feel women’s cancer can’t be that serious, it’s all a bit of light-hearted fun.”

Others were left confused at the relevance of a woman’s legs in relation to cervical cancer, with one woman saying that it was “highly unlikely to hit home with most women it needs to be aimed at”.

Sophia Smith Galer, the author of Losing It, said: “Cervical screening campaigns like this put an onus of failure not on the healthcare systems that have failed to create a more comfortable screening, but on women and people themselves.

“These are traumatising for many of us beyond our control.”

Karen Swan, a director at Influential, the marketing agency that ran the campaign, said: “We wanted a campaign that was playful and a bit cheeky in order to grab our audience’s attention so the strapline, Don’t Keep ‘Em Crossed, was perfect.”

A spokesman 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.

“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.”

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