Thursday, December 4, 2008

Self Doubt. And wombs.

Sometimes you hear something that makes you question your own bank of knowledge... that makes you wonder whether something you've always held as a fact is actually nothing of the sort.

Some time ago I went out with someone who didn't know that emus were real. She'd reached adulthood under the impression that 'Emu' was just the name of Rod Hull's puppet rather than an actual factual type of flightless bird. Then one day, we were sitting around watching TV and a nature documentary came on featuring emus.

I could sense some kind of mild panic in the room as my companion tried to work out what was going on. She looked at me suspiciously as if the whole thing was some kind of elaborate practical joke... as if I'd somehow managed to make a fake documentary and get it broadcast on TV... just to con her into believing in these so-called 'emus'. Slowly it dawned on her that emus were indeed real, that this wasn't an over elaborate plan to make her believe in a fictional bird and that all it was, was a strange and hard-to-explain gap in her knowledge. Emus were real... and somehow they'd avoided her radar for more than 20 years of her sentient life.

Well... there was a day this week when I found myself racked with self-doubt, convinced that I had stumbled upon a glaring hole in my own store of general knowledge.

It started as I was cycling to Genius HQ a few mornings ago. I found myself caught up in heavy traffic and stuck behind one particular bus for longer than normal. Every now and then I'd get ahead of the bus - or it would motor ahead of me - but somehow, at the next set of traffic lights it would end up in front of me and there wouldn't be a channel wide enough for me to edge past it while we were stuck on a red light.

There was a poster on the back of the bus that caught my attention. It was telling people to be Cervix Savvy... to have their cervix screened in case of cancer. What made it odd was that the face on the poster was categorically the face of a man: a vaguely hunky bloke wearing a beard and a green t-shirt. I didn't have a camera to hand at the time or I'd have taken a snap but I've just googled it and while this isn't the exact same ad, it is the man I'm talking about:

The ad I was looking at - and that kept appearing in front of my eyes at every set of traffic lights - was basically a picture of that chap with the slogan 'Be Cervix Savvy' written across it in big letters. Why on earth were they using a man to tell people to be cervix savvy?

Honestly, as I found myself confronted by the poster for the third or fourth time, I was starting to wonder whether I actually had a cervix. At the age of 37 I was cycling through London and genuinely wondering whether I'd spent my entire adult life wrongly believing a cervix to be a specifically female thing.

Surely, I thought, it's the lower end of a womb. Isn't it? Isn't it? It must be. But if it is... why would they be using a chap in the advert? I mean, you could use a man to tell women to have their bits checked... but... but... but you just wouldn't. It just didn't make sense. For that advert to make sense, a cervix has to be a man-bit. Doesn't it? Or maybe a unisex-bit? Either way, that means it can't be a part of the womb. Because men don't have wombs. (Well, this man does but he was born female so that doesn't count.)

Had I really spent years of my life not knowing what a cervix was? Was I really so cervix unsavvy? It's not as though I often sit around talking about cervices but I'm sure they've cropped up in conversation once or twice. How embarrassing were those conversations? Had people walked away thinking it was odd that I kept bringing the conversations round to wombly matters when they were trying to have a serious conversation about cervices? How had I got the wrong impression? Who'd told me that a cervix was a lady-bit? What had I mis-read? What joke had I failed to grasp?

And what else was floating around in my bonce, masquerading as fact but really just an embarrassment timebomb waiting to go off.

By the time I got to Genius HQ it was really troubling me but I didn't bring it up with any of Team Genius because I didn't want to have an emu moment. I didn't want to reveal my ignorance.

It was only when I got home that evening that I decided to look it up for myself. I went to a dictionary and looked up cervix to see what it really meant.

cervix: n. the narrow neck like passage forming the lower end of the womb.

So I wasn't having an emu-moment after all. I did know what a cervix was. That was a relief. (And how nostalgic: I was a mere slip of a lad when I last used a dictionary to look up a gynaecological term.)

So does the ad make sense? According to the website ( there are a few ads out there... and they all feature men. Here are the five men they chose:
I'm very confused. But at least I'm confused about an ad agency's decision-making processes and not basic anatomy.

Of course it goes without saying that if you have a cervix it's probably something to be savvy about. So do visit the over-manned and under-womanned site.

[I've nabbed the pictures from the site so clicking on them here won't take you to the pages they mention... but the first picture is meant to go here... and the second one, here.]


Martin said...

I totally see your point and as I was reading it my face was scrunched up and I started to doubt my own knowledge. But this great advertising!

If it wasnt for this rather strange approach we would not be talking about it now and it would just be another boring advertising campaign on the back of a bus that I dont really take much notice of.

Maybe i'm looking at it all wrong but this is the only way I would be talking about it. OK I'm male but the ladies will be along soon.

Emma said...

Hello, I'm female, and so feel I can talk with a little authority on this.

I've had a quick look at that website (although not by clicking on one of your links Dave. When I clicked on the link it said that access was forbidden. Maybe cerva are a male only thing...). I don't like it at all. I don't want any man pouting at me and telling me to keep an eye on my cervix. It's none of his business. The pervert.

In fact, when I made an appointment for a spot of cervix savvy-ness, I insisted that lady nurse scrapped the necessary cells needed. Incidentally, that is another good indication that you don't have a cervix. If you do, you get a letter from the NHS every 3 years telling you to have it inspected.

I can see the benefit of having a woman on a testies-based awareness poster. If a women was to have a check of a testicle they could notice if anything was amiss. It's very unlikely a man is going to have a look at a woman's cervix and spot microscopic changes indicating pre-cancerous cells.

Stupid and patronising.

Emma (again) said...

Argh, no.

clubbedseal said...

Speaking as a male (with a female sounding name) who until recently was invited every 3 years for a screening I have had doubts too. It took a trip to the doctors to proove that it was a bit of waste of NHS resources ;)

Anonymous said...

It's like this Dave. You know how car makers used to use partially undressed women promote their cars? Any you know why that was? Quite. Those ads were aimed at men because all cars were, in those days, bought by men. And what's the one thing that will attract a chap's attention even more effectively than a curvaceous bonnet?

Now apply the same psychology to this ad. The fellows it features are, even to me speaking as a chap, rather dishy. At whom - stop me if I'm going too quickly for you are these ads targeted? That's right, Dave, young ladies.

The only reason that the ads feature chaps is because the majority of young ladies are more likely to take a good look at an advert featuring a chap than they are at one of another young lady.

Perhaps there's something subliminal going on here as well. The hidden message might be 'If your body is ravaged by cancer, all your hair falls out and you age 30 years in 4 weeks, chaps like this won't like you any more'. Or something like that. OK, maybe not that.

'Genius' HQ, huh?

Anonymous said...

Have just looked at your link to the 'Argh, no' pic and I take your point, Emma. But emember that ads like this are not targeted at web-savvy, Dave-Gorman-entertained women like you. I doubt whether you've binged on anything in your life.

They know that you know that you have a cervix and that you dont' have to be induced to leer at the dishy chaps to a. remind you of the fact or b. reinforce your knowledge that it might become cancerous and kill you if you're not careful.

They are after what some would call the 'chav' element. The binge drinkers. The sort of person who after glassing a mate and flashing their bum at police officers might have sufficient neurons still functioning to register a photo of a chap and the words 'cancer' and 'die'.

OK, I know they are banging their heads against a brick wall as most chavs would have difficulty with polysyllabic words like 'cancer', but they have a multi-hundreds-of-thousands ad. budget to spend and, no doubt, a £100K plus chief executive to justify her/his existence.

Len said...

Self-doubt is a sign of intelligence. At least I'm hoping it is anyway...

Dave Gorman said...

@Anonymous: thanks for the Sex-in-Advertising 101. But I don't think it works in this case. As it goes you normally still see the target consumer in an ad. Chisel jawed men advertise shaving products and sexy women stroke those chisel jaws. Moody men drive those powerful cars and long legged women slide into the passenger seat. Go-getting women drink diet coke while hunky builders sweat for their entertainment.
Where you see a sexy woman as an adornment, she is almost always reduced (or elevated (delete according to your own politics)) to the status of a sex object... which normally means that she's in a state of undress and 'comes-with' the product. It's made clear that she's not the consumer.

Print ads where there is one image can't tell a story as such and so almost always show the target consumer. Hunky men advertise aftershave etc. Sleek women advertise haircare products, perfume and jewelery. If they use a hunk man to advertise a female-targeted product it is normally done with irony (women laugh at Chippendales, men get off to strippers) so there might be a sex-object-bloke-in-skimpy-underwear eating some Galaxy chocolate or similar... but again it's made clear that he 'comes with' the product by undressing him.

The men in these adverts look more like they're advertising male-grooming products. If I'd seen the ad in a foreign country and not understood the language at all I'd have assumed that's what they were for.

I do know how sex in advertising works... and I've seen ads with good looking men appealing to female eyes. But the ad on the back of the bus didn't fit that category... it looked like the kind of bloke who advertises things to blokes.

Anonymous said...

"(Well, this man does but he was born female so that doesn't count.)"

Until I looked closer and saw that the word "this" was hyperlinked, I was thinking you were unburdening yourself to the world. Maybe you had had a bit of gender reassignment surgery and had been born Debbie Gorman?

It would have put a whole different spin on series "Are you Dave Gorman?".

Jonathan said...

I got puzzled by this one too, if not as eloquently and persistently as Dave G. As a bloke, I was definitely "reading" the ad as if aimed at a man. Why? The standard semiotic meaning of having a single figure looking at you like this is that they're talking to you. That means they should either be an expert (a doctor, dentist or whatever), or a friend, or standing in for you.

He's not an expert, and he can't be the "you" (because the "you" has to be female in this ad), so he must be a friend. Except he's not, he's obviously a potential sex partner.

Just imagine a girl being told by a bloke she fancies to go get her cervix checked. Bit of a turn-off, that.

Advertisers: too stupid for their own good sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Huh, what a terrible ad! I'm a woman and this reads as "Even I know you should get your cervix seen too and I'm a man" which comes across as mighty smug/patronising/ties cervical health to sex (otherwise what is a seemingly hetero man doing talking about our bits) when women should have healthy cervix' whether we're sexually active or not.

Anonymous said...

sorry, cervixes or cervices, grammar fans. C

Blogger said...

This ad was so confusing we covered it at The F Word and some of our readers got "explanations" from the bodies funding the ad agency who came up with the idea - including changing some of the wierd ideas (like having a cervix was "disgusting" for example!).

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
A little bemused by your blog post, I thought that it warranted further inspection (no not the cervix bit!). I discussed the site in question with my better half and she came up with the idea that it may have indeed been some kind of advertising ploy... Genius! Men advertising issues of concern surrounding lady bits... It worked on you Dave and it has worked on me... we are blokes. My point here is that, we as concerned partners of our better halves then discuss our bizarre findings with them and then - Bingo! She too is looking at the website / advert. Sheer brilliance!.

Aunty Helpful Dictator said...

Your post made me laugh so much, as did the comments (I mean in laugh with, not at, kind of way). It strikes me that it's a misunderstanding of the way women relate to their cervices, which in the case of medical issues, is not sexualised. There was a tampon ad a few years ago that looked like it was aimed at men, which convinced me that it was designed by someone who thought all their brain farts were good ideas. Could this be another one?

And even if it is an attempt to cause controversy to encourage people to talk about it, I still think it backfires. This is something that women want to feel safe and secure about. Maverick advertising campaigns don't exactly lead you to believe you'll be treated professionally when you are in the vulnerable position. I would think it's more likely to put women off actually seeing their doctor in relation to this.

And for the record, yes I am a lady (though not in the Emily Howard sense)

Spoghead said...

I have a friend that I had to prove eskimos existed to.......

Anonymous said...

I always thought "Vivid" meant unclear. People would always talk about vivid dreams on TV followed by a fuzzy edged picture. When are dreams ever really that clear?

Swiss James said...

Spoghead, was his name Homer J by any chance?

Spoghead said...

Swiss James - no "her" name was Gemma - although the similarities to Mr Simpson are quite uncanny (I so hope she doesn't read this)!!!

Lou said...

This tragically makes sense in a way that I'm just coming to terms with - an English ex-boyfriend of mine thought Dannii Minogue was coasting on the tale coats of Kylie by sharing the same surname but not being related because one had brown hair and one blonde. Tragically this is the same english gent who told me the idea of ovaries really turned him on. One can only imagine how his brain might've exploded have he seen 'Cervix Savvy.'


Em said...

There is a virus which is carried by men which has been proven to cause cervical cancer - it's why you can now get an shot to protect yourself against it.

I don't know, possibly this is a 'beware men and the power of their penis' thing. It makes sense to me, is all.